Fort McMurray Wildfire 2016: Conflating Human-Caused Wildfires with Human-Caused Global Warming

17 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2017

Date Written: March 8, 2017


As the debate over the ratio of human versus natural influence on climate change continues, proponents of the theory of catastrophic human-caused global warming often cite various extreme events as alleged evidence of human-caused climate change. This was the immediate reaction by anti-oil activists such as Naomi Klein to Alberta’s Fort McMurray wildfire of 2016, particularly as Fort McMurray is the epi-centre of demonized oil sands activity. Most recently, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) issued a report claiming that 2016 was the hottest year on record, linking to a map of “evidence” of extreme events wherein the Fort McMurray fire is noted as one such example. Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada made similar claims on March 2, 2017. In fact, the archived status report of the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Association (CIFFA) for that period shows that all Alberta fires were categorized by as being ‘human-caused’ and thus preventable (“human-caused” can mean any form of human-related interaction, from a power line sparking a tree branch, to negligent campers, to intentional acts, etc.). This paper reviews relevant fire risk information related to the events of May 2016 in the Fort McMurray fire, demonstrating that a combination of human-caused interaction or negligence, human-caused lack of governmental attention to recommendations from previous reports on similarly catastrophic wildfires in the same region, in conjunction with the natural warming climate anomalies of El Nino Southern Oscillation and cyclical effects of Pacific Decadal Oscillation and natural biological aging of conifers were drivers of the Fort McMurray wildfires, not human-caused global warming. The author gratefully acknowledges Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada and the Minister of Natural Resources for permission to reproduce relevant archival fire weather maps.

Keywords: Fort McMurray wildfire, global warming, Naomi Klein, Bank of Canada, climate change

Suggested Citation

Stirling, Michelle, Fort McMurray Wildfire 2016: Conflating Human-Caused Wildfires with Human-Caused Global Warming (March 8, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

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