Are social media posts badly misinformed? Probably

Are social media posts badly misinformed? Probably

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In light of the survey finding most voters are badly misinformed on well known and popular public policy issues the same is likely true about social media posts. It is likely that more than half of political or policy oriented social media posts are incorrect. But depending on who makes the posts, and how many followers they have, their incorrect posts can be influential – and plant non factual and illogical constructions in the minds of their targets.

I thought of this today after seeing numerous posts on Twitter and Facebook suggesting  California would not be having such wild fire problems if only more action had been taken on climate change initiatives. Similarly, there are a spate of posts saying the fires must have been started by the government because its impossible for cars to be burned but trees to have been spared (illustrating their own ignorance of fire behavior).

On first glance this seems to make logical sense.

But a simple question reveals this assertion is nonsense.

Consider: Could we reduce California wildfires if we cut human caused carbon dioxide emissions by 100%, tomorrow?

No. The earth would continue to warm for at least 40 years at which point it would stabilize at a higher temperature.

Could we reduce California wildfires if we cut human caused carbon dioxide emissions by 70%, tomorrow?

Even if we had a magic wand that could cut emissions by an amazing 70% tomorrow, climate models forecast a continued rise of up to 0.8 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Slashing emissions effective immediately will not solve the Western U.S.  historical fire problem for decades to come.

Consequently, if we wish to reduce the threat of wild fires in the West, addressing climate change is not the first priority nor possibly even the 10th priority. Other steps must be taken, urgently – if we put our priority on climate emissions, we will fail to solve the fire problem for decades or centuries.

There are many papers on this subject, many news articles on this subject, and today, many posts by scientists on this subject. (I have a list but not bothering to post the details because I do not believe anyone cares to read through them.) You’ll find that wild land fires in California are a complex problem with a very long history. We have no choice but to embrace mitigation and new strategies – new zoning, new building materials, new fire protection measures, defensible spaces and controls on people.

80% of fires are caused by human activity (arson, sparks from equipment, power lines, and so on). This worsens as population increases and human activity increasingly moves into high fire danger urban/wildland boundaries. Dry weather and climate conditions further amplify these human caused events in a region whose ecosystem has evolved to be dependent on fire. The IPCC forecasts increased precipitation in the California region due to human caused climate change.

Bottom line: focusing one’s social media propaganda wrath on climate change policy will have no or minimal impact on western wildfires during the next 40 to 80 years.

When you see posts focusing on a single element solution, you are likely looking at propaganda by someone who wants you to adopt their agenda. Social media is full of many posts promoting a meme that is roughly: California fires would not be happening if the government had taken stronger actions the past two years to fight climate change.

This claim is a feel good, glittering generality that promotes activities that would not improve the fire situation in the West in our lifetime, our children’s lifetime and even our grandchildren’s lifetime.

Social media enables anyone to act as a propagandist and pass along a meme given to them by someone else – without bothering to think, without bothering to ask if the meme makes logical sense.

Many posters were responding to this asinine, inappropriate, idiotic, foolish and mean spirited comment:

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