Journalism: “Oregon ranks high in rising rate of natural disasters”

Journalism: “Oregon ranks high in rising rate of natural disasters”

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A new report says natural disasters are becoming more common across the nation. Oregon is among the states most prone to the problem — and as you might expect, wildfires are a large reason why.

Source: Oregon ranks high in rising rate of natural disasters – KTVZ

This story is sourced to an online insurance business named QuoteWizard (with interesting reviews).

They indicate they count the number of fires as “disasters”, rather than acreage, the latter of which is a better measure of overall destruction. The criteria to be counted as a “disaster” is not specified and is not clear since we cannot compare their numbers to anything in the actual data.

Let’s practice factfulness.

Actual data chart showing fire acreage over the years since 1911 from the Oregon Fire Statistics database. Click on the post to get a larger, easier to see view of this graphic.

Orange bars represent acres burned during drought years and yellow bars represent acres burned during non-drought years. Over the last 109 years (since 1911), the acreage burned has dropped very significantly. In the last ten years, the acreage burned has increased.

  • The white line is the ten year averaged number of fires and this is down.
  • The ten year averaged acres burned is up at the far right (dark red line).
  • The faint gray line is the number of fires caused by lightning, potentially associated with climate change, and that line is slightly down since 1991.

QuoteWizard says they counted the number of fires to determine the number of disasters  – but the trend line from the State of Oregon shows a decline in number of fires since 1993. It is not clear how a decline in number of fires translates into an increase in disasters since they indicate they are using that number. They compared 1980-1999, to 2000-2017 (different numbers of years, ends before sharp reduction in fires in 2019).

Historically, about half the fires in Oregon are started by natural causes (lightning) and half by human activity.

In 2013, one of the large fires was caused by human activity and two by lightning. The major fire in 2014 was lightning caused. For 2015, one by human activity (a lawn mower) and one by lightning. The largest fires in 2017 and 2018 were started by lightning and the 2018 large Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia Gorge was started by a teen from Washington State throwing firecrackers into the forest on a hot and windy day. The biggest fire in 2019 was started by an illegal campfire.

Recent years have seen a “large percentile increase in a very small number”. By leaving out history and context, the factual message is distorted, making this look like a catastrophe and inducing fear and hysteria in viewers. Not surprisingly, the story spin is that this is all due to climate change – even though the trend in lightning caused fires is also down. That leaves drought, dry forest, and perhaps insect damage as climate related causes. But looking at the orange columns in the official chart, there is no particular trend in droughts.

Public Relations

The QuoteWizard report was created as “public relations” messaging designed to get them free publicity. They send out their “report” as a press release. Local news outlets eager to find content to fill air time and ink then use this on their broadcast or in their papers – and lightly edit (if at all) the incoming “PR”. In order to attract attention, the QuoteWizard PR needs a “hook” or something profound to gather attention. What better message for an insurance company than to spread fears of fires and catastrophes?

QuoteWizard – and the local KTVZ news – have participated in a public relations manipulation campaign, and a successful one in that it got QuoteWizard – a small, little known, online, Internet-based insurance sales web site – free publicity and potentially triggered an emotional, fear-based response in the target.

Public relations is the term invented by Edward Bernays in the late 1920s as a substitute for propaganda. Prior to that time, the concept of public relations was known as propaganda but the propaganda messaging of World War I and later World War II, ruined the term. Bernays invented “public relations” as a substitute and is considered the “father of public relations”.

Real news reporters know they are spun by press releases like this and would do at least a modicum of checking. But not KTVZ.

 

Standard Disclaimer Applies: How to Do Climate Communications – Never Cry Wolf

As I previously wrote

The Nature Conservancy should focus on facts of atmospheric CO2 levels rising, land and sea surface temperature anomalies, ice pack changes, ocean Ph and sea level change (IPCC Synthesis Report, Figure SPM.1) – as reported by reputable scientific bodies, but they did not. Instead they went straight for hyperbole and making untrue claims to promote fear and hysteria.

or

Stick with the facts of CO2 rising, sea level ice and temperature changes, ice mass changes or risk tuning all of us out. Shrill terminology designed to create emotional outrage and responses is a total turn off.

and

The facts are sufficient. The impacts of untrue propaganda hysteria, on the other hand, are to turn off the target completely. We have learned nothing from the parable of the boy who repeatedly cried Wolf!

The propaganda messaging methods in use are leading to public opinions that are not based in facts, logic or evidence. In the U.S. 51% of those aged 18-34 believe humanity may become extinct within 10-15 years, even though there is zero evidence to support such a conclusion. This disconnect between belief and reality risks the potential for major backlash against taking action to reduce CO2-equivalent effects on climate.

Some suggest focusing on solutions and opportunities – instead of unrealistic, dystopian catastrophes designed primarily as click-bait – would be a more effective and positive way forward for climate communications. Instead, we get intense negativity – and falsehoods – that have led to children and adults to seek mental health treatment for induced anxiety.

Personal Notes on Climate Realism

We are taking direct actions to reduce our CO2-equivalent emissions. In late 2019, we spent US$18,000 (before credits) to install a solar PV array that will reduce our home’s annual grid-provided electricity to net zero (likely less). Our utility generates 56% of its electricity by burning coal and 14% by burning natural gas (about half the emissions of coal). Solar PV directly cuts our portion of those GHG emissions to zero.

We just spent $5,000 to upgrade 40 year old R-19 attic insulation (which has settled such that it is less than that) to R-60 building code standards. For an all electric house, and before the updates, we already used 1/3d the amount of electricity of similar homes. We heat using locally sourced wood pellets and our home is cold every winter day. I drive a Honda Fit averaging about 42 mpg. While spending an amount similar to a low end electric vehicle, our solar and attic upgrades will have a far greater reduction in CO2 emissions than buying an EV.

Up to half of an EV’s lifetime CO2 emissions occur during its manufacturing and if you live where your electricity to charge your EV is generated by burning coal, your overall CO2 emissions reductions are small or non-existent. While EVs will generally reduce CO2 emissions, for many they are primarily a virtue signaling device (a survey by Volvo found about 75% of purchasers said this, and selected an EV because paradoxically it “helps them to feel better about making less environmentally conscious decisions in “other areas of life.”.)

According to the International Energy Agency, the lifetime CO2-equivalent emissions of an EV are about the same as a hybrid car (e.g. Prius) or a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and only slightly less than an internal combustion engine vehicle of a similar size (which is likely a big surprise to those buying EVs thinking they are “zero emission”).

I post this at the end of each climate communications post because merely mentioning climate results in being called a climate denier or a Nazi.

Call me a climate realist but don’t call me a denier or a Nazi.

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