California wildfires

Wildfires this summer in California.

The editorial board of The Anniston Star on Aug. 21 wrote that I, Alabama’s state climatologist, am “potentially dangerous to the future of the planet.”

Wow. Step aside Lex Luthor. Move over Palpatine.

Actually, what is more dangerous to us all is the conveyance of information that is biased, misleading or false.

To make its point about me in its editorial, “Don't believe Alabama's chief skeptic of man-made climate change,” The Star cites sources such as The New Yorker as authoritative on climate (The New Yorker?!?) rather than doing a little investigation on its own. Had it done so, it would have discovered that the flames it evidently wants to fan claiming the climate is becoming more dangerous should be doused.

Or The Star could have just called me and talked about real data.

Rather, The Star repeated popular claims made by pressure groups that the current wildfire season is somehow evidence that the climate is changing, with the implication that humans are responsible for the change. However, the evidence shows wildfires worldwide have actually declined both in frequency and area in the past 40 years. Similarly, the global area in drought shows no increase since 1950 -- there’s always a drought somewhere.

Wildfires can be terrifying, and with today’s instant reporting we see this horror immediately. But placed in historical context, the major factor in wildfires is human management (or mismanagement). In raw numbers, wildfire-incidence in North America has dropped to less than one-fourth what it was before the Western practice of fire control began in the late 19th century.

When watching the news about the deadly fires in California, wouldn’t it be helpful to tell the viewers that fires used to occur at a rate four times higher than today or that the most devastating, multi-decadal megadroughts of the West Coast states occurred 1,000 years ago?

After decades of fire suppression, the devastating Yellowstone Fire of 1988 led to a 1995 report by the U.S. Forest Service which concluded, “… wildland fire is a natural process that is critical to ecosystem health and should be reintroduced where it had been removed …” So, there has been a small recent uptick in U.S. area burned due to changes in management practices, not climate.

In general, though, whether you are talking about wildfires, droughts, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes or heat waves in the United States, the evidence shows no long-term increases -- in fact, most are headed downward -- and hence no claim can be made that humans are responsible for worsening conditions.

When statements claiming there is evidence that climate is becoming more dangerous, your state climatologist will analyze the real data and not rely on the breathless exaggerations of on-camera reporters or paid spokespersons for environmental pressure groups. I will stick with the observations … the facts.

A good example of my approach is found in this month’s Alabama Climate Report [] in which I demonstrate how the New York Times published the false impression that the number of 90-degree days in the United States is at its highest level and rising (it’s not happening, as I show.)

Whether my research is produced for the federal courts, the U.S. Congress, scientific publications or Alabama’s Monthly Climate Report, as Alabama’s state climatologist I will always provide the people of our state with the most accurate information that is available, even if the “consensus” wants you to “believe” something else.

The Star often bucks the prevailing “consensus” on various matters, believing it is basing its views on facts. Perhaps The Star could give me the benefit of the same perspective?

John R. Christy is the distinguished professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, the Alabama state climatologist and fellow of the American Meteorological Society (AMS). He was awarded NASA’s Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and the AMS Special Award for constructing climate datasets from satellites.