[Added Saturday, Oct. 27th: looking back in advance of a CNN gig tomorrow, the word "cause" in that headline was poorly chosen. I meant "a" probable cause, not "the" probable cause, as you can see from the concluding sentence, but the phrase "contributing factor" or similar would have been much more accurate. My bad. Still, the point about climate change being an obvious factor in California's future as a growing tinderbox, and the Bush administration's resistance to climate change discussions, is plenty obvious.]
This was my view on the day I came back from a long trip last spring:
Fire on the left, downtown on the right. Great to be home.
Now it's fall, and there are fires in all directions, with things particularly bad down in San Diego County. I'm nowhere near the fire this time, but the air everywhere is smoky and brown and when the sun is near the horizon the whole sky looks bizarrely red. Kinda hard not to think about today, even if I wasn't aware of the staggering damage and disruption being visited on hundreds of thousands of lives nearby.
Also, it's 97 degrees outside in late October. According to the Weather Channel, this is 23 degrees above the historic seasonal average. Gee, global warming much?
Actually, yes. Anecdotal evidence in isolation is meaningless, but add up everything that has been happening for years, and according to today's Science Daily:
The catastrophic fires that are sweeping Southern California are consistent with what climate change models have been predicting for years, experts say, and they may be just a prelude to many more such events in the future -- as vegetation grows heavier than usual and then ignites during prolonged drought periods.
"This is exactly what we've been projecting to happen, both in short-term fire forecasts for this year and the longer term patterns that can be linked to global climate change," said Ronald Neilson, a professor at Oregon State University and bioclimatologist with the USDA Forest Service.
"In the future, catastrophic fires such as those going on now in California may simply be a normal part of the landscape," said Neilson.
However, yesterday, the director of the Centers for Disease Control testified before Congress on the impact of climate change on human health. And today we learn that the White House deleted much of the prepared testimony in advance, removing large swaths of scientific information on major health risks posed by global warming.
The deletions directed by the White House included details on how many people might be adversely affected because of increased warming, according to one official who has seen the original version. Also deleted were the scientific basis for some of the CDC's analysis on what kinds of diseases might be spread in a warmer climate and rising sea level, the official added.
About two-thirds of the CDC's testimony on global warming seems to have been deleted by the Bush administration.
I have friends in San Diego who are sheltering neighbors whose homes may not be there anymore. Unseasonable heat and changing weather patterns have turned southern California into a tinderbox, precisely the way forecast by people warning us about global warming for years:
In studies released five years ago, Neilson and other OSU researchers predicted that the American West could become both warmer and wetter in the coming century, conditions that would lead to repeated, catastrophic fires larger than any in recent history.
And the White House is still actively trying to pretend that a main underlying cause of these disasters simply doesn't exist.