When Politics Ignores Science

Oscar Gordon

A Navy Turbine Tech who learned to spin wrenches on old cars, Oscar has since been trained as an Engineer & Software Developer & now writes tools for other engineers. When not in his shop or at work, he can be found spending time with his family, gardening, hiking, kayaking, gaming, or whatever strikes his fancy & fits in the budget.

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22 Responses

  1. One thing I like about this piece (or the quoted portion, I haven’t read the whole thing) is that he got the “Cassandra syndrome” right. When people warn against “Cassandra’s,” they almost always seem to forget that Cassandra was right.Report

  2. Michael Cain says:

    It’s not clear that there’s a politically feasible solution. We’re not going to relocate a couple of million people who have moved into fire zones. We’re not going to mechanically clear the accumulated ground fuel loads. We’re not going to thin the forests enough to slow down the assorted bark beetles. We’re not going to eradicate cheat grass and restore native plants. We’re not going to reeducate the visitors to the national forests who come to the mountains expecting to see artificially dense tree growth.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

      There might not be, but folks aren’t really trying hard to find one.

      I do think a policy of educating the public regarding the important part fire plays in the health of the forest is a big first step, and then letting things burn unless a community is in danger is the right course of action.

      Well, that, and insisting that such communities take action to protect themselves with firebreaks, etc. People who want to “live right next to the forest” either need to build to survive the fire, or pay the insurance to rebuild after it.Report

      • …or pay the insurance to rebuild after it.

        Back in the 1960s private insurance companies removed flood coverage from homeowners insurance, and then quit writing separate flood coverage. Hence FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. I have been expecting for years that the insurance companies will quit writing wildfire coverage as well.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Michael Cain says:


    • DensityDuck in reply to Michael Cain says:

      Yes, one of the reasons “we are not gonna” do any of these things is because of misery-porn addicts like you telling us how it’s impossible.

      “But it’s so expensive and disruptive!” Yeah, that’s not impossible, that’s just hard.Report

      • Philip H in reply to DensityDuck says:

        But we DON’T do the hard things. After Katrina I had a LOT of people on all sides of the political aisle tell me we needed to abandon New Orleans as it was now too risky. Every time I’d counter with we needed to abandon Miami for the same reason I got scoffed at. So we mostly rebuilt New Orleans, and we continue to expand Miami.

        Thats not about misery porn (whatever the hell that is). Its about an economic and political system that isn’t willing to deal with change.Report

  3. George Turner says:

    California could easily handle the problem on 1930’s budgets, just like red states do. One of my chat buddies sets fire to big sections of Florida all the time, often two or three times a week, weather permitting. Small crews go out and burns a hundred or so acres at a time in more urban areas (where there’s a complex wildland/urban interface), while more rural regions will burn 4,000 to 25,000 acres at a time.

    Annually, Florida burns about 3 million acres. In contrast, the deadly 2018 California wildfires burned only 2 million acres, a million less than Florida burns annually – on purpose. The difference is that the California fires killed over a hundred people and damaged or destroyed 24,000 buildings, whereas in Florida, they’re able to control wildfires much better because of the constant controlled burns, which provide stopping points.

    Heck, just do what Florida does. Wildfire Risk Reduction in FL (pdf)Report

    • Come talk to us when your buddy is setting those fires in the middle of a few thousand square miles that have received less than 12 inches of total precipitation over the last 12 months.Report

      • George Turner in reply to Michael Cain says:

        He sets them in the middle of 65,000 square miles of highly flammable Florida! Californians used to use controlled burns all the time, too, as did almost everybody since the Neolithic – in Australia, the Old World, and the New World. You see, folks don’t set the controlled fires when there’s a high fire danger, they do it when there’s an extremely low fire danger. That’s kind of the point.

        A few decades ago, Florida cut back on its controlled burns due to complaints from homeowners. The result was massive wildfires in 1998 that burned hundreds of homes. Half a million acres went up and it about half the firefighters in the country had to fight it. Afterwards, they went back to strictly maintaining their prescribed burns.Report

        • Florida and Georgia do occasionally have a good-sized wildfire. (According to the Wikipedia list, Florida’s largest single fire ever was 125,000 acres; there will be at least a couple dozen western fires bigger than that this year.) An interesting discussion to have might be the much-more widespread adoption of controlled burns in the Southeast, mostly on private lands, with policy set by locals, and the decline of controlled burning in the West, where public lands predominate and policy is largely set by people who live hundreds/thousands of miles away. To make it more specific, Oregon didn’t have a choice about controlled burns in the areas going up in flames now. That decision was made in Washington, DC. As a geographic rather than partisan point, one of Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) goals when he was running the House Budget Committee was to zero out fire mitigation funding for western public lands.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

        Isn’t that then the definition of “let it burn”. Save fire fighting efforts for when fire endangers people.

        If nothing else, George is right, do the proscribed burn when you are getting rain, or manage the area with fire breaks. There isn’t a good reason to not do your prep work.

        The things I really found interesting in the article were reasons to not do the burns. Reasons like having to meet air quality requirements, or not being allowed to bring in heavy equipment because it’s not an emergency.Report

    • Philip H in reply to George Turner says:

      The United States government owns 47.7% of California. It owns 13.07% of Florida. One of those states has way more control of its fire suppression as a result.Report

  4. Oscar Gordon says:

    I just got done listening to Newsome, et. al talk (on NPR) about how the fires are all about climate change and that Trump is wrong that it has anything to do with forestry management.

    They couldn’t even take the obvious shot that the bulk of that mismanaged forest land is federal, and Trumps party hasn’t been doing anything about it either.Report