Let’s Revisit Climate Change and Wildfires in the West

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The #1 most popular article at the Wall Street Journal right now is “My Unhappy Life as a Climate Heretic,” by Roger Pielke Jr. His piece is basically a complaint that he has been pilloried for years because he holds the view that climate change is real, but that it hasn’t been responsible for a change in the number or intensity of hurricanes, floods, or drought. I can’t comment much on that since I haven’t followed Pielke’s fights with climate scientists, but I did take notice of this bit from his article:

More is going on here than thin-skinned reporters responding petulantly to a vocal professor. In 2015 I was quoted in the Los Angeles Times, by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Paige St. John, making the rather obvious point that politicians use the weather-of-the-moment to make the case for action on climate change, even if the scientific basis is thin or contested.

Ms. St. John was pilloried by her peers in the media. Shortly thereafter, she emailed me what she had learned: “You should come with a warning label: Quoting Roger Pielke will bring a hailstorm down on your work from the London Guardian, Mother Jones, and Media Matters.”

Hey! I recognize one-third of that hailstorm: it’s me.

I don’t know what the other two-thirds of the hailstorm said, but my criticism was calm, factual, and straightforward. St. John’s article was about wildfires, and my post noted that “Pielke doesn’t actually say climate is unrelated to increased wildfire activity”—and then noted that practically no one else St. John quoted says that either:

Virtually everyone quoted in this article either (a) says nothing about climate change or (b) says climate change is an important factor in the rise of wildfires in California and the West. And yet, somehow all of this is written in a way that makes it sound as if climate change has nothing to do with wildfires, and it’s topped by a headline that says in no uncertain terms, “Gov. Brown’s link between climate change and wildfires is unsupported, fire experts say.”

Very peculiar.

As near as I can tell, St. John pretty seriously misrepresented the evidence in her piece. The critiques of it deserved a response, not a cozy email to one of her sources. But as far as I know, they never got one.

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Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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