The trees are the enemies of Gaea!!

August 15, 2011

Well, that would seem to be the upshot of recent research indicating that accelerating tropical forest growth could lead to even more carbon entering the atmosphere, which would mean… CLIMATE CHANGE!!! AAAIIIEEE!!!

From the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology, via Watt’s Up with That:

The researchers used results from a six-year experiment in a rainforest at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, Central America, to study how increases in litterfall – dead plant material such as leaves, bark and twigs which fall to the ground – might affect carbon storage in the soil. Their results show that extra litterfall triggers an effect called ‘priming’ where fresh carbon from plant litter provides much-needed energy to micro-organisms, which then stimulates the decomposition of carbon stored in the soil.

Lead author Dr Emma Sayer from the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology said, “Most estimates of the carbon sequestration capacity of tropical forests are based on measurements of tree growth. Our study demonstrates that interactions between plants and soil can have a massive impact on carbon cycling. Models of climate change must take these feedbacks into account to predict future atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.”

The study concludes that a large proportion of the carbon sequestered by greater tree growth in tropical forests could be lost from the soil. The researchers estimate that a 30% increase in litterfall could release about 0.6 tonnes of carbon per hectare from lowland tropical forest soils each year. This amount of carbon is greater than estimates of the climate-induced increase in forest biomass carbon in Amazonia over recent decades. Given the vast land surface area covered by tropical forests and the large amount of carbon stored in the soil, this could affect the global carbon balance.

Tropical forests play an essential role in regulating the global carbon balance. Human activities have caused carbon dioxide levels to rise but it was thought that trees would respond to this by increasing their growth and taking up larger amounts of carbon. However, enhanced tree growth leads to more dead plant matter, especially leaf litter, returning to the forest floor and it is unclear what effect this has on the carbon cycle.

In other words, it’s all our fault. If we hadn’t spewed so much carbon into the atmosphere (1), plant life wouldn’t have flourished (2) as much and threaten us with even more of that nasty, evil carbon. Don’t you see? We’ve turned the trees against the Earth! What have we done? What will we do??

Well, according to the Church of Anthropogenic Global Warming and its priesthood, the answer is simple: we must sacrifice our wasteful lifestyles, cut back our carbon footprints to just a toe-print, submit to economy-killing regulatory regimes and transfer wealth to poor nations victimized by our carbon-hogging existence — and all this administered by a selfless transnational bureaucracy, of course. (3)

Now, this isn’t to pick on Dr. Sayer or her research; there is undoubted value in gaining more knowledge about how the carbon cycle works.  That’s the whole point of science: to learn How Stuff Works(tm). And I’m certainly not impugning her motives, for, after all, I have no idea what she believes in her heart of hearts about “dangerous man-caused climate change.”

But… Beyond the pure science, that press release reeks of an agenda. Whether it’s pro-alarmist “Something could, might, maybe happen, so we’d better do something now!” scare-mongering or simply “I’ve got to say the magic PC words in order to get my grant money,” (4) I don’t know.  But an agenda is there, another example of the politicization of science in the service of a cause.

(1) In spite of there being no clear signal in the scientific evidence for a significant role for CO2 in global warming. Or that there has been no statistically significant warming at all in the last 15 years, per alarmist-extraordinaire Dr. Phil Jones, himself.
(2) No, really. CO2 is plant food. They love the stuff, and increasing levels of it lead to more plants, which is a good thing.
(3) Who hobnob with celebrities who themselves fly in private jets to conferences around the world, thus spewing nasty CO2 all over the place. But that’s different. Because. So, shut up.
(4) Grad  school. Been there, done that.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)