Things wrongly attributed to climate change

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Squeak
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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by Squeak » Thu Jan 09, 2020 1:16 am

Because folk round here love a good bit of dodgy statistics, here's why arsonists aren't to blame for this year's awful fire season.

The Australian (and I believe other News Corp papers) ran an article claiming that 183 arsonists have been arrested across Australia "since the start of the fire season". The version I can see on their website now has apparently been amended to "this year", though they don't mention the fact that their article has been edited.

That 183 includes 43 from Victoria, which is the figure for the year to September, so those 43 are entirely irrelevant to the current fire season. It also includes 101 people in Queensland who, over the course of the past year, have been subject to "enforcement actions", which is a much broader category than arrests. For instance, if you use a camping stove in a park during a total fire ban, the police might have a word with you but you won't be arrested. You will still have been subjected an enforcement action.

The Australian's article
The Guardian's article quoting annoyed police

Unsurprisingly, the erroneous numbers have been uncritically repeated around the world, including by such eminent criminologists as Trump Jr. It unsurprisingly plays well with those who would rather find non-climate causes for the severity of the current fire season.

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jimbob
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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by jimbob » Sun Jan 12, 2020 12:18 pm

Squeak wrote:
Thu Jan 09, 2020 1:16 am
Because folk round here love a good bit of dodgy statistics, here's why arsonists aren't to blame for this year's awful fire season.

The Australian (and I believe other News Corp papers) ran an article claiming that 183 arsonists have been arrested across Australia "since the start of the fire season". The version I can see on their website now has apparently been amended to "this year", though they don't mention the fact that their article has been edited.

That 183 includes 43 from Victoria, which is the figure for the year to September, so those 43 are entirely irrelevant to the current fire season. It also includes 101 people in Queensland who, over the course of the past year, have been subject to "enforcement actions", which is a much broader category than arrests. For instance, if you use a camping stove in a park during a total fire ban, the police might have a word with you but you won't be arrested. You will still have been subjected an enforcement action.

The Australian's article
The Guardian's article quoting annoyed police

Unsurprisingly, the erroneous numbers have been uncritically repeated around the world, including by such eminent criminologists as Trump Jr. It unsurprisingly plays well with those who would rather find non-climate causes for the severity of the current fire season.
And there's nothing to explain why *these* particular supposed-arsonists are so devastating compared to those of previous years. Or why it happened to be such a problem during a record heatwave, and how even a moderate improvement in the weather provides respite for the fire fighters.
Have you considered stupidity as an explanation

Squeak
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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by Squeak » Sun Jan 12, 2020 12:28 pm

So much all of that. These figures are not only laughably wrong but also lacking all context. How many arsonists would we expect to arrest in any ordinary year? In a wet season, you'd need a lot of arsonists to do widespread damage. In a hot dry summer, one malicious person would be plenty.

The last figures I saw suggest that arson sparked fires that are responsible for about 1% of the total area burned this summer.

(There's a huge amount of luck in how much area any specific ignition will burn so I'm a bit cautious in us using this statistic, despite it being such a tiny fraction of the damage this year.)

(A secondary caveat in that hectarage is only a partial measure of the severity of a fire - we're happy for huge areas to burn at low-medium intensity, so long as there aren't human assets in the way that can't be easily defended. )

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jimbob
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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by jimbob » Sun Jan 12, 2020 12:39 pm

Squeak wrote:
Sun Jan 12, 2020 12:28 pm


(A secondary caveat in that hectarage is only a partial measure of the severity of a fire - we're happy for huge areas to burn at low-medium intensity, so long as there aren't human assets in the way that can't be easily defended. )
And I seem to recall one of the Aussie posters (possibly you) pointing out that this year some of the fires were in ecosystems that are not fire-ecosystems - forests that are ususally damp.

At least I'm pretty sure I saw that.

If so, that's also a new situation.
Have you considered stupidity as an explanation

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bjn
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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by bjn » Sun Jan 12, 2020 1:39 pm

jimbob wrote:
Sun Jan 12, 2020 12:39 pm
Squeak wrote:
Sun Jan 12, 2020 12:28 pm


(A secondary caveat in that hectarage is only a partial measure of the severity of a fire - we're happy for huge areas to burn at low-medium intensity, so long as there aren't human assets in the way that can't be easily defended. )
And I seem to recall one of the Aussie posters (possibly you) pointing out that this year some of the fires were in ecosystems that are not fire-ecosystems - forests that are ususally damp.

At least I'm pretty sure I saw that.

If so, that's also a new situation.
I was one of the folks that pointed that out. Gondwana subtropical rain forests in northern NSW and southern Queensland have burnt for the first time in recorded history.

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jimbob
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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by jimbob » Sun Jan 12, 2020 2:05 pm

Yup, BJN, it was your post I recall, thanks

Something's different now - and we know what it is.
Have you considered stupidity as an explanation

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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by Squeak » Sun Jan 12, 2020 8:53 pm

Any time we have catastrophic fires (somewhere in Australia gets hit every few years) it's likely that at least some patches of old rainforest or other non-burny vegetation gets overrun. One of my friends had the unenviable task a couple of years ago of trying to work out what percentage of Tasmania's native pine woodlands got burnt and how much of an ecological impact that had.

What I doubt anyone has had the time/data for yet is to address how big an area of Gondwanan rainforest has been burnt and how ecologically significant that is. Regeneration of these ecosystems (at least for Tassie) is about 300 years.

Pulling numbers out of my backside, a few percent per century might be ok, if we can keep fire out of the regrowth (which will be much more flammable for the next hundred years or so) so that wetter species can reestablish. Which I'm sure will be easy in a hotter, drier, more volatile environment.

This is definitely not the first time that big Australian fires have burnt previously unburnt vegetation but I suspect it will come out to be an especially bad year, given the sheer scale of these fires. I will keep an eye out for mapping efforts that assess how much has burnt.

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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by Woodchopper » Thu Feb 06, 2020 2:59 pm

Uncertainties in climate modelling posts have been split into a new thread.
viewtopic.php?f=8&t=840

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Bird on a Fire
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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Feb 12, 2020 2:07 pm

plodder wrote:
Thu Jan 02, 2020 9:05 am
Yes, but there's also plenty of natural variability. The nuance and complexity is not touched on at all in articles like this one from today's guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment ... saster-aoe

Just because animals are increasing their numbers in the UK does not mean they're being displaced from elsewhere, they could be benefitting from eg European farming subsidies that encourage wildlife.
First off, I don't think there's any implication in the article that the animal species in question are necessarily being 'displaced' - species' ranges can expand in one place without contracting in another. Often, these range expansions happen due to recruitment of more young individuals surviving in the new area after a partially-random dispersal process. (This is my PhD topic, so I'll stop it there lest I accidentally write an entire thesis, but happy to expand/clarify if it's not clear!)

Secondly: there is an observation I've heard scientists making at conferences recently, that "any long-term ecological study eventually becomes a climate-change study." The influences of climate on organisms are profoundly important, incredibly consistent across taxa, and impressively pervasive, and it shows up so frequently in studies of stuff like phenology (timing of events) and distributions that once your study hits a decade or two in duration you're going to have to start considering it.

The 'climate envelope' concept describes the range of conditions a species can tolerate - which could be averages, but could also be extremes, for example minimum winter temperature (a cold snap of a few days can pretty much wipe out some small bird species, such as the Dartford Warbler). Climate, especially temperature and precipitation, are the variables used as the basis for most work on biogeography (at least for animals and plants). Not specifically climate-change studies, but studies asking basic questions like "where does speciation occur fastest" or "how are ecological communities assembled". So biogeographers and ecologists are always thinking with half an eye on the climate, and obviously when it changes it's reasonable to expect distributions to change too.

Across northern Europe (and indeed the whole world), bird and butterfly populations are shifting polewards and upslope. This is exactly what one would expect with a warming climate, but doesn't map too neatly onto effects from habitat changes.

Were agri-environment schemes responsible, we'd expect to see a greater number of new species in agricultural landscapes, and perhaps some response from the pre-existing farmland bird community. Instead, most of the birds mentioned in that article are waterbirds, dependent on wetlands, which are pretty much the only habitat in the UK that isn't intensively managed for agriculture. Most of the UK's native waterbird suite is declining, which isn't what you'd expect if some intrinsic changes to the habitat were making them more habitable. Farmland bird populations are also in the toilet apart from a few questionably-included generalist species.

Of course there are always multiple factors to consider. Migratory species may encounter multiple, contrasting changes, such as wetter breeding areas but desertification during winter. Climate affects habitat, diseases and their vectors (avian malarias seem to be shifting northwards - human variants will probably follow), competitors and co-operators and so on. But I think by now "affected by the climate" is quite a sensible null hypothesis for (temperate, terrestrial) species, whereas "resilient to climate change" would actually be quite surprising.
"Ecology without socialism is just gardening" - Chico Mendes

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