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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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

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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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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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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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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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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.
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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by Stupidosaurus » Fri Feb 21, 2020 9:12 am

If Australia is getting fires due to overgrowth of vegetation, do they just need more elephants?

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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by basementer » Fri Feb 21, 2020 5:11 pm

Stupidosaurus wrote:
Fri Feb 21, 2020 9:12 am
If Australia is getting fires due to overgrowth of vegetation, do they just need more elephants?
ISTR reading there were megafauna there before the humans arrived to hunt them down. There was probably something recognisable as a marsupial elephant*, but whether they ate enough foliage to create firebreaks is another matter.
Eating eucalyptus regularly, they would at least have had nice fresh breath.

*in the same sense as the marsupial deer is the kangaroo
I'll think of something.

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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by Squeak » Mon Feb 24, 2020 4:49 am

basementer wrote:
Fri Feb 21, 2020 5:11 pm
Stupidosaurus wrote:
Fri Feb 21, 2020 9:12 am
If Australia is getting fires due to overgrowth of vegetation, do they just need more elephants?
ISTR reading there were megafauna there before the humans arrived to hunt them down. There was probably something recognisable as a marsupial elephant*, but whether they ate enough foliage to create firebreaks is another matter.
Eating eucalyptus regularly, they would at least have had nice fresh breath.

*in the same sense as the marsupial deer is the kangaroo
The Australian megafauna extinction and the vegetation regime shift to pyrogenic vegetation types both (roughly) coincide with the arrival of humans on mainland Australia. There are decades of arguments about causality - did climate change alter the veg and make it easier for humans to migrate or did humans come in and hunt the megafauna by burning vegetation, which in turn caused a local climate shift. Or some other permutation of causal relationships. I haven't read up in the area for a decade or more now so I don't know if the field has come to some kind of consensus.

However, the idea of bringing in elephants occasionally gets some actual scientific attention...

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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by Bird on a Fire » Mon Feb 24, 2020 12:17 pm

Squeak wrote:
Mon Feb 24, 2020 4:49 am
basementer wrote:
Fri Feb 21, 2020 5:11 pm
Stupidosaurus wrote:
Fri Feb 21, 2020 9:12 am
If Australia is getting fires due to overgrowth of vegetation, do they just need more elephants?
ISTR reading there were megafauna there before the humans arrived to hunt them down. There was probably something recognisable as a marsupial elephant*, but whether they ate enough foliage to create firebreaks is another matter.
Eating eucalyptus regularly, they would at least have had nice fresh breath.

*in the same sense as the marsupial deer is the kangaroo
The Australian megafauna extinction and the vegetation regime shift to pyrogenic vegetation types both (roughly) coincide with the arrival of humans on mainland Australia. There are decades of arguments about causality - did climate change alter the veg and make it easier for humans to migrate or did humans come in and hunt the megafauna by burning vegetation, which in turn caused a local climate shift. Or some other permutation of causal relationships. I haven't read up in the area for a decade or more now so I don't know if the field has come to some kind of consensus.

However, the idea of bringing in elephants occasionally gets some actual scientific attention...
The same question - did humans cause extinction directly, or did something else bring both humans and extinctions? - seems to get asked in a lot of other cases, such as North American megafauna, or the Irish elk.

In New Zealand, the much more recent megafauna extinction can be more obviously blamed on people, as can the extinctions of flightless birds on all sorts of other Pacific islands that coincide with human arrival.

Taking any individual case in isolation - especially the older, larger-scale ones - it is probably possibly to identify a range of putative drivers. But I think taken in the global context, of extinctions following human arrival in events separated by millennia, continents and huge ecological differences, and it becomes pretty clear what the major culprit was.
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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by JQH » Mon Feb 24, 2020 12:51 pm

Squeak wrote:
Mon Feb 24, 2020 4:49 am
basementer wrote:
Fri Feb 21, 2020 5:11 pm
Stupidosaurus wrote:
Fri Feb 21, 2020 9:12 am
If Australia is getting fires due to overgrowth of vegetation, do they just need more elephants?
ISTR reading there were megafauna there before the humans arrived to hunt them down. There was probably something recognisable as a marsupial elephant*, but whether they ate enough foliage to create firebreaks is another matter.
Eating eucalyptus regularly, they would at least have had nice fresh breath.

*in the same sense as the marsupial deer is the kangaroo
The Australian megafauna extinction and the vegetation regime shift to pyrogenic vegetation types both (roughly) coincide with the arrival of humans on mainland Australia. There are decades of arguments about causality - did climate change alter the veg and make it easier for humans to migrate or did humans come in and hunt the megafauna by burning vegetation, which in turn caused a local climate shift. Or some other permutation of causal relationships. I haven't read up in the area for a decade or more now so I don't know if the field has come to some kind of consensus.

However, the idea of bringing in elephants occasionally gets some actual scientific attention...
I'm not wildly convinced that the solution to dealing with problems caused by invasive species is to introduce another invasive species. However IANA ecologist.
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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by Squeak » Mon Feb 24, 2020 12:52 pm

Yup. We're pretty damn good at killing big animals. But my vague memory was that there was some evidence to reasonable doubt for the Australian extinctions, despite the circumstantial evidence.

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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by Squeak » Mon Feb 24, 2020 12:55 pm

JQH wrote:
Mon Feb 24, 2020 12:51 pm

I'm not wildly convinced that the solution to dealing with problems caused by invasive species is to introduce another invasive species. However IANA ecologist.
Me either. The author of that letter is an ecologist, albeit of the "try to provoke public conversations" variety.

And, at least when you introduce megafauna, they're, by definition, big, slow to reproduce, and easy to track. So, you've got a headstart on catching the buggers if they become problematic.

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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by cvb » Mon Feb 24, 2020 1:19 pm

Squeak wrote:
Mon Feb 24, 2020 12:55 pm
JQH wrote:
Mon Feb 24, 2020 12:51 pm

I'm not wildly convinced that the solution to dealing with problems caused by invasive species is to introduce another invasive species. However IANA ecologist.
Me either. The author of that letter is an ecologist, albeit of the "try to provoke public conversations" variety.

And, at least when you introduce megafauna, they're, by definition, big, slow to reproduce, and easy to track. So, you've got a headstart on catching the buggers if they become problematic.
Would elephants be able to survive/thrive in the wild in Australia?

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Re: Things wrongly attributed to climate change

Post by Bird on a Fire » Mon Feb 24, 2020 2:20 pm

cvb wrote:
Mon Feb 24, 2020 1:19 pm
Squeak wrote:
Mon Feb 24, 2020 12:55 pm
JQH wrote:
Mon Feb 24, 2020 12:51 pm

I'm not wildly convinced that the solution to dealing with problems caused by invasive species is to introduce another invasive species. However IANA ecologist.
Me either. The author of that letter is an ecologist, albeit of the "try to provoke public conversations" variety.

And, at least when you introduce megafauna, they're, by definition, big, slow to reproduce, and easy to track. So, you've got a headstart on catching the buggers if they become problematic.
Would elephants be able to survive/thrive in the wild in Australia?
I highly doubt it, or at least the population would take a huge number of generations to become securely established.

Elephants, like a lot of megafauna and for that matter a lot of birds, depend for their survival on knowledge of vast areas, the location of often ephemeral resources and how things change over time. They undertake seasonal migrations over huge distances. The knowledge to do this is acquired slowly and transmitted culturally. Without this cultural pool of knowledge the population would be very vulnerable to changes in the availability of a resource, and would probably take a long time to spread out of areas that are consistently dependable. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/ ... 32.summary

What might be more plausible is using semi-domesticated elephants for a kind of 'conservation grazing', as cows and sheep are often used on reserves in Europe to replace now-extirpated megafauna species.
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