Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Texas burns

Four people are dead. A thousand homes destroyed. Caused by a record-breaking drought and scorching tempertures. But, really. Who could ever have predicted it?

Abstract. High-temporal resolution meteorological output from the Parallel Climate Model (PCM) is used to assess changes in wildland fire danger across the western United States due to climatic changes projected in the 21st century. A business-as-usual scenario incorporating changing green- house gas and aerosol concentrations until the year 2089 is compared to a 1975–1996 base period. Changes in relative humidity, especially drying over much of the West, are projected to increase the number of days of high fire danger (based on the energy release component (ERC) index) at least through the year 2089 in comparison to the base period. The regions most affected are the northern Rockies, Great Basin and the Southwest – regions that have already experienced significant fire activity early this century.

Brace yourself; when something bad happens, something predicted to occur with greater force of frequency as the globe warms, there will be pious and not-so-pious people telling you you can't blame any particular event on climate change. That is nonsense. You simply need to understand the nature of the link, and blame intelligently -- see below.

You can't link weather events or natural disasters to anything in the way you link Lee Harvey Oswald to the assassination of Kennedy. It's more like the way you link drug abuse to the death of Amy Winehouse. Are you sure they're related? Well, you haven't seen the autopsy, but based on recent photos, you're pretty sure. Is it possible something else played a role, or even that she might have died of something else anyway? Maybe. Do any of these uncertainties make you want to give crack to you kids as a Christmas present?

"You can't be sure drugs are why I look like this."

The linkage that is meaningful here is one of risk. If you smoke you may not get cancer. If you do not smoke you may still get cancer. Cancer and smoking are still strongly linked, even if a particular case of cancer can never be attributed to any one factor.

Climate models say Texas is going to burn. Texas is burning. That burning is linked to climate change. Climate change made it more likely to happen, it's happening and it will probably happen again. Complex events always have multiple influencing factors that muddy their pedigree. Focus on what counts -- risk.

CNN: Gov. Perry: Texas fires are 'mean, swift and highly dangerous'

The Guardian: Texas fires destroy more than 1,000 homes

NYTimes: Videos Show Fire and Destruction in Texas


  1. Good analogy, drug abuse and Amy's death (or Michael Jackson, Charlie Parker,etc.). On and on..."Tobacco might cause cancer in dogs, but you can't link it to any particular human death." (from a smoking family member of mine)... And remember, "most cancer isn't associated with smoking" (most forest fires are in the Amazon, not Texas). It is important to observe that the war against tobacco is so much like that war against poor Roy Spencer. RP Sr. isn't taking this lying down, either.

  2. I don't know that Amy Winehouse is a good example

    "Toxicology results have shown "no illegal substances" in Amy Winehouse's system at the time of her death"

  3. Unfortunately, recreational drugs including cocaine and alcohol can cause life-threatening complications even after one has become sober. In the case of alcohol or benzodiazepines, the withdrawal itself can actually cause death (unless supervised and managed medically.)

    Amy Winehouse was an otherwise healthy young woman with no reason to die suddenly. You can see the impact that her addictions had on her just looking at her photos. It is very likely that she died of the complications of drug abuse, which unfortunately kill far more people than outright overdoses.

  4. It appears that well known and popular drug - alcohol - may have played an important part in the death of Amy Winehouse.

    My friend died as a result of choking on his own vomit one night after having had too much to drink at a party. He was an occasional social drinker, not an alcoholic. I still drink on occasion but it has made me much more aware of how dangerous alhohol is. One needn't be an addict to be killed by this legal drug.

  5. More evidence of the perils of alcohol

    Drunk Swedish elk found in apple tree near Gothenburg

  6. That link is just awesome. :) I'm going to work that picture into a discussion somehow. If I can find a use for Amy Winehouse, I can find one for dead drunken elk in a tree.

    Alcohol, though: bad. For some people. In moderation there are some health benefits. I don't partake myself between half my family have wrecked their lives with the stuff.

    Once you get into the heavy drinking, man, there's just so many ways to lose. You can aspirate, like your friend did. Car crashes, of course, everyone knows about those. Falls (alcoholics with liver dysfunction bleed like hell. So they fall, hit their heads, and are dying of a brain bleed that gets missed -- because laying in a gutter dying of brain bleed looks identical to laying in the gutter drunk.) Fights and other violence, including suicide (something like 70% of suicides have alcohol on board). You can get massive GI bleeding -- vomit up half the blood in your body in the course of a few hours. You can go into a coma from the poisons in your blood your abused liver has stopped filtering. Seizures with withdrawal, sometimes until you're dead. You can permanently lose your short-term memory from thiamine deficiency . . . could go on.

    Hey, thanks for commenting, and for that cool link. Sorry about your friend. :(