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Sarah Palin likely can see smoke from her porch. Does she understand that where there’s smoke, there’s likely climate change fire?

May 27th, 2014 · No Comments

AnWildland Fire Fighting area of Alaska larger than Chicago is in flames, 1000s of people are evacuated, with 100s of homes threatened.

What are we to make of this fire? After all, fires occur in nature and Alaska has had its share in the past. As Larry Lazar put it in an email to me,

While the size of the fire on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula is not particularly unusual, it is very early in the season. This type of fire usually occurs from July-September, not May. With the lack of snow last “winter” and the very dry spring (no rain in ~month), this fire was just a matter of time.  I wonder what the rest of the summer will be like?

Whenever I read about these large and out of season forest fires, I can’t help but think of what it will be like in 30-50 years or longer.  So much for Alaska being a climate refuge.

As for that comment, about “climate refuge”, the reality is that nowhere will be spared the climate chaos’ impacts in terms of an ability to maintain modern human civilization. Even if an area might be (relatively) somewhat unscathed by direct impacts, catastrophic climate change will reduce the global economy’s ability to deliver up everything from sophisticated electronics to pasta. (As to that last, the occasional tv watching a few years ago had me flipped the channels to a discussion of the global industrial machine behind delivering a box of pasta to the supermarket counter. Rather daunting the system-of-systems involved from the farms to the industrial machines for processing pasta to the international transport/logistics system.)

In any event, what is notable is not ‘an’ unusual weather event (earlier large Alaska fire than typically occurs), but how this is part and parcel of an increasing reality of ‘unusual’ weather incidents. Just a few from recent weeks …

  • Hurricane Amanda:  Strongest May eastern Pacific hurricane in human records.
  • California wild fires: “It is pretty amazing to see these in May,” said San Diego Fire Chief Javier Mainar. “We certainly have seen climate change and the impact of climate change. My understanding from Cal Fire is that we’ve seen twice the number of wildfire starts in the state of California as we typically see this time of year.”
  • Balkan floods: Not only did this massive flooding displace large numbers of people, cause economic damage, and create opportunities for dramatic photos (like animals being fed on rooftops), it created yet another new climate change impact: uncovering of 10,000s of land mines from the wars of the Yugoslavia breakup (mainly Bosnia but also Kosovo) with new risks for the population as ‘identified’ minefields are now scattered through the countryside.
  • And …

Of course, the limitations of attribution — the incredible complexity of weather and climate modeling and analysis — make it essentially impossible to assert that any of these events was “entirely caused” by climate change and the warming planetary system.  Yet, the scientific community has increased its capacity to attribute climate change impacts on severe weather situations with confidence. And, rather simply, these — and innumerable other — atypical (500 year and otherwise) weather events are all occurring within the context of climate change.

Unlike Russia, Sarah Palin likely could to see the smoke from the Kenai Peninsula wildfire from a Wasilla porch.  Even as Alaska experiences a significant warming climate, with dramatic effects on Alaska and Alaskans (including curtailing Todd “My Guy” Palin‘s hobby), it seems even more likely that Sarah Palin will not be able to recognize how that smoke is signaling mounting climate change impacts.

Photo credit: Dan Logan (note, photo is from 2010, not the current Kenai Peninsula fire) and NASA of

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Tags: climate change