Media Ignores Global Warming Connection As Wildfires Devastate American West

  • 07/10/2012
  • Terelle Jerricks

By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

Recent wildfires have devastated Colorado, New Mexico and other parts of the American West, but media coverage almost entirely ignores their connection to global warming, according to a recent study.

The study, which was released by Media Matters, covering the period from April 1 to June 30, 2012, stated that, “All together, only 3 percent of the reports mentioned climate change, including 1.6 percent of television segments and 6 percent of text articles.” This is despite the fact that seven of nine fire experts contacted by  Media Matters  agreed journalists should explain the relationship between climate change and wildfires.

The report quotes an article from Climate Central, “Wildfires Require Several Factors To Come Together,” which said, in part, wildfires are a naturally occurring phenomenon closely tied to climate conditions, and as the world warms in response to rising amounts of greenhouse gases in the air, many studies show that wildfire frequency and severity will likely shift as well.

This is neither a new nor a surprising development. Random Lengths wrote about the connections between wildfires and global warming almost five years, when wildfires devastated Southern California (see the “Fire This Time and Next” in Random Lengths, November 2-15, 2007.)  That story began by quoting from a 2003 story from the Associated Press, “Global Warming Could Worsen California Wildfires,” which began: drought- and beetle-ravaged trees in this mountain community stick up like matchsticks in the San Bernardino National Forest, bypassed by the fires still smoldering, but left like kindling for the next big blaze. Welcome to the future.

Our story went on to say, we are already two decades into that future, according to a study published in Science magazine three years later [2006], which examined every forest fire that burned at least 1,000 acres in ‘federal land-management units containing 61 percent of western forested areas.’ Out of 1,166 fires in that period, four-fifths of them about 900 fires occurred after 1987, a period in which the average fire season length increased by 78 days, almost equally due to starting earlier and ending later.* We also cited a 60 Minutes report in which Tom Boatner, chief of fire operations for the federal government, said, ten years ago, if you had a 100,000-acre fire, you were talking about a huge fire. And if we had one or two of those a year, that was probably unusual. Now we talk about 200,000-acre fires like it’s just another day at the office. It’s been a huge change.

Now it appears that the corporate media knows even less about global warming and wildfires than it did five years ago and more.

Note: “News outlets included in this study are ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press,The Los Angeles Times,, USA Today andThe Wall Street Journal,*the report explained. MSNBC and Fox News were not included in this analysis because transcripts of their daytime coverage  are not available in the Nexis database.

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