The Trump Administration Ignores Science

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

By now, it's no surprise that Donald Trump ignores science. Now it is revealed that, by "ginning up the numbers," his administration has cynically used the devastating California wildfires of the past few years as an excuse to increase unsustainable logging. Rake the forest.

The Trump administration is all in for the logging industry while ignoring the impacts of climate change, as a recent report by The Guardian reveals

Internal emails obtained by The Guardian show that the Trump administration emphasized greenhouse gas emissions from California wildfires while devaluing emissions from fossil fuels. Trump administration officials sought to “estimate the carbon emissions from devastating 2018 fires in California so they could compare them to the carbon footprint of the state’s electricity sector and then publish statements encouraging cutting down trees,” according to the report.

Emails from James Reilly, the director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), are among the internal emails obtained. In those emails, he wanted scientists to “gin up” greenhouse gas emissions numbers from California wildfires. One of the reasons is that those numbers would serve as a “decent sound bite.” It also served as a rationale for increasing logging on federal land.

What Reilly failed to point out in any sound bite is that burning fossil fuels was responsible for 76 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and 93 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., according to data from the Energy Information Administration

“Instead of addressing the reality and science of a warming planet creating larger and more devastating wildfire seasons, the Trump administration chose newspeak and spin,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of Western Values Project. 

“Unlike President Trump’s numerous failed businesses, there is no declaring bankruptcy or a trust fund to bail out the planet.”

Trump’s fix for wildfires is increasing logging

President Trump issued an executive order in December 2018 to increase logging on federal land. The executive order came just months after the deadly Camp fire ripped through Paradise, California, burning 153,335 acres, an area about the size of Chicago, and killing 85 people. It was the deadliest fire in California’s history. Trump’s rationale for increasing logging to prevent wildfires is that “post-fire assessments show that reducing vegetation through hazardous fuel management and strategic forest health treatments is effective in reducing wildfire severity and loss,” according to his executive order.

Public forests protected from logging burn less severely than logged forests do, a 2016 study shows. Researchers analyzed fires in pine and mixed-conifer forests over the last 30 years. Lead author of the study, Curtis Bradley said that researchers “were surprised to see how significant the differences were between protected areas managed for biodiversity and unprotected areas, which our data show burned more severely.”

Climate change increases wildfires

Despite the claims of the Trump administration, study after study links increased wildfires to climate change. The most recent study, a review of research, found that climate change increases the likelihood of wildfires. Scientists reviewed 57 peer-reviewed papers published since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report in 2013. All the studies they reviewed indicated links between climate change and the increase of weather conditions that promote wildfires such as high temperatures, low humidity, low rainfall, and high winds.

"Overall, the 57 papers reviewed clearly show human-induced warming has already led to a global increase in the frequency and severity of fire weather, increasing the risks of wildfire,” said Dr. Matthew Jones, lead author of the review.

The severity of wildfires in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California was linked to climate change in a 2019 study. Researchers found that wildfire activity in the Sierra Nevadas in the last 1,400 years was fueled by changes in the climate. The lead author of the study, Richard Vachula, said that data reveals that “climate has been the main driver of fire on a regional scale.” He added that they found that “warm and dry conditions promote fire, which in light of climate model predictions suggests that future fires may be more extensive than we have observed in the last century.”

Another 2019 study found that California’s annual wildfire extent increased five-fold since the early 1970s. Researchers found that the trend is “mainly due” to Summertime forest-fire area increasing eight-fold and is “very likely driven by drying of fuels promoted by human‐induced warming.”

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