In 2019 Australia was burning. In 2020 Siberia and California were burning. These are only the more recent examples of dramatic extreme wildfire. People are asking if forest fires are linked to climate change.
The experts tell us that yes, the growing extent and increasing severity of wildfires are indeed driven by climate change.
There is only one problem with such nonsense: wildfires are most definitely NOT increasing in severity. How do we know this? The European Space Agency has been using satellites to track global wildfires. At first, their data sets started in the year 2000, and those data sets show that over the past 20 years, there has been a slight decrease in the amount of land that was burned by wildfires.
However, they recently used historical satellite images to increase the length of time covered by their datasets. We can now trace the amount of land burned by wildfires all the way back to 1982. Thus, we have nearly 40 years worth of data that cover the entire world. What do the data show? The graph is at the top of the article. As you can see, there is no discernable trend. The amount of land burned by wildfires changes from year to year, but the average remains remarkably constant.
Like much of what you read about “climate change,” then, the idea that wildfires are becoming more severe or more frequent is just patently false. Unfortunately, no amount of data will stop this false claim from being promulgated, because most people writing about this issue care more about their agenda than they do about science.
North American monarch butterflies perform an incredible migration from their summer breeding grounds to a place where they spend the winter. Most of the monarchs that are born east of the Rocky Mountains travel to Mexico, while those born west of the Rocky Mountains fly to the California Coast. Last year, the headlines about those that travel to California were dire:
Probably the most beloved and recognized butterfly in the United States, the western monarch is essentially on the brink of extinction, said Katy Prudic, co-author of a new report from the University of Arizona that found that the monarchs, along with about 450 butterfly species in the Western United States, have decreased overall in population by 1.6% per year in the past four decades.
Like much of what you read in science news, that’s just not true. The Xerces Society for invertebrate conservation does detailed surveys of western monarch populations, and here are their results for the “Thanksgiving Count,” which is done over three weeks around Thanksgiving:
Looking at the graph, you can see that Katy Prudic is simply wrong. In fact, the western monarch population has both decreased and increased over the past 24 years. Of course, you can also see why the headlines were dire in 2021. The monarch population is barely visible on the graph in 2020. It was the lowest seen in the entire period. So clearly, western monarchs were on the verge of extinction. However, last year’s count shows a population that is the eighth largest in that same time period!
What does this have to do with climate change, aka global warming? First, there have been the predictable attempts to cite it as a cause for the monarchs’ woes. More importantly, however, it shows how dangerous it is to use a trend in nature to make dire predictions.
In both populations, the number of monarchs increased and decreased, but the overall trend for more than 20 years was downward. Then, there was a sudden change, and the decline stopped. This is the way nature works. There is a lot of variation, and tenuous trends in those variations usually don’t mean much.
Now don’t get me wrong. There is a lot of value in collecting data like population counts and global temperatures, and it is important to be concerned about apparent trends. A good scientist, however, should understand that apparent trends are not necessarily actual trends. As a result, good scientists should not make definitive predictions based on them.
I have written about Dr. James Tour before. He is a giant in the field of synthetic organic chemistry. Because he spends his days making molecules, he knows that despite the bluster coming from evolutionary evangelists, we have absolutely no idea how the molecules of life could have been formed from nonliving matter. As a good scientist, he doesn’t rule out the possibility that it might have happened. However, he tries to educate people about how little we know regarding this hypothetical process so they are not fooled by the lies they hear from their teachers and read in their textbooks.
I am writing about him again because he and his group just published a paper that will truly revolutionize the recycling industry. In fact, it turns recycling into upcycling, because it makes the waste into something more versatile than the original products. The process described in the paper can take anything that is mostly carbon (like plastic) and convert it into graphene, which is many times stronger than steel but much more lightweight and flexible. This makes it ideal in many applications. As the University of Manchester says:
Transport, medicine, electronics, energy, defence, desalination; the range of industries where graphene research is making an impact is substantial.
Interestingly enough, graphene comes in two forms, and the form that Dr. Tour’s process makes is the easier one to use in most industrial applications.
The process involves taking any material that contains high amounts of carbon, grinding it into a fine dust, and zapping it with enough electricity to break every bond in the material. All non-carbon atoms form molecules that are vaporized, and the carbon is left behind in the form of graphene.
In their experiments, they used the plastic material from a truck’s bumpers, seats, carpets, and gaskets. They put it through their process and gave the graphene they produced to the Ford Motor Company, which then used it to make new plastic components for their trucks. These new components performed the same as components produced with unrecycled graphene.
A prospective cradle-to-gate life cycle assessment suggests that our method may afford lower cumulative energy demand and water use, and a decrease in global warming potential compared to traditional graphene synthesis methods.
As a scientist, when posed with scientific mysteries that have presented themselves in my research, I have so often bowed my heart and prayed, “Lord, make your light shine on this darkness. When no others can see, please Lord, let me see.” On many occasions, when graduate students have brought their puzzling laboratory results and laid them on my desk, I have been as baffled as they. So remembering [Psalm 112:4], which I had long before committed to memory, I pray for light, and God answers. Surely, meditating on God’s word can cause light to arise in darkness even for the challenges that confront our secular careers.
While this might sound odd to closed-minded secularists, Dr. Tour is not alone in using his faith to aid his scientific work. In fact, the father of the scientific method (Roger Bacon) wrote1:
For the grace of faith illuminates greatly, as also do divine inspirations, not only in things spiritual, but in things corporeal and in the sciences of philosophy;
Copernicus put the sun at the center of what he called “the world” because that made the system more orderly, and he said that this made more sense, since the world was made by “the Best and Most Orderly Workman of all”2. Kepler use the Trinity as a basis for his model of the universe, with the sun at the center representing God the Father, the sphere that held the stars representing God the Son, and the space in between representing God the Holy Spirit. James Clerk Maxwell, the genius who discovered that light is an electromagnetic wave, also prayed to received scientific enlightenment.
There are those who say that Christianity and science are incompatible. In no uncertain terms, scientific luminaries from Roger Bacon to Dr. James Tour demonstrate that this notion is 100% false.
1. The Opus Majus of Roger Bacon, Robert Belle Burke (trans.), (Russel & Russell, Inc. 1962), p. 585 Return to Text
2. Nicolaus Copernicus, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, R. Catesby Taliaferro (trans.), Great Books of the Western World, (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1939), vol. 16, p. 508. Return to Text