Shameless Flameout: Washington Post Once Again Publishes George Will’s Anti-Scientific Nonsense

You may recall the Washington Post’s editorial page editor coming to his senses (briefly) in April 2011, writing, “The GOP’s climate-change denial may be its most harmful delusion.”

But that was apparently no reason for the paper to stop deluding its readers with the umpteenth piece of disinformation from resident anti-scientist George Will. While many studies have shown climate change has worsened wildfires, drought, and deluges, Will mocked the President’s inaugural remarks:

He says that “the threat of climate change” is apparent in “raging fires,” “crippling drought” and “more powerful storms.” Are fires raging now more than ever? (There were a third fewer U.S. wildfires in 2012 than in 2006.) Are the number and severity of fires determined by climate change rather than forestry and land-use practices?

2006? Seriously, George Will — and blinkered editors at the Washpost? If you wonder why in Hell (and High Water) Will just happens to pick the year 2006, you need look no further than the above graph of annual U.S. acreage burned from the National Fire Center (via Tamino).


For Will and the Washpost, the “decline” since the record-smashing 2006 disproves climate change. In Will’s logic, unless ever year is worse than the previous year in all respects, humans are not suffering the effects of global warming.

We have moved beyond a time when such op-eds should be seen as just the outgrowth of a polarized political system. George Will, with the support of the Washington Post, is spreading disinformation whose goal is to delay or stop efforts to deal with climate change. If these efforts are successful, they will cause billions of people to needlessly suffer. As President Obama said, such Willful denial of “the overwhelming judgment of science” can only be seen as an effort to “Betray Our Children And Future Generations.”Shame on George Will and the Washington Post. While it would be trivial to debunk Will’s entire piece, wasting everyone’s time is a key goal of disinformers like Will, so I’ll just focus on the fires.

Will coyly asks, “Are the number and severity of fires determined by climate change rather than forestry and land-use practices?” The key debater’s word there is “determined.” It should be “increased.”

The goal of disinformers and their media allies is to create a straw man whereby those who accept the overwhelming judgment of science are accused of saying global warming is the sole cause of a given extreme event, rather than an aggravating cause.

Will, a pedant of the worst kind, doesn’t even know what he doesn’t know. There is a large and growing literature that global warming is increasing the number and severity of wildfires in this country — and that it is going to get much, much worse. A 2006 cover story in the prestigious journal Science magazine, “Warming and Earlier Spring Increase Western U.S. Forest Wildfire Activityexplains:

We compiled a comprehensive database of large wildfires in western United States forestssince 1970 and compared it with hydroclimatic and land-surface data. Here, we show that large wildfire activity increased suddenly and markedly in the mid-1980s, with higher large-wildfire frequency, longer wildfire durations, and longer wildfire seasons. The greatest increases occurred in mid-elevation, Northern Rockies forests, where land-use histories have relatively little effect on fire risks and are strongly associated with increased spring and summer temperatures and an earlier spring snowmelt.

Even worse, the wildfire threat is poised to grow, causing a feedback effect that accelerates global warming. The 2006 study concluded:

If the average length and intensity of summer drought increases in the Northern Rockies and mountains elsewhere in the western United States, an increased frequency of large wildfires will lead to changes in forest composition and reduced tree densities, thus affecting carbon pools. Current estimates indicate that western U.S. forests are responsible for 20 to 40% of total U.S. carbon sequestration. If wildfire trends continue, at least initially, this biomass burning will result in carbon release, suggesting that the forests of the western United States may become a source of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide rather than a sink, even under a relatively modest temperature-increase scenario. Moreover, a recent study has shown that warmer, longer growing seasons lead to reduced CO2 uptake in high-elevation forests, particularly during droughts. Hence, the projected regional warming and consequent increase in wildfire activity in the western United States is likely to magnify the threats to human communities and ecosystems, and substantially increase the management challenges in restoring forests and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

NASA reported in December that climate models support this conclusion, projecting an increase in U.S. wildfires and “Causing A Further Rise In The Release Of Carbon Dioxide.”


Here’s a figure from a 2010 presentation made by the President’s science adviser Dr. John Holdren, about conditions projected for mid-century:

Nothing is going to stop George Will for spreading disinformation. If the wildfire data — which Will is obviously aware of since he cherry-picked the worst year (2006) — doesn’t persuade you something is amiss, and you ignore the actual science to make a fallacious argument, then you are beyond reason.

But the Washington Post has to bear some responsibility for continuing to publish Will. It’s not like this is his first time: