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Careful Where You Put That Tree 190

Ant writes "Wired News is reporting that according to Stanford University's atmospheric scientist Ken Caldeira, forests in the wrong location can actually make the Earth hotter. From the article: 'Plants absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, so scientists and policy makers have long assumed new forest growth helps combat global warming. At an American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco earlier this month, however, Caldeira rolled out a provocative new finding: Trees may be good at capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but their dark leaves are also very efficient at soaking up sunlight, which is later released as heat. At certain latitudes, the net effect of these two processes is warming, rather than cooling.'"
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Careful Where You Put That Tree

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  • duh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 25, 2005 @09:36AM (#14335745)
    all insignificant chit-chat. We have only one environmental problem in this world en that is the huge number of people on this planet.
    All other problems are just secundary manifestations of this one.
  • right but.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Danzigism ( 881294 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @09:43AM (#14335760)
    Of course, but cutting down trees certainly won't save the environment either.. Trees do not deplete our ozone.. they simply freshen the air, and clear up part of the atmosphere where smog, and other air pollution rests..

    a big part of their argument is that the smog acts almost as if its sunblock.. ultimately making the temperature on earth cooler.. but you can't honestly say, that we need to pollute more, just so we can have our sunblock on ;-) we need to be thinking LONGTERM which is the most important factor.. yes, if we slowly decrease our use of gas-guzzlin' bitches, it will get hotter on earth.. if we plant trees, it will clean up the polluted air which acts as our sunblock, making the earth much hotter.. but hey, we better start now, because it'll be twice as hot, if we wait too long..

  • by wombatmobile ( 623057 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @09:48AM (#14335770)

    "planting trees has a variety of environmental benefits unrelated to global warming, such as restoring threatened animal habitats and preventing the erosion of topsoil."
    -- Carbonfund spokesman Craig Coulter

  • Re:I'm so torn (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <atd7.cornell@edu> on Sunday December 25, 2005 @10:01AM (#14335800) Homepage
    "It would be good for farming and would make a greater percentage of the civilized world comfortable for our aging population."

    Except that it won't.

    a) Rising ocean levels mean less total landmass.
    b) For every bit of cold region that becomes livable due to global warming, there's an equal if not greater amount of landmass that gets turned into unlivable and unfarmable desert.
    c) Even small increases in temperature can cause significant changes in the weather. One word that sums this up well: Katrina.
  • Re:I'm so torn (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 25, 2005 @10:05AM (#14335805)
    I'm hoping all that about liking global warming was purely sarcasm, because if global warming does occur,
    1. the polar ice caps will melt and coastal areas will vanish undersea,
    2. thousands of species will find their habitat inhospitable and may go extinct,
    3. tropical storms will become much more intense,
    4. diseases like malaria will spread over wider areas,
    5. and many more bad things will happen [].
    I think that's a bit of a heavy price to pay just for warming up your winters a little. Man, just wear a sweater or something.
  • by toupsie ( 88295 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @10:09AM (#14335809) Homepage
    After reading years of Global Warming articles, I realize there is nothing man can do about it. Nature is a much greater force than mankind. It was here before we arrived on the scene and will be here after we all die out from a virulent disease born from unsanitized telephones. My worry is that all the efforts lead by environmentalists will lead to a massive ice age due to over compensation and Mother Nature's bad disposition about being screwed with.

    Someone still has to explain to me how Mars has a Global Warming issue while neither or the Republicans have ever set foot on the red planet.

  • Re:I'm so torn (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 25, 2005 @10:32AM (#14335853)
    I'm not assuming anything. All I'm saying is, if global temperatures rise significantly, these things will happen, whether that warming is due to human activity or natural climactic variation. Most of what I said just follows from common sense if you think about what would happen on a hotter Planet Earth. Basically, I just wanted to say that global warming isn't something benign that you should be rooting for.
  • tradeoffs.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by zogger ( 617870 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @10:42AM (#14335877) Homepage Journal
    .....if you look at all the benefits, the trade is worth it. Trees-plants in general- are very necessary for the health of the planet over-all, and provide us with numerous useful products. Well, yes,this is obvious, but still, I wouldn't be afraid of planting more trees. Growing plants are one of the only ways we have currently to harness nuclear fusion, which is the sunshine we receive. So the question really gets to more energy-good or bad? From my perspective, more energy wins. Like where is the problem if one day we determine we have too many trees? That just means more affordable housing and furniture and paper and other forest related products like foodstuffs and biomass for energy conversion. Still a win for hoo-mannzz.
  • Oh, come on. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bleckywelcky ( 518520 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @11:07AM (#14335944)
    Without even reading the article, think about this logically. What is most of the land mass in the world covered with? Trees, shrubs, plants, etc. There are a few extremely arid places that don't grow trees, but they probably did at one point in time. And at higher elevations, the growth can't survive, but that is a small percentage by area. But even in the very dry southwestern USA, plants grow all over the place. So, if the idea of this article is to caution everyone's eco-planning policies so that they don't go planting trees carelessly, then I call B.S. Now if someone was arguing for terraforming the Sahara or is trying to analyze large swaths of plankton or algae on the surface of the ocean, this might be useful. But your average tree-hugger doesn't need to be worried with this. We've cut down many more acres of trees for farms, plantations, subdivisions, and buildings in the last 100 or so years than we have planted.
  • by Cygnusx12 ( 524532 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @11:19AM (#14335969)
    From the TFA ...

    but their dark leaves are also very efficient at soaking up sunlight, which is later released as heat. At certain latitudes, the net effect of these two processes is warming, rather than cooling.

    What sort of trees did they use in their simulation? Did They reforest with an even mixture of what trees where natively found in the region? Or even the altitude? The article doesn't say.

    Anyone who has spent some time in the woods knows a forest is diverse system. within a few miles walk in New England, you can found varieties of spruce, maple, cherry, oak, among others. All prospering in environments suitable for each. Did their simulation reflect this? Did their simulation reflect "natural" clearing? (Forest fires, die off, etc etc)?

    IANAG (not a geologist), but wouldn't there be evidence that North America would've been actually warmer some 400 years ago? I've read that the early settlers would say a squirrel could go from Maine to kentucky, and never touch the ground. Isn't earth warming currently at fractions of this rate? (with all of man's humble efforts?).

  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @11:20AM (#14335971) Homepage Journal
    Just like the 'research' on eggs, just wait another week and they will be good for you.

  • by RoffleTheWaffle ( 916980 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @11:30AM (#14335996) Journal
    That makes a lot of sense, but I have to wonder if other dark things we tend to place in the sun aren't in fact contributing a great deal to the global warming problem, in addition to other factors such as greenhouse gases... I wonder how much more heat is retained in areas with tar roofs and black-top streets and parking lots, as opposed to areas with gravel and dirt roads and shingled/fiberglass roofs.

    That aside, this is a very interesting finding. There's no doubt in my mind that the logging industry will use this as an excuse to ramp up production in the face of opposition from environmentalists, but it could also be useful in helping us understand how to control our own climate naturally. Maybe certain kinds of trees and plants reflect more heat than others. Maybe certain arrangements and placements of trees and plants are cooler or hotter than others. Landscaping for climate control, anyone?
  • shady research (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 25, 2005 @12:07PM (#14336088)
    don't trees shade the ground from getting hot? if the trees are getting hot and the ground isn't, what is the difference between trees and no trees?

    happy christian bastardized pagan holiday.
    its really siberian shaman reindeer piss drinking day.

    /drinks up
  • My experience (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 25, 2005 @12:48PM (#14336187)
    Working in my chile field (a whopping 15' x 30') the air above it feels noticibly more humid, I assume because of the water vapor being transpired from the leaves. Evaporation means cooling and the air within the plant canopy _is_ cooler not, I believe, just from the soil being shaded by the canopy but because the of the evaporative cooling of the leaves. Additionally, the leaves, although 'dark' are not as dark as the soil. (Now, around northern New Mexico the soil can be pretty red, and if I remember correctly, red and green render as pretty much the same shade of gray. So maybe there are cases where the leaves would heat up more than the naked soil.

    The whole point of this (besides the fact that I make a killer mole), is that a case can be made for either side of the argument, and there is so much money at stake the powers-that-be, if they wanted to, could buy any results they needed to make their case: Science is just another whore these days. My personal position is that no matter what the theory du jour is global warming is a fact, and two degrees F. is enormous. So put things back the way they were: more trees, fewer poor people farming inefficiently and way fewer European-derived malicious idiots driving SUVs and trucks that don't do real work.

    Of course there are powerful interests whose power and fortunes lie in continuing on the present path and they don't care because they'll always have the money to buy food and air conditioning. But history shows that such interests always fall. The manner of their ending is up to them, but their end always comes, it's a cycle of history that has never been disrupted. Things here won't change until a majority of people in the world stop believing that they'll be swept off to some perfect place and they can defile their current location with impunity.
  • Re:I'm so torn (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Sunday December 25, 2005 @01:07PM (#14336244) Homepage Journal
    The story also fails to note that huge swaths of temperate Europe and North America *used* to be forested, which are now cleared and in use as farmland.

    Tho I feel compelled to point out that both the somewhat warmer climate of the early middle ages, and the "Little Ice Age" that followed (and helped bring on the "Dark Ages") happened before most of these primeval forests were cut.

    How many more contradictions can the theory of locally-controlled global warming support, before the sun gets disgusted with the whole idea and fries all of us to a crisp?

  • by HermanAB ( 661181 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @02:46PM (#14336539)
    "100 million" To put it in context, In North America, billions of trees are planted every year to replace the billions that are cut down. Forestry is a sustainable industry.
  • by Lazarian ( 906722 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @03:07PM (#14336601)
    I wonder if that study should have taken into account at how the absorbed heat is utilised by trees. Is the absorption of sunlight by chlorophyl to synthesize sugars for plant metabolism an endothermic reaction? If it is, then that heat is used to build biomass that has the end result of absorbing atmospheric CO2 and giving off oxygen. I'm willing to bet that higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere would be a larger problem than forested areas being somewheres they hadn't been before - the effect of them could be damaging, but in a more localised manner.

    I'm sure there's logging lobbyist groups creaming themselves over this. But the article seems, at least to me, a statement that nature is an increasingly complex and delicate system that we may never fully understand. But even for those that aren't biologists, even the most base layman can understand that you don't need to be a mechanic to know that if you throw a wrench into a running engine, it will come to a grinding halt.

    The last line of the article sums it up the best: "The less we interfere with the system, the more likely we are to have a healthy planet."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 25, 2005 @03:18PM (#14336647)
    "Kyoto and the efforts to effectively hobble Western Industrial societies as little more than a post-colonial revenge."

    It is possible to aim towards Kyoto targets and make Western industrial societies (I'd argue anyway that the West is rapidly heading towards post industrialism anyway) more productive and profitable.

    An example is in office building. The USA, UK and many other nations have guidelines for energy efficient office builds. A 2% extra capital expenditure yields 30% less recurrent energy use offsetting the extra capital cost in around 3 years after which the building is cheaper to run meaning lower costs.

    In energy production in an era of higher potential oil costs countries such as France with extensive nuclear and other non oil sources may end up with economies less suceptible to oil costs. A side effect is less CO2 production. (However Italy has the lowest CO2 production per unit in GDP in the OECD, excluding the smallest nations).
  • Bottom line (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Stan Vassilev ( 939229 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @03:27PM (#14336671)
    Black cars and clothes are the reason for global warming. There we go.

    But, honestly, even though it may be true, and if it's a lie, then in every lie there's a bit of truth... it just sounds more like an excuse for ecoligal negligence more than anything.

    "Hey check it out, SOME trees COULD be bad, so feel free to cut 'em all".
  • Re:I'm so torn (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Khaed ( 544779 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @03:56PM (#14336746)
    I live on the Gulf Coast, so I feel qualified to call bullshit on point C. Camille and Frederic came right around the times when scientists were whinging about Global Cooling. Both were pretty damn bad. Had Camille hit New Orleans the way Katrina did, New Orleans would have been totally destroyed. As it is, only certain areas in New Orleans got destroyed. Most of the French Quarter came out okay. Most damage from Katrina was storm surge. Almost no one living north of I-10 lost their home. -- too far from the water.
  • by Valar ( 167606 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @06:18PM (#14337126)
    The point is that if you don't spend the 2%, you don't GET the 30%. The problem is that people, including business people are too short sighted. At most, they are concerned with the bottom line one or two periods ahead. Even if over the span of five years, a "green building" will save the company money, you won't see it, because in the short run, it'll make the company appear worse than the competition, stock prices drop, etc etc. So, by mandating an increase in efficiency (which is technological feasible) we force everybody to do what, in the long run will be better for everyone both economically and ecologically. China, without accepting Kyoto, will be less likely to modernize, because Chinese firms are competing with other still non-modern Chinese firms. This is good for us, because it keeps them behind the curve.
  • by werewolf1031 ( 869837 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @06:38PM (#14337193)
    Props to parent for hitting the nail on the head. If trees are "the problem" they why the hell is it so much cooler in the countryside than in the city, or even a large town, where it is noticably much warmer? I've noticed this for decades, and have long just assumed it was the concrete and asphalt covering everything in urban areas. The ground can't dissipate heat nearly as well through that stuff. No doubt someone here has more knowledge on the subject than me (geologists?), so feel free to chime in here.

    I find this article rather dubious.
  • by SteeldrivingJon ( 842919 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @10:28PM (#14337833) Homepage Journal

    The problem with the theory is that each leaf is part of a massive liquid cooling system. The heat is far more likely to be transported into the core of the tree, along with the products of photosynthesis, than it is to be reradiated.

    If you roll around on a green lawn in summer, the grass is cool. Leaves on a tree are also cool, in my experience, it's just rather difficult to roll around on them because they're so spread out.

    But dead grass? Not cool. No water flow, so no cooling.

Help! I'm trapped in a PDP 11/70!