2016-05-13 Fri

Clear Thinking

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The news channels have been full of the wildfires that have engulfed a significant part of Fort McMurray.

Were Fort McMurray not there as a settlement, the wildfires would have swept through the unsettled area and provided a few image-of-the-year entries of enormous clouds of brown-grey smoke and one or two images of orange frames fringing the smoke.

Huge wildfires have been a characteristic of this earth since the time that forests first arrived on the scene which implies both fuel (carbon) and oxygen. Lightning strikes were around long before that time, just waiting for an opportunity.

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My OED defines “freak” variously as “monstrosity, abnormally developed, irregular or bizarre occurrence”, and I have no problem with that. You could extend the definition to include “Random” and I wouldn’t complain about that, either.

The Fort McMurray fire therefore IS a freak accident and until and unless it is shown that the fire was started by a human agency (dropped cigarette butt, campfire, arsonist, controlled-burn-gone-wrong and so on) then the Fort McMurray fire is an accident, an irregular occurrence.

We should be clear on the distinction between the exact time at which something can happen, and the fact that something can happen.

If I predict that a wildfire will encircle and consume Sudbury on June 21st 2016 I expect to be proved wrong. In lay terms, the chances of Sudbury being consumed by fire on June 21st 2016 are something like one in ten million, give or take a zero or two at the right-hand side.

However if I predict that a wildfire will encircle and consume Sudbury sometime within the next twenty-five thousand years (10,000,000 days), I expect to be proved right.

That a fire will sweep through that region is a certainty.

That a fire will sweep through that region sometime in the next 10,000,000 to 1,000,000,000 years is a certainty.

That a fire will sweep through that region on any specific date is almost certainly not going to happen.

That the Fort McMurray area will/would be swept by fire is a certainty, but no-one saw it coming at this time (April/May 2016). So this fire is seen as a freak. An opportunity of chance.

Trudeau is close to correct when he is quoted as saying “It’s well-known that one of the consequences of climate change will be a greater prevalence of extreme weather” Only “close” though. It is not so much as well-known (as a proven fact) but is a “well-known band-wagon” onto which politicians jump.

It is not so much “well-known” as “well talked-about” and by now “well-believed by unthinking people who believe everything that they are told”.

Including these words I am typing.

I do not deny climate change. Eleven thousand years ago the place where I sit and type was buried under a two-MILE thick sheet of ice; today the temperature will climb to 21 and all traces of snow and ice have vanished. Clearly the climate in Toronto has changed, for the warmer.

I do deny that every political opportunity - The Fort McMurray fire - is a result of climate change.

And I believe that politicians weaken the argument by crying “Wolf!” or “in this case “Fire!” at every microphone-opportunity.