Bjorn Lomborg: California Fires Mainly Caused by Century of Suppressing Controlled Burns

Flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires leap above Butts Canyon Road on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, as firefighters work to contain the blaze in unincorporated Lake County, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
AP Photo/Noah Berger

Ongoing forest fires in California are mostly a function of poor forest management, particularly insufficient controlled burns to clear away accumulated fuelwood, explained Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and author of False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet, offering his remarks on Thursday’s edition of SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Daily with host Alex Marlow.

“It has fairly little to do with climate change, and it has almost everything to do with the fact that we haven’t managed our forest well,” said Lomborg of California wildfires. “We haven’t done prescribed burning. We haven’t ensured that these fires won’t burn out of control.”

Lomborg added, “We’ve just simply allowed fuelwood to build up to cause almost uncontrollable fires in California.”

Prescribed burnings are necessary to reduce the risk of uncontrollable forest fires, Lomborg stated. “If we did prescribed burning, we could, in a few years, reduce the fire risk dramatically and actually get people’s lives back to — pretty close — to normal.”


“Fires are mostly there because we’ve had fire suppression for more than a hundred years.”

Lomborg explained how California has used fire extinguishment in lieu of prescribed burns for over a century. 

“Fundamentally, we have suppressed fires for more than a hundred years,” Lomborg said. “That obviously makes good sense that you’d rather not have fires than fires, but what happens is you build up lots and lots of fuelwood that is basically going to give you much hotter, much fiercer fires later on.”

Lomborg noted that California’s suppression of forest fires and abdication of prescribed burns led to a build-up of dry kindling in the state’s forests.

“From the 1950s to about 2000, California only saw about 250,000 acres of forest burn every year, so it was a dramatic reduction,” Lomborg remarked. “It builds up all this fuelwood. There’s now five times as much fuelwood in the under storage of most California forests. You can’t keep that up. Eventually, these fires will break out, and that’s what we’re seeing now.”

Lomborg said the average area consumed by forest fires over the past ten years in California over the last ten years “is almost a million acres.” He added, “It has fairly little to do with climate change, and it has almost everything to do with the fact that we haven’t managed our forests well.”

“We haven’t done prescribed burning; we haven’t ensured that these fires won’t burn out of control,” Lomborg determined.

Lomborg challenged claims that today’s Golden State fires are “unprecedented.”

“These fires are big, but we have to get a sense of proportion,” Lomborg stated. “We have good statistics all the way back to before 1800, and back in the 1700s, California used to burn much much more than what it’s doing right now. We estimate that it burned somewhere between four and 12 million acres — remember, the biggest burn of this year is 2.3 million acres — so more than twice as much and possibly even six times as much.”

The U.S. Forest Service describes controlled burns on its website. The agency explains, “After many years of fire exclusion, an ecosystem that needs periodic fire becomes unhealthy. Trees are stressed by overcrowding; fire-dependent species disappear; and flammable fuels build up and become hazardous.”

“More prescribed fires mean fewer extreme wildfires,” declares the U.S. Forest Service.

Scientific American cited Daniel Swain, an assistant researcher at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment & Sustainability, who claimed that “climate change” is a driver of today’s California wildfires. It also shared a competing view from Jon Keeley, a senior scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center.

Keeley said, “We ought to be much more concerned with ignition sources than a one- to two-degree change in temperature.” He echoed Lomborg’s analysis in identifying California’s focus on putting out forest fires for about a century instead of using controlled burning to remove flammable dead vegetation.

Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor at Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy, and Environment Sciences told the CBC, “We now have very strong evidence from those years of research that global warming is, in fact, increasing the odds of unprecedented extremes.”

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