Some 2,000 years ago, the great Jewish leader Hillel gave a fine example of brevity in teaching. Hillel was confronted by a skeptic who wanted an explanation of the five books of the Torah. The analyses of these books are long. The skeptic, however, demanded a statement so brief that it could be spoken while standing on one foot. Hillel lifted a foot and said: “Treat others as you would wish them to treat you. That is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary. Now go and study.”
The recent terrifying outbreak of fires in California, causing extensive damage and massive evacuations, naturally raises the question of connections between climate change and wildfires. Before we speak about such connections, we should make the effort to learn the basics of the science of climate change. I think any rational response to climate change involves first knowing what the facts and evidence are. That is the province of science. We should all learn and accept the facts and evidence, which are objective truth and should be the same for everyone. Nobody is entitled to his own so-called “facts.”
Fortunately, there is now widespread agreement on the fundamental findings of the science. There will always be outliers in every branch of science, but many studies confirm that about 97 percent of the scientists who have been most active in carrying out research on climate change and publishing it would agree on the basic research results.
The best summary of climate change science is the assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. Five such reports have been published since 1990, and a sixth is due soon. The physical science portion of the most recent IPCC report is scientifically definitive, but it is long—about 1,500 pages full of charts and graphs, and not easy reading.
I am certainly not Hillel, science is obviously not religion, and the IPCC reports are not the Torah. But I think the essence of this IPCC report can be summarized in 12 succinct points. Here they are:
Just 12 points. Only 60 words. You can easily speak them while standing on one foot.
One could say much more about each of these twelve points. To start, note these facts:
Now we can turn to the connections between climate change and wildfires. A good place to start is a recent IPCC report entitled Global Warming of 1.5°C. The unsurprising general finding is that the greater the warming, the worse the consequences of climate change. Thus, a warming of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial conditions will lead to more severe effects than a warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius. The report cites several scientific studies as “evidence for the attribution of increased forest fire frequency in North America to anthropogenic climate change during 1984–2015, via the mechanism of increasing fuel aridity almost doubling the western USA forest fire area compared to what would have been expected in the absence of climate change.”
The rest is commentary. Now go and study.