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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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  • by pinkboi ( 533214 ) <magusofthedark@yaho o . c om> on Sunday December 25, 2005 @10:41AM (#14335873) Homepage
    The change in the atmospheric composition is happening rapidly while new forests are not appearing rapidly. Climate change is okay as long as it doesn't happen so fast humankind and the critters and plants we share the planet with can't adjust in time. Rather than worrying about minor influences, we should look at the biggest influences (hell, water vapor contributes to global warming). This research, however, should stop people from thinking they can plant their way out of the situation.
  • by John Jorsett ( 171560 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @10:48AM (#14335888)
    If in the name of lower greenhouse gas emissions we start putting photovoltaic cells all over the place, won't their dark surfaces do the same thing as the trees?
  • Re:right but.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by skids ( 119237 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @10:51AM (#14335893) Homepage

    He jumped threading... it's a reference to the comment that smog reflects heat. Which really doesn't say anything about greenhouse gasses, just aerosols -- greenhouse gasses still warm the earth. But aerosols may cool it by causing brighter clouding. I don't think that's particularly worth it, because the pollutants in question, as a batch, also deplete ozone, and have numerous direct effects on human health and the biosphere. Typical NYT pollyannaism, taking a Nature article like that out of context to say "oh everything's peachy. Smog is good."

    Anyway the only thing to do about warming now is figure out how to ride it out and get it to end sooner -- nothing we do can make it go away at this point with the peat moss melting and releasing all that methane.

  • Re:Wait a minute... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jcuervo ( 715139 ) <> on Sunday December 25, 2005 @11:01AM (#14335922) Homepage Journal
    You should not use your fireplace, because scientists now believe that, contrary to popular opinion, fireplaces actually remove heat from houses. Really, that's what scientists believe. In fact many scientists actually use their fireplaces to cool their houses in the summer. If you visit a scientist's house on a sultry August day, you'll find a cheerful fire roaring on the hearth and the scientist sitting nearby, remarking on how cool he is and drinking heavily. -- Dave Barry, "Postpetroleum Guzzler"
  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @02:15PM (#14336454) Journal
    So we don't even know for sure if trees (and their ability to absorb CO2) are net warmers or coolers of the environment....yet we should sign on for hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars in programs which will 'reduce global warming'?


    Look, I think that it's patently obvious that 5 billion people cooking things, burning fuels, and generally living energy-intensive lives must be warming the planet (whether this is moreso than natural cycles is up for debate). But the whole 'Kyoto' religion smacks of Environmentalist's "Intelligent Design" - ie 'we don't really know WTF we are talking about, but just trust us, this is the RIGHT thing to do!'

    Coupled with a healthy dose of white, western intellectualist guilt, and ample resentment of the first world by the third world, (with a dash of anti-globalization thrown in) and I see Kyoto and the efforts to effectively hobble Western Industrial societies as little more than a post-colonial revenge.

    We hear many, many stories about how the industrial western societies (mainly the US) have ruined and continue to ruin the world. I'd say that an increase in average human lifespan in 1900 of 44 to whatever it is now (82) is a good thing, brought on entirely through the benefits of industrialized, advanced western societies.

    Of course, at the root, environmentalists would be afraid to admit it, but they'd ultimately probably prefer a goodly chunk of these still-living humans to die.
  • by 8KidsCronie ( 724585 ) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @02:43PM (#14336531)
    Where do you think the CO2 goes to, anyway? Most of the trees, leaves and roots rot - they are turned back into CO2 by fungi and bacteria. Much of the rest burns up: remember the wildfires of the Western US this year? Tropical forests have very little organic matter in the ground. If they were soaking up CO2, they would be sitting on top of huge layers of branches and leaves etc. Stable tropical and temperate forests have nearly no net CO2 absorption.

    The only thing that matters is NET soakin up of CO2. There are two good ways to get this from forests.
    First, a Northern forest is usually so cold that a fallen, dead tree does not rot, and turns into peat and eventually (perhaps) coal.
    Second, PEOPLE CUT DOWN TREES, and turn them into wood products like houses and paper. If this is permanently sequesterd (e.g., into a home), then this CO2 is removed from the atmosphere [as new trees grow to take their place].

    So, to reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere, cut down MORE trees to turn into homes.
  • Re:I'm so torn (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Sunday December 25, 2005 @06:16PM (#14337120) Homepage Journal

    The historical records only go back a couple hundred years in any meaningful way (and take a look at maps from pre-1920... before aerial photography, maps had at best wild guesses about terrain that hadn't been mapped by someone on foot).

    The big difference is that deforestation due to wildfires (caused by nature or man) rather quickly grows back; in fact, wildfires are a natural part of the reforestation cycle.

    Whereas deforestation in favour of farming stays deforested until the farm is taken out of service and let go back to wilderness -- and that happens almost never.

If it's not in the computer, it doesn't exist.