Camp Fire California – Lessons in the Limits & Harms of Political Action

I believe that there is a prayer that politicians should adopt.
Called the Serenity Prayer, and written by Reinhold Niebuhr it begins

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

The order is the right way round. Most “things” a politician – or even a ruling political party – cannot change. It is in the identification of the things that they can change for the better where they can make a positive difference.

An example comes from the end of last month. For a few days the news in Britain was dominated for days with the stories of the greatest ever wildfire in California. Called the Camp Fire, it killed 86, destroyed 19,000 homes and burnt 240 square miles (62,000 ha)
CBS News 60 Minutes has this short report.
Many politicians, including Governor Brown, blamed climate change. Yet even if wildfires were solely from that cause, the ultimate cause is supposed to be from global greenhouse gas emissions. As in 2016 California’s emissions were around 430 MtCO2e – or about 0.8% of the global total – any climate change policies will make virtually zero difference to global emissions. Even under the 2015 proposed contribution from the USA would not have made much difference as most of the forecast drop in emissions was due to non-policy trends, not due to actual policies. Policy that achieves much less than 10% real reduction from a country that has one-eighth of global emissions is hardly going to have an impact in a period when net global emissions are increasing. That is, impact of any mitigation policies by the State of California or the United States will have approximately zero impact on global emissions.
But no reasonable person would claim that it was all down to climate change, just that climate change may have made the risk of wild fires a little greater.
What are the more immediate causes of wild fires? This is what Munich Re has to say on wildfires in Southeast Australia. (Bold mine) 

The majority of bushfires in southeast Australia are caused by human activity

Bushfire is the only natural hazard in which humans have a direct influence on the hazard situation. The majority of bushfires near populated areas are the consequence of human activity. Lightning causes the smaller portion naturally. Sometimes, a carelessly discarded cigarette or a glass shard, which can focus the sun’s rays is all it takes to start a fire. Heat from motors or engines, or electric sparks from power lines and machines can ignite dry grass. Besides this accidental causes, a significant share of wildfires are started deliberately.

Humans also change the natural fire frequency and intensity. They decrease the natural fire frequency due to deliberate fire suppression near populated areas. If there is no fuel-reduction burning in forests for the purposes of fire prevention, large quantities of combustible material can accumulate at ground level.

Surface fires in these areas can become so intense due to the large amounts of fuel that they spread to the crowns of the trees and rapidly grow into a major fire. If humans had not intervened in the natural bushfire regime, more frequent low-intensity fires would have consumed the forest undergrowth and ensured that woodland grasses and scrubs do not proliferate excessively.

David Evans expands on the issue of fuel load in a 2013 article.

The immediate cause of wildfires is human. Near to people’s homes or businesses there is little that can be done to prevent fires either accidental or deliberate.

But, as any fire safety course will explain, for a fire to happen requires heat, fuel and oxygen. A few tenths of a degree of warming is not going to increase the heat source significantly. As Munich Re explains successful suppression of small fires, or forest management that allows dead material to accumulate, or does not thin the forest. or create fire-breaks will increase the continuous and rich fuel for fires to spread. That is, the unintended consequence of certain types of forest management will be to increase risk of severe fires.

President Trump was then correct in blaming poor forest management for the horrific fire. The reaction from firefighters that the tweets were “demeaning” and “ill-informed” were misplaced. If bad policy contributed to the severity of a fire then politicians should share some of the blame for the damage caused. They should not be defended by those risking their lives to limit the damage resulting from bad policies. If poor building regulations lead to many deaths in a large building then those responsible for the regulations would shoulder some of the blame for those deaths even if an arsonist started the fire. The same applies to forests. After major disasters such as air crashes and earthquakes, regulations are often put in place to prevent future similar disasters even when such regulations would not have prevented the actual disaster. The result of a disaster is to concentrate minds on the wider aspects and plug gaps. But like major disasters, if regulations contributed to the extent of the disaster, the aftermath will be to shift blame elsewhere then fix the underlying problem in a raft of – mostly unnecessary – regulations. President Trump broke these unwritten political rules. But the results are the same, and have occurred quite quickly.

When Trump visited the site of the Camp Fire he met with outgoing Governor Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom he stated on November 19th

Is it happening? Things are changing. ….. And I think, most importantly, we’re doing things about. We’re going to make it better. We’re going to make it a lot better. And it’s going to happen as quickly as it can possibly happen.

From the Daily Caller and WUWT, on December 23rd President Trump signed into law new wildfire legislation that will better allow such fire-prevention management policies. On Christmas Eve President Trump followed this up with an executive order allowing agencies to do more to prevent massive wildfires.

Returning to the serenity prayer, in issuing an Executive order to allow government agencies to reduce fire risk President Trump has done something that is within his power. GOP legislation to better enable others to carry out similar forest management policies, has a slightly less direct impact. Democrats whinging about climate change is far more than failing to accept the things they cannot change. It is about blocking actions that can limit risk and extent of wild fires to maintain ineffectual and costly policies.

Kevin Marshall

President Trumps Tweet on record cold in New York and Temperature Data

As Record-breaking winter weather grips North-Eastern USA (and much of Canada as well) President Donald Trump has caused quite a stir with his latest Tweet.

There is nothing new in the current President’s tweets causing controversy. This is a hard-hitting one has highlights a point of real significance for AGW theory. After decades of human-caused global warming, record cold temperatures are more significant than record warm temperatures. Record cold can be accommodated within the AGW paradigm by claiming greater variability in climate resultant on the warming. This would be a portent of the whole climate system being thrown into chaos once some tipping point had been breached. But that would also require that warm records are
(a) far more numerous than cold records and
(b) Many new warm records outstrip the old records of a few decades ago by a greater amount than the rise in average temperatures in that area.
I will illustrate with three temperature data sets I looked at a couple of years ago – Reykjavík, Iceland and Isfjord Radio and Svalbard Airport on Svalbard.

Suppose there had been an extremely high and an extremely low temperature in 2009 in Reykjavík. For the extreme high temperature to be a record it would only have to be nominally higher than a record set in 1940 to be a new record. The unadjusted average anomaly data is the same. If the previous record had been set in say 1990, a new high record would only be confirmation of more extreme climate if it was at least 1C higher than the previous record. But a new cold record in 2009 could be up to 1C higher than a 1990 low record to count as greater climate extremes. Similarly in the case of Svalbard Airport, new warm records in 2008 or 2009 would need to be over 4C higher than records set around 1980, and new cold records would need to be up to 4C higher than records set around 1980 to count as effective new warm and cold records.
By rebasing in terms of unadjusted anomaly data (and looking at monthly data) a very large number of possible records could be generated from one temperature station. With thousands of temperature stations with long records, it is possible to generate a huge number of “records” to analyze if the temperatures are becoming more extreme. But absolute record cold records should be few and far between. However, if relative cold records outstrip relative warm records, then there are questions to be asked of the average data. Similarly, if there were a lack of absolute records or a decreasing frequency of relative records, then the beliefs in impending climate chaos would be undermined.

I would not want to jump ahead with the conclusions. The most important element is to mine the temperature data and then analyze the results in multiple ways. There are likely to be surprises that could enhance understanding of climate in quite novel ways.

Kevin Marshall

Joe Romm inadvertently exposes why Paris Climate Agreement aims are unachievable


Joe Romm promotes a myth that the Paris Climate Agreement will make a huge difference to future greenhouse gas emissions. Below I show how the modelled impact of think tank Climate Interactive conclusion of a large difference is based on emissions forecasts of implausible large emissions growth in policy countries, and low emissions growth in the non-policy developing countries.


In the previous post I looked at how blogger Joe Romm falsely rebutted a claim that President Donald Trump had made that the Paris climate deal would only reduce only reduce future warming in 2100 by a mere 0.2°C. Romm was wrong on two fronts. He first did not check the data behind his assertions and second,  in comparing two papers by the same organisation he did not actually read the explanation in the later paper on how it differed from the first. In this post I look at how he has swallowed whole the fiction of bogus forecasts, that means the mere act of world leaders signing a bit of paper leads to huge changes in forecast emissions.

In his post  Trump falsely claims Paris deal has a minimal impact on warming, Romm states

In a speech from the White House Rose Garden filled with thorny lies and misleading statements, one pricks the most: Trump claimed that the Paris climate deal would only reduce future warming in 2100 by a mere 0.2°C. White House talking points further assert that “according to researchers at MIT, if all member nations met their obligations, the impact on the climate would be negligible… less than .2 degrees Celsius in 2100.”

The Director of MIT’s System Dynamics Group, John Sterman, and his partner at Climate Interactive, Andrew Jones, quickly emailed ThinkProgress to explain, “We are not these researchers and this is not our finding.”

They point out that “our business as usual, reference scenario leads to expected warming by 2100 of 4.2°C. Full implementation of current Paris pledges plus all announced mid-century strategies would reduce expected warming by 2100 to 3.3°C, a difference of 0.9°C [1.6°F].”

The reference scenario is RCP8.5, used in the IPCC AR5 report published in 2013 and 2014. This is essentially a baseline non-policy forecast against which the impact of climate mitigation policies can be judged. The actual RCP website produces emissions estimates by type of greenhouse gas, of which breaks around three-quarters is CO2. The IPCC and Climate Interactive add these different gases together with an estimate of global emissions in 2100. Climate Interactive current estimate as of April 2017 is 137.58 GtCO2e for the the reference scenario and the National Plans will produce 85.66 GTCO2e. These National would allegedly make global emissions 37.7% than they would have been without them, assuming they are extended beyond 2030. Climate Interactive have summarized this in a graph.

To anyone who actually reads the things, this does not make sense. The submissions made prior to the December 2015 COP21 in Paris were mostly political exercises, with very little of real substance from all but a very few countries, such as the United Kingdom. Why it does not make sense becomes clear from the earlier data that I extracted from Climate Interactives’ C-ROADS Climate Simulator version v4.026v.071 around November 2015.  This put the RCP8.5 global GHG emissions estimate in 2100 at the equivalent of 139.3 GtCO2e. But policy is decided and implemented at country level. To determine the impact of policy proposal there must be some sort of breakdown of emissions. C-ROADS does not provide a breakdown by all countries, but does to divide the world into up to 15 countries and regions. One derived break-down is into 7 countries or regions. That is the countries of USA, Russia, China and India, along with the country groups of EU27, Other Developed Countries and Other Developing Countries. Also available are population and GDP historical data and forecasts. Using this RCP8.5 and built-in population forecasts I derived the following GHG emissions per capita for the historical period 1970 to 2012 and the forecast period 2013 to 2100.

Like when I looked at Climate Interactives’ per capita CO2 emissions from fossil fuels estimates at the end of 2015, these forecasts did not make much sense. Given that these emissions are the vast majority of total GHG emissions it is not surprising that the same picture emerges.

In the USA and the EU I can think of no apparent reason for the forecast of per capita emissions to rise when they have been falling since 1973 and 1980 respectively. It would require for energy prices to keep falling, and for all sectors to be needlessly wasteful. The same goes for other developed countries, which along with Canada and Australia, includes the lesser developed countries of Turkey and Mexico. Indeed why would these countries go from per capita emissions similar to the EU27 now to those of the USA in 2100?

In Russia, emissions have risen since the economy bottomed out in the late 1990s following the collapse of communism. It might end up with higher emissions than the USA in 1973 due to the much harsher and extreme climate. But technology has vastly improved in the last half century and it should be the default assumption that it will continue to improve through the century. It looks like someone, or a number of people, have failed to reconcile the country estimate with the forecast decline in population from 143 million in 2010 to 117 million. But more than this, there is something seriously wrong with emission estimates that would imply that the Russian people become evermore inefficient and wasteful in their energy use.

In China there are similar issues. Emissions have increased massively in the last few decades on the back of even more phenomenal growth, that surpasses the growth of any large economy in history. But emissions per capita will likely peak due to economic reasons in the next couple of decades, and probably at a much lower level than the USA in 1973. But like Russia, population is also forecast to be much lower than currently. From a population of 1340 million in 2010, Climate Interactive forecasts population to peak at  1420 million in 2030 (from 2020 to 2030 growth slows to 2 million a year) to 1000 million in 2100. From 2080 (forecast population 1120) to 2100 population is forecast to decline by 6 million a year.

The emissions per capita for India I would suggest are far too low. When made, the high levels of economic growth were predicted to collapse post 2012. When I wrote the previous post on 30th December 2015, to meet the growth forecast for 2010-2015, India’s GDP would have needed to drop by 20% in the next 24 hours. It did not happen, and in the 18 months since actual growth has further widened the gap with forecast. Similarly forecast growth in GHG emissions are far too low. The impact of 1.25 billion people today (and 1.66 billion in 2100) is made largely irrelevant, nicely side-lining a country who has declared economic growth is a priority.

As with the emissions forecast for India, the emissions forecast for other developing countries is far too pessimistic, based again on too pessimistic growth forecasts. This mixed group of countries include the 50+ African nations, plus nearly all of South America. Other countries in the group include Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Haiti, Trinidad, Iraq, Iran and Kiribati. There are at least a score more I have omitted, in total making up around 42% of the current global population and 62% of the forecast population in 2100. That is 3 billion people today against 7 billion in 2100. A graph summarizing of Climate Interactive’s population figures is below.

This can be compared with total GHG emissions.

For the USA, the EU27, the other Developed countries and China, I have made more reasonable emissions per capita estimates for 2100.

These more reasonable estimates (assuming there is no technological breakthrough that makes zero carbon energy much cheaper than any carbon technology) produce a reduction in projected emissions of the same order of magnitude as the supposed reduction resulting from implementation of the National Plans. However, global emissions will not be this level, as non-policy developing nations are likely to have much higher emissions. Adjusting for this gives my rough estimate for global emissions in 2100.

The overall emissions forecast is not very dissimilar to that of RCP8.5. Only this time the emissions growth has shift dramatically from the policy countries to the non-policy countries. This is consistent with the data from 1990 to 2012, where I found that the net emissions growth was accounted for by the increase in emissions from developing countries who were not signatories to reducing emissions under the 1992 Rio Declaration. As a final chart I have put the revised emission estimates for India and Other Developing Countries to scale alongside Climate Interactives’ Scoreboard graphic at the top of the page.

This clearly shows that the emissions pathway consistent the constraining warming to  2°C will only be attained if the developing world collectively start reducing their emissions in a very few years from now. In reality, the priority of many is continued economic growth, which will see emissions rise for decades.

Concluding Comments

This is a long post, covering a lot of ground. In summary though it shows environmental activist has Joe Romm has failed to check the claims he is promoting. An examination of Climate Interactive (CI) data underlying the claims that current policies will reduce global temperature by 0.9°C through reducing GHG global emissions does not stand up to scrutiny. That 0.9°C claim is based on global emissions being around 35-40% lower than they would have been without policy. Breaking the CI data down into 7 countries and regions reveals that

  • the emissions per capita forecasts for China and Russia show implausibly high levels of emissions growth, when they show peak in a few years.
  • the emissions per capita forecasts for USA and EU27 show emissions increasing after being static or falling for a number of decades.
  • the emissions per capita forecasts for India and Other Developing Countries show emissions increasing as at implausibly lower rates than in recent decades.

The consequence is that by the mere act of signing an agreement makes apparent huge differences to projected future emissions. In reality it is folks playing around with numbers and not achieving anything at all, except higher energy prices and job-destroying regulations. However, it does save the believers in the climate cult from having to recognize the real world. Given the massed hordes of academics and political activists, that is a very big deal indeed.

Kevin Marshall 

Joe Romm falsely accuses President Trump understating Impact of Paris Deal on Global Warming

Joe Romm of Climate Progress had a post two weeks ago Trump falsely claims Paris deal has a minimal impact on warming

Romm states

In a speech from the White House Rose Garden filled with thorny lies and misleading statements, one pricks the most: Trump claimed that the Paris climate deal would only reduce future warming in 2100 by a mere 0.2°C. White House talking points further assert that “according to researchers at MIT, if all member nations met their obligations, the impact on the climate would be negligible… less than .2 degrees Celsius in 2100.”

The deeply prejudiced wording, written for an extremely partisan readership, encourages readers to accept the next part without question.

The 0.2°C estimate used by Trump may be from another MIT group; the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change did have such an estimate in early 2015, before all of the Paris pledges were in. But, their post-Paris 2016 analysis also concluded the impact of the full pledges was closer to 1°C.


This states

New in this edition of the Outlook are estimates of the impacts of post-2020 proposals from major countries that were submitted by mid-August 2015 for the UN Conference of Parties (COP21) meeting in Paris in December 2015.

So what INDC submissions were in by Mid-August? From the submissions page (and with the size of total 2010 GHG Emissions from the Country Briefs) we get the following major countries.

In box 4 of the outlook, it is only Korea that is not included in the 0.2°C impact estimate. That is just over half the global emissions are covered in the MIT analysis. But there were more countries who submitted after mid-August.

The major countries include

My table is not fully representative, as the UNFCCC did not include country briefs for Nigeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and UAE. All these countries made INDC submissions along with a lot of more minor GHG emitters. I would suggest that by mid-August all the major countries that wanted to proclaim how virtuous they are in combating climate change were the early producers of the INDC submissions. Countries like the Gulf States, India and Indonesia tended to slip their documents in somewhat later with a lot of measly words to make it appear that they were proposing far more than token gestures and pleas for subsidies. Therefore, the 0.2°C estimate likely included two-thirds to three-quarters of all the real emission constraint proposals. So how does an analysis a few months later produce almost five times the impact on emissions?

The second paragraph of the page the later article Joe Romm links to clearly states difference in methodology between the two estimates.


A useful way to assess that impact is to simulate the effects of policies that extend the Agreement’s 188 pledges (known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs) to the end of the century. In a new study that takes this approach, a team of climate scientists and economists from the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change led by research scientist Andrei Sokolov finds that by 2100, the Paris Agreement reduces the SAT considerably, but still exceeds the 2 C goal by about 1 C.

The primary difference is that the earlier study tries to measure the actual, real world, impacts of existing policy, and policy pledges, if those policies are fully enacted. In the USA, those pledges would need Congressional approval to be enacted. The later study takes these submissions, (which were only through to 2030) and tries to estimate the impact if they were extended until 2100.  That is renewables subsidies that push up domestic and business energy costs would be applied for 85 years rather than 15. It is not surprising that if you assume policy proposals are extended for over five times their original period, that they will produce almost five times the original impact. To understand this all that is required is to actually read and comprehend what is written. But Joe Romm is so full of bile for his President and so mad-crazy to save the planet from the evils of Climate Change and (mostly US) big business that he is blinded to that simple reality-check.

The fuller story is that even if all policies were fully enacted and extended to 2100, the impact on emissions would be far smaller than Joe Romm claims. That will be the subject of the next post.

Kevin Marshall