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Seeing the forest for the trees

20 Apr 2022 | OP ED Watch

In keeping with the new messaging that there’s a hideous climate crisis we can easily fix if we act now, National Geographic tells us “Forests are reeling from climate change – but the future isn’t lost”. No. Of course not. Nor are forests “reeling”. Look out your window. Past them trees. To other trees. And if you live somewhere there are no trees, come to Canada. We got lots. 360 million hectares of them, the same as we have had for 30 years running. As for NG’s followup “‘WE REALLY NEED TO HEAR THESE POOR TREES SCREAM’” we have bad news for these non-biologists. Or rather a conundrum: “If a tree reels in the forest and there’s nobody to hear it scream, what even daffier headline can we write?”

Ah but see National Geographic has special insights. “HEAT AND DROUGHT ARE KILLING OUR FORESTS”. Or somebody’s. Canada’s forests look very tree-filled at present. And the Amazon, as we reported recently, is seen from space to be “losing resilience” rather than reeling, plus most of the problem is human encroachment. And again, if you scroll down on this fancy interactive piece you get “BUT WE CAN LIMIT THE DAMAGE”. Yay us. Hope restored.

The accompanying scare story is a bit hard to swallow. It concerns the spectacular recovery of forests in Yellowstone National Park after one of the fires that are a perennial feature there. “So many tiny trunks crowded the researchers’ feet that covering a distance they normally would walk in seconds took almost an hour. In the end they counted 2,286 baby trees in an area half the size of a tennis court. This spot was producing 70,000 pines an acre. ‘This is what lodgepole pines do,’ [University of Wisconsin–Madison ecology professor Monica] Turner said. ‘They come back gangbusters.’” This just in: big trees make little trees. But wait.

See, “the previous day, in a neighboring patch of burned timber, Turner had documented something unsettling. Instead of a river of new pine seedlings, the ground was a mix of flowers, grasses, and caked earth.” Boo flowers. Boo grasses. “Aspens were there, but so were invasive grasses and sour weeds. Along one 50-meter tract, Turner had spotted just 16 baby pines; on another, only nine.” And then suddenly the one 50-meter tract morphed into a global crisis: “In many places, forests are no longer regenerating on their own. Some of the world’s most significant stands are instead transitioning to something new. Some will never be the same. Others may not come back at all.”

Why not? Well, sniff sob, “It’s a tough time to be a tree. Earth has lost a third of its forests over the past 10,000 years – half of that just since 1900.” So… the other half over the past 10,000 years. And since there weren’t many forests during the last glaciation, that 10,000 year period covers both the appearance of the forests and their partial disappearance. If you want to blame it on climate change, go ahead. Just so you admit the climate changes constantly and none of that stuff was human-driven. And that once you’ve said “Globally, deforestation has decreased from its peak in the 1980s, but trends vary by region” you’ve fessed up that what’s going on now is not about climate, it’s about human activity. Otherwise it should have shot up after the 1980s as temperatures did whatever James Hansen said they were going to do.

The piece even manages to turn global greening into a deforestation crisis: “Now fossil fuel emissions spewing from coal plants and tailpipes are rearranging forests in other consequential ways. As carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases warm the planet, some of its estimated 73,000 tree species are pushing poleward and higher up slopes, dragging other life with them.” Dragging! Poor wretched bunnies bound and scraped over scree. But now we’re confused. Is it a bad thing the forests are spreading?

No, it’s the marvellous adaptability of life, rushing into new habitats as CO2 makes them more fertile. Yay nature! “Alders, willows, and dwarf birches are expanding across the Arctic, from Scandinavia to Canada, providing cover and food for snowshoe hares and moose. Trees are growing faster as they soak up excess CO2—a key ingredient for photosynthesis. That ‘greening’ of the planet has so far helped slow climate change, protecting us from ourselves.” Which in the wacky world of alarmism is of course bad news and the prelude to worse: “But climate change also is killing trees. And what has forest scientists increasingly uneasy is the quickening pulse of extreme events—fire, more powerful storms, insect infestations, and, most notably, severe heat and drought, which can worsen the effects of all the rest. These singular, frequently unprecedented episodes can swiftly inflict mass tree mortality, shifting forests that have been around since the last ice age to entirely new states.”

Bosh. As we’ve repeatedly documented, not even the IPCC says extreme weather is increasing. And it was warmer than today at numerous points “since the last ice age”, more properly since the last glaciation, and all the trees didn’t turn into daisies or “sour weeds” which, we can only assume, are way worse than the sweet kind.

Actually nature is a complex interlocking set of systems one of whose key dynamics is the way in which grasslands become forests then burn and become grasslands again. Complete with “weeds” that are also known as part of the cycle of life. But to the alarmists the only thing worse than if CO2 were killing trees is discovering CO2 is helping them grow: “We have a whole set of mechanisms that are pushing Earth’s forests to grow more and suck up more CO2” but they “are fundamentally in tension with mechanisms that are pulling Earth’s forests toward a cliff – with more tree death and more loss of carbon,” a quotation in the story from one of the key architects of the 97% consensus myth and hence a truly unbiased source for how more trees are bad for trees.

Actually just five months ago National Geographic warned us that forests were replacing grasslands and (drum roll please) it was bad for climate change because contrary to widespread belief, forests weren’t great carbon sinks and grasslands were. Now the reverse is true or something.

As the story adds, “The problem is, we can’t yet quantify the planetwide scope of climate impacts. Satellite data show that Earth’s tree-covered area actually expanded from 1982 to 2016 by 7 percent, an area larger than Mexico. But that doesn’t mean forests are doing fine”. No. Of course not. Because then you’d have no story, just a lot of trees.

There’s actually a whole lot we don’t know, including whether the semi-famous “Lord God Bird” or Ivory-bill Woodpecker is even extinct. But we’re pretty clear that trees are not extinct. Indeed recently, speaking of what we don’t know, someone raised the total estimate for global trees from 400 billion to around three trillion back in 2015, which is not a trivial difference. Or something anyone’s very sure of.

Meanwhile at National Geographic “No computer model can yet project how climate will change forests globally – or how their carbon stores will feed back on climate”. But it isn’t necessary to know what’s happening or what’s going to because all effects of climate change are bad, even ones we can’t see, and vice versa. “Climate change is reshaping forests locally almost overnight, transforming them even where there are policies to protect them. It’s happening so fast we can’t discern the consequences. While we’re losing trees of all types and sizes, the biggest and oldest harbor the most carbon, are important for biodiversity, and will be the hardest to get back.” Which sounds a lot like someone discerning the consequences though it’s probably just someone inventing them.

One comment on “Seeing the forest for the trees”

  1. As a thankfully retired forester in BC, I see my former profession as a large consumer of rent seeking bounty available only to those incorporating CAGW uncleverly disguised as "climate change" into the forestry lexicon. For anyone attempting research in anything related to the environment not using "climate change" as a near hysterical and threatening requisite addendum, I suspect government funding would be in short supply.

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