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Oh no! We might not have to overthrow capitalism after all

“Climate change: Trees ‘most effective solution’ for warming” reports the BBC.

Researchers say an area the size of the US is available for planting trees around the world, and this could have a dramatic impact on climate change.

The study shows that the space available for trees is far greater than previously thought, and would reduce CO2 in the atmosphere by 25%.

The authors say that this is the most effective climate change solution available to the world right now.

But other researchers say the new study is “too good to be true”.

I do not know enough to say whether this paper by scientists at the Swiss science and technology university ETH Zurich really is too good to be true. But the paper was published in the respected journal Science, and seems to be being taken seriously by the scientific establishment.

I cannot help remembering that when Tony Abbott was Leader of the Opposition in Australia and he suggested the planting of twenty million trees as a climate change mitigation measure, he was roundly mocked.

It is a measure of how cynical I have become about the entire field that my first thought when I read this report was “why are they letting this be said now?”. Do not let us be consumed by cynicism: the answer to that might honestly be “because that seems to be the way the latest research is pointing”. It would be nice if so. Planting a lot of trees would hurt fewer people than almost any other massive state-backed programme I can envisage.

29 comments to Oh no! We might not have to overthrow capitalism after all

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I do not know enough to say whether this paper by scientists at the Swiss science and technology university ETH Zurich really is too good to be true. But the paper was published in the respected journal Science, and seems to be being taken seriously by the scientific establishment.”

    Heh! Not much of a recommendation.

    While it is true that the atmosphere contains about 800 GtC, so 200 GtC would be a quarter of that amount, it is not true that pulling out 200 GtC would reduce CO2 levels by 25%. This is because the atmosphere is only one of a network of Carbon reservoirs that are all interconnected and continually exchanging CO2. In particular, soil carbon is about 2300 GtC, the upper ocean contains around 1000 GtC, and the deep ocean (applicable over a far longer timescale) 37000 GtC. So, other factors held equal, atmospheric CO2 might drop by around 6% over the shorter term (a century or two) and possibly less over the longer term. However, other factors would be drastically altered by such a large change in the plant biosphere – the surface cover would change the Earth’s albedo, transpiration by trees would change the evaporation of water, smoke from forest fires, etc. Their calculation is very much a back-of-an-envelope first guess at what might happen.

    However, this is only a rediscovery of what Freeman Dyson proposed in 1977, except that he recommended faster growing types of plant, like bamboo, and then turning it into soil carbon by making artificial peat bogs – when the trees die they are buried in anaerobic conditions so they don’t rot and re-release the Carbon, providing a long-term accumulating sink. Even smarter. People have been kicking the idea around ever since, although all the more detailed studies have raised a variety of practical problems with it. Basically, the land has other uses, and planting trees is relatively expensive. (Just go down to your local garden centre – tree saplings are not free, and taking them out en masse into the trackless wilderness to be planted even less so.) Because they grow so slowly, the CO2 captured per year per dollar spent is quite low. And then there is a fairly obvious point – that all you’re doing is creating fossil fuels. It makes no sense to expensively dig up deep coal beds while at the same time accumulating shallow peat beds, when you could leave the coal in the ground and just burn the trees. That’s obviously going to be more efficient – but we already know that forests don’t grow fast enough to keep up with industrial civilisation, since we chopped down most of our own European forests during the years before we discovered coal. In other words, it’s equivalent to solar-power, the energy density of which is still too low, and hence it’s too expensive.

    A rather better idea is to use algal blooms in the oceans for much the same purpose – being far faster and cheaper. A lot of the ocean is iron-poor, limiting algal growth. Drop iron compounds in the ocean (it’s industrial waste and there are people who will actually pay you to take it away) and you trigger massive algal blooms, which then sink and take carbon out of the surface waters into the deep ocean. The very limited experiments done seem promising, but it’s banned because it counts legally as “polluting” the ocean with industrial waste. Environmentalist laws forbid even experimenting with it.

    I suspect it will never happen, as secretly they all know that climate science is bogus, and nobody wants to mess with the ocean ecosystem and maybe create a real planet-threatening emergency in the fake efforts to deal with a bogus one. But as you say, it’s great that people are raising ideas that don’t involve dismantling capitalism to keep the enemy distracted and confused.

  • bobby b

    Instead of planting more trees, perhaps we could simply stop clearcutting huge swathes of forest worldwide for the production of ethanol and palm oil biofuels?

  • Gene

    Thanks NiV, you raise a lot of worthy issues. To echo Natalie’s cynicism, I would say that those environmentalist laws you refer to MIGHT have the fear of “a real planet-threatening emergency” behind them, but they may also be motivated by the much greater fear that there is a carbon mitigation scheme that would actually work, and do so quickly.

  • Sigivald

    Instead of planting more trees, perhaps we could simply stop clearcutting huge swathes of forest worldwide for the production of ethanol and palm oil biofuels?

    Well, before they’re burned they’re sucking down carbon like trees.

    And if we don’t burn them, we’re burning oil or coal and emitting more CO2.

    So if you care about that kind of thing, it seems like kind of a wash.

    (Deforestation is a hard one to research for this, because all the breath is expended over habitat loss for unique species and such, which focuses on precisely an irrelevancy from “sucks up carbon” points of view.

    I have heard it said, and plausibly, that newly planted trees take in CO2 far faster than old growth; this is plausible because they turn carbon into their own biomass, and young trees grow FAST compared to mature ones.

    So clearcutting forests, planting more trees, and clearcutting those and letting them sit there might be more effective than anything else in stopping CO2 rates.

    But hippies hate that even more…)

  • One of the most obvious things about these activists, today as a century ago, is that their desire for revolution greatly exceeds their interest in the excuses given for it. I can imagine few things more harmless than following the old Scots proverb that, when you have time on your hands, plant a tree. (“It’ll be grawin’ whilst yer sleeping.”) The problem is, neither can they. As Nullius suggests, the more they know they are solving a non-problem, the less they will like this harmless solution.

    However let us not be too cynical. They may find not planting trees harder to advocate and anyway the argument keeps them occupied..

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Per the BBC: “The researchers identify six countries where the bulk of the forest restoration could occur: Russia (151m hectares), US (103m), Canada (78m), Australia (58m), Brazil (50m) and China (40m). “

    Excuse me for being parochial — 103 Million hectares of vacant land in the US just waiting for taxpayer-subsidized tree planting is approximately 400,000 square miles in non-pointed-headed-French-intellectual-units. More specifically, that is about the area of Texas and California combined!

    Look out the window of the plane! There is a lot of open land in the Western US — in areas where agriculture and development are limited by lack of water; the same lack of water limits tree planting. More generally in the US, wherever there is enough water (outside of National Parks), there is already agriculture and people. (Inside National Parks, there are usually … trees). Look out the window flying over Canada or Russia and what do you see? Trees! (Or tundra, but Mother Nature limits tree growth in areas like that).

    The study was done by some taxpayer-supported guys in Switzerland using Google Earth (!), probably in some windowless basement. Credibility of this study ranks alongside the credibility of most global warming scam studies. But looking on the bright side, science tells us that more CO2 in the atmosphere will stimulate the growth of existing trees. That has to be good!

  • bobby b

    “And if we don’t burn them, we’re burning oil or coal and emitting more CO2.”

    There’s the rub.

    Studies indicate that burning biofuel releases less CO2 per kW hour generated than burning coal or oil only if you do not factor in the CO2 generated during the growing and transporting cycles of the crops. Those crops still require fuel at planting and harvesting, petroleum-based fertilizers, and pesticides, among other CO2-generating items.

    (And that’s not even counting the CO2 release at the time the forests are cut and burned to make way for these crops.)

    Once you look at the entire life cycle of biofuels, they begin to resemble the sleight-of-hand used in marketing the Tesla (from the mining of the needed minerals to their manufacturing process to their use of generated electrical charging power, they are not an improvement over new gasoline-powered cars.)

    IOW, biofuels are largely a vanity project.

  • Rob Fisher

    Don’t worry, NiV, we can just turn all the trees into toilet paper. And then bury it in the ground for millions of years for the next intelligent species to dig up as coal.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Gavin:

    Please don’t ruin the narrative by dragging facts of reality into it.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Julie — My apologies! I will do my best to be fact-free for the rest of this thread. 🙂

  • Julie near Chicago

    Apology accepted. Proffered penance rejected. Carry on! 😀

  • K

    This was suggested more than a decade ago and the answer from the science folk was there wasn’t enough nitrogen in the soil to grow that many trees.

  • Caligari

    @Nullius in Verba

    A rather better idea is to use algal blooms in the oceans for much the same purpose – being far faster and cheaper. A lot of the ocean is iron-poor, limiting algal growth. Drop iron compounds in the ocean (it’s industrial waste and there are people who will actually pay you to take it away) and you trigger massive algal blooms, which then sink and take carbon out of the surface waters into the deep ocean. The very limited experiments done seem promising, but it’s banned because it counts legally as “polluting” the ocean with industrial waste. Environmentalist laws forbid even experimenting with it.

    Could you please give me the source of this idea?
    It may be great in discousions.

  • Bruce

    Given the comparative sizes of land suitable for growing forests and the area covered by oceans loaded with phytoplankton, which absorbs more CO2 per area unit?

    Anyone done the research on the absorption of CO2 by coral polyps? You know, the tiny symbiotic plant / animal critters that process the CO2 into coral reefs? Coral FLOURISHES in warmish, CO2-laden sea water.

  • Tim the Coder

    Is this the first sign of political manouevering to forget “Global Warming” ?
    That TPTB are realising it’s a scam, and they have been taken in by it? How very damaging for them to to admit so.
    Far better to produce an easy and unobjectionable “solution” they can deliver to “solve” the whole thing!
    Plant a few trees, announce that the temperature isn’t going up any more(well, it wasn’t anyway, but whose looking…), job done.
    Saved by our glorious and wise political masters.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    I forget exactly where I read it, it might have been on What’s Up With That(?)
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/

    A surprisingly small clump of trees (not even a fully grown forest) will generate a local micro-climate. More shade, lower temperatures, more wildlife and more variety. Also stores water, reduces run-off, moderates the weather. What’s not to like?

    Any suggestions?

    As for algae blooms, just choose an ocean near an iron-rich coast (e.g. Devonian red sandstone). Then it’s “natural”, not pollution.

  • Pat

    The only acceptable cure for global warming is the dismantling of civilisation. Since this is only acceptable in the West, it de-facto means the dismantling of Western civilisation, whilst everyone else carries on advancing.
    That CO² is the primary cause of warming is much in doubt, the more so as papers supporting this theory are presented without evidence.
    Whether warming is a good thing or not is untested. Clearly it depends on the amount, but I have seen no work at all determining the optimum worldwide average temperature.
    CO² clearly promotes plant growth, including trees so in that sense is clearly beneficial.
    To what extent tree planting will reduce atmospheric CO² I know not, but would note that the extra 10% of the world’s land that has plant cover now but didn’t in 2000 does not appear to have reduced CO² by much.

  • Pat

    @ Tim the Coder
    Fingers crossed!
    They wouldn’t even have to plant many trees. Who is going to China or Siberia to check? And no one bothers with flyover country.

  • bob sykes

    If we could get another 2 C increase in world mean temperature, there would be a major increase in habitable and arable land: most of northern Russia, Canada, and Scandinavia. According to the models, most of the increase is in high northern and southern latitudes, and the tropics would see only a small temperature increase.

    If I am a Russian, Canadian, or Scandinavian leader, I am pushing for as much carbon dioxide as possible in the atmosphere.

    Especially since we are approaching another glaciation.

  • Jacob

    “IOW, biofuels are largely a vanity project.”

    Biofuels are a crime against humanity.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/20/magazine/palm-oil-borneo-climate-catastrophe.html

  • Jacob

    Planting trees would comply with the first rule: Do no harm. It’s quite refreshing to encounter, for a change, a sane idea.

  • Stonyground

    I think that you have made a really astute observation. Considering the eye watering amounts of taxpayers money that has been spent on this non problem, plus the economic damage that has been caused, just how angry are the masses going to be when it slowly dawns on them that it was all for nothing? How will the BBC manage to back pedal after having promoted this nonsense across their entire output for decades?

  • bobby b

    ” . . . just how angry are the masses going to be when it slowly dawns on them that it was all for nothing?”

    That will never be allowed to happen. Instead, we’ll start to see the narrative change – it will become “thank goodness we did what we did for the past ten years, we were at least able to slow warming down enough so that there’s now no impending emergency! But there’s more to be done to keep it at bay . . . !”

  • Gavin Longmuir

    bobby b: “Instead, we’ll start to see the narrative change …”

    Not so much narrative softening on the Anthropogenic Global Warming scam — more likely to be narrative substitution, a new scam. Rather in the way that overpopulation was replaced by HIV was replaced by Peak Oil. And the old scams are never repudiated, simply allowed to fade away.

    It might be fun to try to guess what the next scam will be. The only requirements are that it should be global, threatening, and require that more liberties and tax dollars be handed over to the usual suspects.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Completely and absolutely O/T, but doggone funny pokes at the WokeFolk. 😆

    https://twitter.com/TitaniaMcGrath

    H/T: thenewneo.con & Steven Hayward, Powerline

  • Y. Knott

    If I am a Russian, Canadian, or Scandinavian leader, I am pushing for as much carbon dioxide as possible in the atmosphere.

    – Ahhh, no; guess again…

    Especially since we are approaching another glaciation.

    – Ahhh, no again; guess again, again. I’ve already seen a news feed on the Weather Network that 2019 has been the “HOTTEST YEAR EVER RECORDED, EVER!!!” Warmist propaganda continues merrily on, and is still accorded much government largesse for doing so (which of course is why they’re still doing so). I strongly suspect that when the North American continent is a mile-deep in ice once more, the few humans remaining will still be proclaiming each new year the “hottest EVAR…”

  • DP

    Dear Miss Solent

    ‘Carbon offsets’ by planting trees have long been a staple of the greenie movements.

    In other news, the extra carbon dioxide, otherwise known as plant food, has led to a boom in plant growth, especially noticeable in arid areas, some of which will have contributed to the raising of a few billion human beings out of abject poverty over the last few decades.

    The ‘problem’ as perceived by a select few who somehow appear to get all the stolen taxpayer funds laundered into government grants, seems to be solved by Gaia herself without any feeble human intervention, which causes more acute damage to greenie favoured species like the orangutan, which are displaced by palm oil plantations for greenie biofuels.

    https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/carbon-dioxide-fertilization-greening-earth

    DP

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