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The Greening Earth

NPP Change

This map is the result of 8 scientists poring over satellite data for 18 months. It shows how plant growth (NPP or net primary productivity) around the world has changed in the past 20 years of global warming and CO2 buildup in the atmosphere. The result is a 6% increase when all the globe’s vegetation is tallied up and averaged. The research appeared in Science. The article I got the picture from is at NASA titled Global Garden.

Why is it that we don’t hear about this in the popular press? We are inundated with conjecture based on computer models of CO2 induced warming and the supposed ill effects of it. Yet when the facts are allowed to speak we see the earth blooming like a spring flower garden from higher temperatures and increased CO2. Moreover study after study shows when CO2 concentration is higher plants are more efficient in their use of water. So even those who say that water, not CO2, is the limiting factor in plant growth should welcome more CO2.

In a rational world we’d be thrilled that this is happening and if we weren’t pumping CO2 into the atmosphere through fossil fuel burning to make the global greenhouse greener we’d be looking for some other way to increase atmospheric CO2. More CO2 is a good thing. Every commercial greenhouse knows it and many of them artificially boost it by releasing CO2 from tanks. It’s important that everyone else knows it too.

For those friendly to intelligent design I’d ask if this relationship between fossil fuel, atmospheric CO2, increased plant growth, lengthening the growing season in higher latitude land masses, and better water efficiency is all just a happy coincidence that helps feed a growing human population or whether it’s not a coincidence at all but rather part of some larger plan for humanity.

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12 Responses to The Greening Earth

  1. So the more CO2 that is in the atmosphere, the more CO2 is consumed by plants.

    Is the increase in vegetation due to warming or increased CO2?

  2. Is the increase in vegetation due to warming or increased CO2?

    Both. Keep in mind annuals and non-woody perennials that die back above ground every year don’t lock up CO2 for very long. The above ground parts die off, fall to the ground, decompose, and release the gas again during the process. It’s primarily long-lived trees that lock it up for many decades. If they’re harvested to make wood products (not firewood) then it remains locked up for many more decades. This seems to me like the best plan. Plant forests then harvest the wood to make furniture, homes, and things of that nature. Wood is a wonderfully versatile building material that IMO doesn’t get the credit it deserves since aluminum, concrete, masonry, steel, and plastics came along. The high and still rising cost (both economic and environmental) of producing wood replacements I think is steering us back toward using wood instead. All the wood replacements require a lot of fossil fuels to produce. That was fine back when fossil fuel was cheap and plentiful but those days are behind us now.

  3. I like the wood idea but then ever since I was a kid I have just loved trees. So anything that means more trees I always like. I would be in favor of government plans to increase the number of trees as opposed to cutting back CO2.

  4. 4

    Burning fossil fuels is putting all the organic matter and energy locked away underground for so long back into circulation.

  5. So, just to be clear: you are saying that the evidence points to the fact that anthropogenic production of CO2 is making measurable contributions to the world’s present warming trend, but there is no evidence that it is anything to be concerned about?

  6. Great article Dave.

    I was saying to a friend a couple months ago that I thought it would be fun to make a brand of T-Shirts that are “Pro-Global Warming”. The thing that I was thinking, was that warmer earth meant more useable land (imagine Siberia as a new bread basket, or Antarctica as a new livable frontier). My comment was.. we loose parts of Florida (hpothetically)..but gain much more in Alaska or the Antarctica.

    Not long after I suggested this… this article came out [actually it was one from AP on Yahoo news - which is now errored out]… it was ironic and funny:
    http://www.iht.com/articles/ap.....onanza.php

  7. Tree farms have existed for at least 35 years that I personally know of without looking it up online. Do some hiking across southern states with hills and lowlands. You’ll notice eerily straight rows of mainly southern pines, mesmerizing your brain, seemingly “designed” by some intelligent force not of this world…, nor inclined for random tree patterns or brush, but smooth downy drops of pine needles squarely draped around the trees at all angels one can see, straight line and diagonals provide an uncanny like Star Trek mystery….

    knowingly enchanted by the tall tales of sweet whiskey drinkers.

    ;-)

    When I bartended eons ago, paying for college tuition, an old timber farmer would come in oncst a year with large wads of cash in hand, dripping from his pockets, bellowing to all the staff, girls and any city slicker around who came to the country college town, waving his chopped off nubs of his right hand high holding the massive wads of hundred dollar bills. He’d buy rounds of drinks for all, whoop and holla as if at his own personal anual dancing tree ball.

    He asked, What’s college got to do with this? Cash gripped in grubby hands, tightfisted, high with might of conquered lands. Absolutely nothing, he exclaimed with glee… Set up another round of shots; he said, for all who gathered round to look upon his weathered face, mostly locals who known him long time, heard his stories from year to year.

    Plant trees my boyzzz, plant treez, he said. Bountiful green! Every year he came in and made the same seen…, or so I’m told.

    Quite a character looking back, although he was hard to handle, thrown out by management once I hear.

    Who’d thunk he’d make common sense today after so many years?

  8. seen=scene, or so I’m told ;-)

  9. chrisdornan

    I don’t believe CO2 is the main driver of climate change like it’s made out to be. The evidence points to albedo change (the earth is slightly darker). Two main factors appear to be behind that, only one of which is anthropogenic. Black carbon (soot from various sources – burning of wood, coal, and diesel are the biggies) is darkening the surface up to thousands of kilometers from its sources and it tends to have the greatest effect on permanent snowfields where it is concentrated on the surface during partial melts. The other factor is cosmic ray flux which moderates cloud formation. Less intense cosmic rays mean less clouds reflecting sunlight back into space. The flux varies according to intensity of sources outside the solar system (exploding stars and part of the galaxy the sun is traversing) and according to the intensity of the sun’s magnetic field which blocks a variable amount of cosmic rays.

    There’s nothing we can do about cosmic rays but my position is we should encourage the primary sources of soot (Europe and Asia) to clean the particulates out of their chimneys, smokestacks, and exhaust pipes and not use fire to clear land for agricultural purposes. Soot is generally bad because one it’s a carcinogen and two it preferentially melts glaciers which causes unwanted spring flooding instead of a slower melt that provides water later in the year for agriculture. CO2 on the other hand whether it’s contributing much to warming or not, is not a health hazard, is beneficial to plant growth and plant water efficiency, will take a long time and cost a lot of money to reduce, and even if it is reduced any effect from the reduction won’t be seen for at least several decades if at all. Reducing soot emissions has an almost immediate effect in comparison because one it’s quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive to filter particulates out of smoke and ban clear-burning and two soot gets washed away from the surface where it causes harm after a few years exposure to the weather.

  10. …We are inundated with conjecture based on computer models of CO2 induced warming and the supposed ill effects of it….

    Dave – this is something with which I strongly agree. I’m an atmospheric scientist, not a climatologist, but in my opinion, based on my experience, the atmosphere cannot…*CANNOT*…be modeled decades in the future, even in the most general sense (general circulation on a global scale). The atmosphere is just too complex.

    It is my experience from working with numerical weather prediction (NWP) models (more sophisticated versions of the general circulation climate models (GCM) used in global warming predictions) that they generally have no skill at +7 days. Expecting GCM models to exhibit any skill whatsoever decades in the future is a very big leap in my opinion.

  11. Hi LCM:

    Thanks for voicing an informed opinion, in a way that will help to moderate the polarised positions that so many take on such a matter.

    We need to learn the difference between computer simulaitons and the real world, and to think about the implications of that lack of deep understanding on the unintended consequences of policy action triggered sand sustained by ill-considered policy and emotional manipulation of the even more ill-informed public.

    GEM of TKI

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