One of the unsettled questions among climate alarmists is whether solving global warming will be an easy, pleasant glide into a cleaner, greener future or a nasty forced march into damp caves where we will subsist on bugs. The trifling measures touted by governments as key to combating the crisis generally give the former impression, that this game is as easy as signing up for a few vote-friendly handouts. Claims that we must abandon air travel, if not wheeled transport entirely, and dine on mashed insect are clearly in the latter category. But for a long time the idea of “carbon offsets”, and particularly the planting of trees to counteract living more or less as we always had, seemed to offer a truly painless, indeed almost lifestyle-changeless, transition to a Net Zero sustainable world. Until some spoilsports came along and said sapling or no sapling, you’re eating bug paste. Thus The Atlantic’s “Weekly Planet” titled its retrospective of its best pieces from 2022 “Trees are overrated”. And they were being comparatively friendly to our wooden chums.
The ”Greens/EFA in the European Parliament” just cited a ”Fridays for Future” activist that “Instead of providing real solutions to the climate and biodiversity crisis, net zero pledges and carbon removals divert attention from real action and have negative effects on ecosystems, food security and people’s rights.” And the activist sneered that having so many huge influential corporations committed to Net Zero is actually bad:
“Global corporations have been more than happy to go down the net zero route. From fossil fuel giants, like TotalEnergies, Shell and BP, to multi-million dollar corporations, like British Airways, Coca Cola and Nestlé, a large number of businesses are making net zero emission commitments. Doesn’t sound sketchy at all, right?”
He then makes a legitimate point, that “These corporations won’t be drastically changing their business model. Instead, they reckon that they can continue to cause more emissions and have them ‘offset’ by others.” And after reminding us that radical environmentalists hate everything (“they also ‘make the politics, violence, social and ecological destruction of fossil fuel burning and industrial farming invisible’, say Friends of the Earth”) he attacks their motives and exposes their plot:
“The companies want to look good without doing good. They want to continue hurting the climate whilst telling us that they don’t.”
That they might be genuinely confused idealists is unworthy of his attention. But he does have a point that creating carbon “offsets” by not cutting down an existing forest would be accounting nonsense even if you didn’t also overestimate the impact of forests.
The news that “Carbon released by US forests burnt in recent blazes expected to wipe out most of the buffer in Californian trading system” suggests that a lot of it was just statistical jiggery-pokery anyway, since the wildfire cycle has been part of the ecology of forests since the invention of the burning tree. But our Fridays for Grim Future author goes a lot further. He complains about everything from replanting too many of the same species to planting invasive species like eucalyptus to planting in the middle of virtuous poor Third World people’s ecofarms.
So bugs in a cave it is. Collective farm bugs, too:
“We need regulations that effectively end the use of fossil fuels and allow for a socially just transition…. Carbon removal and ‘nature-based solutions’ are greenwashing at its best. Instead of saving us from climate breakdown, they threaten livelihoods, human rights and biodiversity. For climate justice, we need to rethink the entire capitalist system that is based on the use of fossil fuels and destruction of nature. We need true solutions that put people over profits and protect both our climate and nature at once.”
At least you’ll have a tree outside the cave door. But for all the sourness of the presentation, there is a certain logic to it. MIT’s “Climate Portal” warned last year that:
“studies have estimated an average American’s carbon footprint at around 16 tons of CO2 annually, one of the highest figures for any country because of the energy-intensive American lifestyle. A single mature tree, meanwhile, may take in about 50 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. At this rate, it would take 640 trees per person to account for all American emissions, which adds up to more than 200 billion trees.”
It then admitted the whole thing was transcomputably complex while smuggling in a simplistic assumption:
“As part of the planet’s natural carbon cycle, carbon sinks such as the forests and oceans absorb an enormous amount of naturally emitted CO2 as well as much of what humans create. Humanity’s emissions have tipped that natural cycle out of balance. And the enormous complexity of this system makes it perhaps impossible to say for sure how many new trees would be required to bring it back into balance.”
How? How did we “tip” something that massive and complex “out of balance” and how do you know? If you can’t calculate what it would take to tip it back, how can you be sure it’s not just doing its usual dynamic thing now? Which includes, MIT rightly points out, trees growing then falling over and… oh dear… rotting and giving off CO2.
Which is all part of the cycle of life. And here’s where the story gets even weirder, because most of these people don’t seem to understand that before they die, trees reproduce.
There’s a lot more they don’t understand. Canada’s government encountered the embarrassment of being unable actually to plant very many of the two billion trees it promised. Which is surprising given that the place is, in essence, one gigantic forest, though not surprising in that its government struggles to do all sorts of normal things like buy military hardware or implement a new payment system. (The “Phoenix” payroll software debacle, non-Canadians will be mercifully unaware, is now billions of dollars over budget and plunging into rather than rising from its own ashes, while our Arctic patrol ships went up by another $780 million last year alone and our frigates, if they ever appear, are projected to cost what the U.S. pays for an aircraft carrier.) But it was also a fishy plan in principle given that Canada is a gigantic forest; how many more trees would the government have to plant to make a difference in the total carbon absorption of the place?
Actually “only” about 40% of Canada is forest, a figure vastly higher than most countries. And Canada is the 2nd-largest country in the world. So it’s a lot of trees. An estimated 318 billion. And an additional 2 billion is… there’s a calculator on your phone, minister… 0.6289%. That’s some boost to our carbon sink. If you ever get them planted. Though here we come to something even more peculiar about the whole business.
That thing is the oddly anti-natural orientation of a great many environmentalists, especially climate alarmists. The idea that if there’s “too much” carbon dioxide people need to go about planting trees to suck it up is actually ridiculous in theory and in practice. In theory because trees plant other trees using something called “seeds” and have done with amazing effectiveness for some 370 million years, roughly since vertebrates emerged from the oceans to colonize the land. (Among its other implications, trees being an older form of plant life means they use C3 photosynthesis, so if atmospheric CO2 had fallen just 30 ppm further during the Last Glacial Maximum 20,000 or so years ago, they would all have died, something to consider before promoting schemes to remove carbon “pollution” from the air.)
Nobody is sure how many trees there actually are on the planet. Wikipedia says “It is estimated that there are around three trillion mature trees in the world”. In which case if you wanted to increase global carbon uptake by trees by, say, 5%, you’d be looking at planting and nurturing something like 150 billion more of them. Canada’s government aims for 2 billion. Or just sitting around pontificating while trees did that thing with the seeds and planted themselves.
Which brings us to the practical part. Even NASA and the IPCC confirm that the rise in atmospheric CO2 in the last four decades has, in fact, led to massive global “greening” as plants of all sorts survive better thanks to more CO2, especially in marginal areas where it’s unhealthily cold or dry and having a lot of “stomata” to admit CO2 also means losing a lot of H2O.
The current three trillion tree estimate is a 7.5-fold increase on the 400 billion guess back in 2005, not because researchers think there are now that many more trees but because they changed the way they semi-count. NBC managed to spin it as bad news, incidentally, claiming that we were felling 15 billion trees a year and that “the global number of trees has fallen by roughly 46 percent since the start of human civilization.” Roughly. Could be 47%. Though we don’t know to within a factor of 10 how many there are now, or were in 10,000 B.C.
The Canadian government also can’t count wildfires; in announcing a $10.8 million grant to some outfit in British Columbia to plant 9.3 million trees, our Minister of Natural Resources opined that “Wildfires are becoming more severe and frequent as the result of climate change” and that “British Columbians know first hand that climate change is making wildfires more severe and more frequent.” Yet his own Ministry prominently displays a chart showing that in Canada since 1990 forest fires have been becoming less frequent and less severe. It leaves you hoping at least he knows what a tree is, especially given that one of his excuses for the slow pace of planting was the difficulty of “going out and finding excess trees”. (So, minister, according to Wikipedia, a tree is “a perennial plant with an elongated stem, or trunk, usually supporting branches and leaves”. You’re welcome.)
In another press release some other MP horned in on the tree thing:
“Parm Bains, Member of Parliament for Steveston-Richmond East, on behalf of the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Natural Resources, and alongside Nicole Hurtubise, Chief Executive Officer, Tree Canada, announced a federal contribution of over $41 million to Tree Canada’s National Greening program through the 2 Billion Trees program…. The organization will plant over 21 million trees in the span of nine years, working with landholders, municipalities and partners to identify priority tree-planting projects to meet their environmental and social goals.”
So everybody wins. Except the planet, because a leisurely 2.3 million trees a year would take nearly a millennium to get to 2 billion. (Again, one wonders if these people know what a billion is. It’s a thousand million, at least on this side of the Atlantic. Again you’re welcome, minister.) Though in photo-op funding announcements per tree actually planted, it’s quite a productive vote-farming venture.
For good measure the Canadian Press announced on Dec. 11 that “Climate change taking a toll on Christmas tree farming across Canada”. And why would AGW creep with these particular trees to the chimney and stuff them up while promoting worldwide tree growth? See, “young seedlings are particularly vulnerable to climate risks, said Richard Hamelin, head of the forest conservation sciences department at the University of B.C. Much of the province has experienced prolonged drought and extreme heat over the last two summers, and the seedlings have shallow root systems that don’t reach beyond the very dry layers of soil near the surface, Hamelin explained. Meanwhile, their older counterparts may survive but lose their needles or turn brown as a result of extreme heat and drought, he said in an interview.”
So the Sahara’s turning greener but Canada’s going all brown because of drought. Or flooding (“Seedlings and their shallow roots are also at risk of being inundated during flooding, while wet, cool soils increase the risk of root diseases, Hamelin noted.”) Or the sonic waves from an Electro-Who-Cardial-Flux. At any rate, “Shirley Brennan, the executive director of the Canadian Christmas Trees Association, said farmers in the province reported their seedlings mostly appeared fine and the extreme heat had been much harder on the trees. The effects of flooding, however, may become clearer over time…. Christmas tree farmers are no strangers to drought, Brennan added.” Plus pests and see it was cold in Nova Scotia in 2018, and in eastern Ontario and western Quebec in 2020, because of heat.
P.S. Not to be outdone, The Atlantic had “Future Generations Might Never Get to Kiss Under the Mistletoe/ Climate change is threatening this yuletide classic.”