Junk Science: Can’t See the Warming for the Trees

Junk Science: Can’t See the Warming for the Trees

April 12, 2007

If you need further evidence that hysteria is outpacing science in the global warming debate, consider the study published this week about Northern Hemisphere forests actually causing significant global warming.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory reported in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" (April 17) that while tropical forests exert a cooling influence on global climate, forests in northern regions exert a warming influence — and it’s not just a trivial climatic effect.

Based on the researchers’ computer modeling, forests above 20 degrees latitude in the Northern Hemisphere — that is, north of the line of latitude running through Southern Mexico, Saharan Africa, central <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />India and the southernmost Chinese island of Hainan — will warm surface temperatures in those regions by an estimated 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100.

Most of the warming is predicted to occur north of 50 degrees latitude — that is, north of the line of latitude running just north of the U.S. border with Canada, through Northern France, Northern Mongolia and Southern Siberia.

As the researchers explained in their media release, forests affect climate in three different ways: they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and evaporate water to the atmosphere (which increases cloudiness), both of which cool the planet.

Forests are dark and absorb sunlight (the “albedo” effect), warming the planet. In tropical forests, the net effect of these phenomena is cooling, while in Northern forests, the net effect is warming.

Although the media has largely ignored the study, it should give us plenty to think about.

First, it’s a stunning reminder that we still have a very steep learning curve when it comes to climate and how nature and man may impact it. In addition to this study, just over a year ago scientists discovered that plants emit as much as 30 percent of the annual global production of methane, the third most important greenhouse gas after water vapor and carbon dioxide.

Last fall, we learned that 5 years of cosmic ray activity could cause as much warming as 200 years of human greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s no wonder that alarmists want — and need — us to rush to judgment about manmade global warming before scientific discoveries dismantle their shaky polemic.

Next, the United Nations projects that global temperatures may rise anywhere from 2.5 to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. So exactly how does the 10-degree warming caused by Northern forests fit into the picture? Could Northern forests be a (the) major contributor to the supposed problem of global warming?

Then there are the eco-activist groups that have been spreading misinformation about Northern forests in their campaign against businesses that manufacture or sell products made from timber harvested from subarctic, or Boreal, forests.

ForestEthics, for example, claims that “Because the Boreal holds more carbon than any other terrestrial landscape, its conservation is imperative. Degrading the Boreal landscape threatens to transform the Boreal from one of the few healthy ‘lungs of the planet’ into a net climate destabilizer.”

Just last month, ForestEthics issued a report, “Robbing the Carbon Bank: Global Warming and Ontario’s Boreal Forest,” that alleged, “The logging of intact forests is one of Canada’s least recognized drivers of global warming.”

Having completely overlooked the albedo effect in its report, ForestEthics seems to have the net climate effect of Boreal forests exactly wrong. But this hasn’t stopped it from successfully attacking a variety of businesses for selling products made from Northern timber.

ForestEthics has browbeaten a long list of brand-conscious companies into commitments not to use timber from Northern forests including Apple Computer, Dell Computer, Federal Express, Hewlett-Packard, Home Depot, IKEA, Johnson & Johnson, Kinko’s, Lowe’s, Nike, Office Depot, Staples, Starbucks and many others.

ForestEthics’ most recent success came last December at the expense of Limited Brands, which was targeted with the group’s “Victoria’s Dirty Secret” campaign (Victoria Secret’s catalogues used paper made from Northern timber).

After caving in to ForestEthics, the Limited Brand’s Tom Katzemeyer said, “We’re hoping to raise the bar on the availability of environmentally friendly paper and pulp. …”

But how will Limited Brands’ “hope” ever overcome the Boreal’s albedo effect? If global warming is the dreaded catastrophe advertised by the enviros, then Northern forests hardly seem all that eco-friendly insofar as they may cause 10 degrees Fahrenheit of warming by 2100.

Finally, let’s not overlook the scam factor.

For years, global warming opportunists (aka “climateers”) urged consumers to compensate for their so-called “carbon footprints” by paying to plant trees. But as the facts slowly emerged about reforestation, the carbon-offset industry quietly backed off planting trees and moved on to other offset schemes.

One carbon-offset vendor, The Carbon Neutral Co., says on its Web site, “In those early days, the icon of a tree and its emotional appeal were critical to attract audiences. But, thankfully, the market has grown in sophistication — markedly over the last 4 years, and such obvious symbols are less necessary.”

Translation? Perhaps, “the facts have caught up with us and so we’ve changed shell games”?

Science is slowly, but similarly catching up with global warming alarmism. The only question is how the race will be won — with facts or fear?