Rewriting the textbooks - Forests may contribute to global warming.

Thursday, January 12, 2006
I don't know what to make of this story. Perhaps Yargb's scientists could help me. How is it that a seemingly fundamental and basic fact of plant biochemistry could, if this study is correct, go unknown until now? I am regularly amazed at the seas of mystery and ignorance around our islands of knowledge.
Scientists in Germany have discovered that ordinary plants produce significant amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas which helps trap the sun's energy in the atmosphere.
Until now, it had been thought that natural sources of methane were mainly limited to environments where bacteria acted on vegetation in conditions of low oxygen levels, such as in swamps and rice paddies.

But a team led by Frank Keppler of the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg, Germany, stumbled upon this new effect when studying emissions from the leaves of trees and grasses in conditions similar to those they would encounter in the open air.

To their amazement, the scientists found that all the textbooks written on the biochemistry of plants had apparently overlooked the fact that methane is produced by a range of plants even when there is plenty of oxygen.
The possible implications are set out in Nature by David Lowe of New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, who writes: "We now have the spectre that new forests might increase greenhouse warming through methane emissions rather than decrease it by sequestering carbon dioxide."


Syl said...

Doesn't matter. There is no greenhouse warming anyway.

And even if there is, it is so slight it would be barely measurable.

And this article simply illuminates one of the biggest problems with climate theories...we know only about 1 million billionth of what we need to know to catch any trends or make any overall predictions.

David Thomson said...

"Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do."

---Ronald Reagan

Looks like the Gipper was onto something. The leftist establishment has done its best to discredit this theory. It’s time it gets a fair hearing.

Barry Dauphin said...

The climate is so complex that it is incredibly difficult to believe that we fully understand whatever warming effects, if any, there are let alone have the solution to it.

The findings of the team are important. Let's see other groups replicate this. But color me skeptical about the motives. Although Kyoto is dead, one of the US positions involved sequestering carbon dioxide in forests (with the US having a lot of forests). I could easily see these findings being used solely to say that the only way to deal with global warming is to stop planting trees and everybody live at their places of work so that no one drives anywhere-- the globe to be turned into a communist work camp.

Syl said...

The climate is so complex that it is incredibly difficult to believe that we fully understand whatever warming effects, if any, there are let alone have the solution to it.

Assuming we want a solution at all. Some global warming may actually be beneficial to mankind.

One of the problems, besides not knowing for sure if there really is global warming, is that if there is we have no idea if greenhouse gases even play a role, and if they do, whether it's even significant.

Speaking of cutting down forests, I read in State of Fear that the reason the glacier on Mt Kilamanjaro (sp?) is melting (no warming can be detected in that area) is that the rainforest at the base of the mountain was cut down.

Now hot dry air flows up the mountain and melts the glacier.

The Left's main problem is that they abhor change. They've taken a snapshot of the earth, its cultures, its flora and fauna and habitats and decided NOTHING should ever change from what it is at this moment.

There is no history. Only what they see today counts.

Syl said...

And I think this view of the Left is not the result but the cause of their hatred of Global trade, corporations, capitalism, America (a force for change), and even war (which results in major change) and their love for socialism because to them that represents stasis.

markg8 said...

When Bush formed a committee review of the science in order to put off any action on his Kyoto "alternative" they found the evidence to be sound and overwhelming: global warming is real and mankind's use of fossil fuels, especially in the last 100 years, is a big part of the cause.

Having said that I've seen sequester proposals that sound interesting though not being a climatologist I can't say if they'd be feasable or effective.

According to this articlea total U.S. carbon emissions total about 1,900 million metric tons per year. Possibly "80–200 million metric tons of carbon per year could be hoovered out of the sky through a variety of changes in the way American farmers work their land".

Rick Ballard said...

"The Left's main problem is that they abhor change."

Perhaps, but I think "uncontrolled change" would make the statement more agreeable. Lefties love "planned change" where people are concerned. They also love "planned" economies where all that wasteful competition is eliminated and "right thinkers" make all the "proper" decisions. The fact that the "plans" never come to fruition or that those tiny negative externalities have a habit of making the planners look like the idiots that they are is irrelevant.

The left is not adaptive, which is why it will join the wooly mammoth after a bit. The climate "concern" is possibly the most idiotic of its charades. Totally hubristic and based upon a profound ignorance of the complexity of the system which it purports to explain - what commissar could ask for more?

chuck said...

The article forgot to mention termites, which are also major producers. And, IIRC, methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

The problem with the whole Kyoto thing is that it is poorly thought out, the science is still preliminary and what science there is is based on incomplete computer models and a still spotty understanding of the earth. At some point Mark8 may discover that there are fads and fashions in science when it comes to complex systems. I might hope he will also learn something about politics in the process.

Knucklehead said...

Yowza, Barry! You've spotted the collectivists diabolical plan!

1. Get the non-elected Cabal of Caring and Enlightened Elders and Assorted Proper Thinking Geniuses in control, supported of course by the legions of suitably trained Soft Scientists and Public Policy Experts.

2. Return the peasants, proletariat, and that portion of the beorgeoysie that can't be quickly guillotined, re-educated, or encamped somewhere, back into the "village". "Villages" being geographically contained areas outside of which travel is unauthorized and personal transport forbidden. The CCEEAPTGs will, of course, be allowed limos and learjets for their 'portant work and the SSPPE will have access to publicly held motor pools and fleets for their needs. The rest of us will be gratefully content with our Citizens Quarters and Gardens.

3. Once the elements of modern serfdom are in place, up go the castles and moats and we serfs can get about our natural business of grubbing through the muck and mire for subsistence levels of dirt sammiches.

Knucklehead said...

Chuck 'n Syl,

Aren't there enormous deposits of methane laden, frozen sludge like stuff along the ocean's floors? I vaguely recall seeing something, somewhere (probably a whacky History Channel or Discovery piece about the Bermuda Triangle) that hanks o' these things, through ordinary seismic or climatic activity, occasionaly break free, float up and boil off pouring enormous amounts of methane into the atmosphere.

IIRC they suggested that if a ship happens to be floating where one of these events reaches the surface, down it goes. Same for aircraft. If they happen to be flying where one of these mammoth, oceanic "farts" happens, internal combustion and lift go bye-bye and they quickly establish the condition known technically as Environmentally Induced Inverted Airspeed for Altitude Exchange.

chuck said...

Aren't there enormous deposits of methane laden, frozen sludge like stuff along the ocean's floors?

Methane hydrates are more of an ice and are sometimes mentioned as a potential source of natural gas if someone can figure out how to mine them. It is also stunning to ponder the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered in carbonate rock. IIRC, the Chicxulub impact site is located in carbonate rock and immense amounts of CO2 would have been released into the atmosphere during the strike.

Buddy Larsen said...

Gaia farts?

Knucklehead said...


Gaia is not constrained to our outdated and unnatural notions of what is "Ladylike". When she needs to, she does.

chuck said...

Dave S., commenting at Tim Blair's place, had this lovely response to a markg8 clone:

Nor does it challenge scientific opinion on global warming, which has become rock-hard over the past five years

Rock hard. Firm. Throbbing with consensual tumescence… the kind of theory that drives you insane with desire at its maddening but seductive contradictions… a theory that tantalizes with hints of commitment, then frustrates with callous disregard of every promise… a frustration that only deepens the animal attraction…

RogerA said...

Geez--who knew--you mean "Science" had it wrong? like the phlogiston theory; like the sun revolving around the earth--the "prevailing scientific opinion" from which Galileo had to recant--I think the problem is in our species: we give ourselves credit for too much when, in fact, we are hairy apes--we are much less important in the scheme of things that we would like to know.

I dont doubt that earth is getting warmer--that's always been an empirical question--it is the ascription of causality that has always been flakey--and once again, science proves what it doesnt know.

This is not to suggest I am a luddite--I value science, but I respect, also, the limits of inquiry and recognize that scientific knowledge is advanced only slowly and, like legislation, sometimes the process isnt pretty.

terrye said...


I am getting a little warm myself....

Syl, wasn't State of Fear a good book?

The truth is there is a lot we just do not know.

Barry Dauphin said...


Thanks for adding the part about whether we'd want to do anything about it. That's right on too.

Even if the earth is getting warmer, we'd need to know what the advantages and disadvanages of that would be with exquisite precision and also weigh (assuming we could do something) the costs/benefits of trying to make the earth less warm vs. adapting to the changes of a warmer earth. Until proven otherwise, my money is on adapting to circumstances rather than assuming we can know how to change circumstances as powerful as the climate of the planet and foreseeing all the unintended aversive consequences of driving less. And BTW, why do so many people think we only use oil to drive? We use more petroleum products doing lots of other things. Maybe we would burn less oil by driving less, but if an unintended consequence of that were to lead to an increased need for plastics, how would we be less dependent on oil?

There is a way in which some folks seem to believe we are gods rather than people. We are presumed to be corrupt (like some of the Greek gods) but virtually omniscient and powerful enough to quickly assert our will and effect the right change.

Knucklehead said...

Barry & Syl,

Of late there has been renewed talk about trying to control the weather - in particular monkeying around with hurricanes to reduce their intensity.

Sigh... Can we even begin to suppose we have a remote clue of what the effects of repeatedly and consistently altering hurricanes would be? I doubt it. In fact it wouldn't be the least bit surprising that "solving" the "problem" of hurricane intensity would create other weather problems elsewhere.

chuck said...

And BTW, why do so many people think we only use oil to drive?

I've always thought it was wasteful to just burn the stuff. I'd rather see it used to make plastics ;) 'Course, if you gave me a shovel and asked me to dig out a basement rather than call in a back-hoe, I might change my mind about that wasteful bit.

truepeers said...

There's always the steam digger, if you don't mind a bit of coal mining :)

truepeers said...

So no one has any ideas on how such a basic fact of plant biochemistry could have gone unknown for so long?

Bob Hawkins said...

The description of "islands of knowledge in an ocean of ignorance" is very apt. Perhaps the main lesson here is that a little knowledge must go a long way, considering how little we in fact know.

Morgan said...


I'll hazard an guess that, if correct, amounts to a partial explanation.

There are some things that we believe we understand quite well, about which we think we know everything worth knowing, so we stop looking at them. Maybe we reached that point with gasses emitted by plants before we could detect methane in these concentrations. Maybe looking at gasses became a grade-school experiment in which countless students found that plants convert CO2 to O2, but never had the equipment or interest to see what else came out.

terrye said...

We can replace some petroleum with soy beans.

And if the Iranians keep acting up we might have to.

truepeers said...

Yes, I'll buy that Morgan. Though has it been so hard to detect Methane? I doubt it. It must have more to do with not looking at what we take for granted.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

I think a lot of people here have touched on what I consider to be the central issue, which is: what is our place in the world? I've said before that I believe the central religious question to be: is it due to man, is it due to God, or does it just happen? This asked in response to the disaster and "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" which we view nearly daily.

If things are a mess and if all is in our ("our" meaning human) control, then of course it is morally incumbent upon us to control it and stop it. Of course Hurricane Katrina is the fault of George Bush. We control the world, he controls us, QED.

The alternative views, that God of some sort controls things, or that randomness occurs, are not compatible with this sort of thinking.

I think one problem is the psychology of the individual human. We have the illusion of understanding. This is, I believe, inborn, the product of generations of evolution. Those who felt confident in controlling their surroundings prospered and survived. But it's not the least bit realistic. We don't really have any idea what's going on. How many people could explain what goes on with their electric supply, let alone describe how their computer works? And these are clearly man-made. Why would I presume to know what's going on with trees?

MeaninglessHotAir said...

Bob Hawkins,

"islands of knowledge in an ocean of ignorance"

I like that too, but probably "atoms of knowledge in an ocean of ignorance" would be closer to it.

Syl said...


re 'our place' and 'controlling our surroundings'

I think the answer actually develops over time. It is not absolute as to shoulds and shouldn'ts.

I don't think it matters much if someone believes a God made us caretakers, because, in order to survive, we have become caretakers anyway. And the extent to which our abilities allow us to control more and more of what is around us, has simply enlarged over time as our technology permits.

The fact is, we do because we can

I mean some say if we were meant to fly, why didn't God give us wings?

The answer to that is that we have the ability (God-given or not) to create our own wings. Thus we fly.