The new adventures of old pristine

As deforestation accelerates and grows ever more concentrated the consequences on climate change are even greater than previously thought. As reported in New Scientist:

Pristine temperate forest stores three times more carbon than currently estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and 60% more than plantation forests, according to research in Australia.

The study:

Mackey and colleagues used remote sensing and direct sampling to study eucalyptus trees at 240 sites across a 14.5-million hectare swathe of natural forest in south-east Australia.


The global implications are not yet clear. It could be that the carbon-storing ability of other temperate forests, such as those along the Pacific coast of the US, have also been underestimated. Mackey’s team is now investigating this possibility.

One thing is clear: the IPCC desperately needs to update their projections to include data such as this, as well as “slow” feedbacks such as permafrost melt, wetland destruction, actic ice loss and deforestation to name a few. As humanity debates what to do to combat climate change it’s clearer than ever that the climate change beast is still not fully exposed to be the potential cataclysm it is morphing toward.

For the next American administration to make a serious attempt to combat climate change up-to-date consensus climate models will be invaluable. The past year has brought an avalanche of data that is destined to profoundly affect the models.

So while the media remains insistent on hedging what has been with a few exceptions a bad to worse story – Al Gore’s remarks back in January at Davos ring truer than ever: “the climate crisis is significantly worse and unfolding more rapidly than those on the pessimistic side of the IPCC projections had warned us.

As many scientists have pointed out: “Things are happening 100 years ahead of schedule.”

Yet, disconcertingly, the IPCC is not scheduled to issue another scenario report until 2013.

Ken Levenson


9 Responses to The new adventures of old pristine

  1. llewelly says:

    The past year has brought an avalanche of data that is destined to profoundly effect the models.

    Don’t you mean ‘affect’ rather than ‘effect’?

    [JR: Fixed, thanks!]

  2. Paul K says:

    Does this new information affect your opposition to tree planting as a carbon offset.

  3. This is why we need a better job of educating the public about biodiversity loss, what it means, why we should care, and what we can do about it:

  4. kenlevenson says:

    Paul K,
    Why do you give Joe a hard time about forests? After all, forestry is a wedge. Offset pro/con is a separate debate altogether.

  5. Paul K says:

    No hard time was intended. Joe’s main objection to reforestation as offset is not enough bang for the buck. Wouldn’t it make sense for him to moderate his opposition if the bang is better than previously thought?

  6. Peter Wood says:

    Mackey et al.’s green carbon report is here.

    I suspect that if reforestation is included as an offset, or in an emissions trading scheme in Australia, then it would be likely that less hardwood plantations would be available for timber and pulp, increasing the demand for native forest timber and perversely increasing emissions.

    It is essential that forest degradation is included in greenhouse accounts as soon as possible.

  7. Jill B says:

    I have been confused about the role of forests and trees in the context of climate change for some time. So now that it is a topic, maybe you can answer these questions (or do another blog on it!).

    I can certainly understand the need to keep our natural forests and ecosystems intact, so as to not have an adverse effect. But I also know that trees are part of the natural carbon cycle, which is not where the concern is, since they continue to grow, die, decompose and sprout new trees. So, it’s a quick carbon cycle.

    It would seem that deforestation on a large scale will create adverse effects (not only on climate) and that natural systems are better than plantations (for reasons other than climate too) but I’ve also read that studies have shown that the idea of planting trees to offset or make a difference is a bit of a stretch, unless there is significant replanting in the tropics.

    Also, I’ve been skeptical of PG&Es program to offset GHG emissions by giving money to Sempervirens – a great organization that protects redwoods. But those trees already exist and are not in danger of really being harvested, so how can this be an offset? (I’m not arguing against protecting them, I support Sempervirens, only questioning its validity in terms of global warming.)

    What’s the real science regarding trees and CO2 and cllmate change? And should a local govt be using tree planting as part of its efforts to combat global warming??

  8. kenlevenson says:

    Paul K and Peter Wood,

    Joe describes the problem of using reforestation as an offset last year, here:

    The interesting thing about this study is that it’s targeting pristine forests….(obviously reforested areas aren’t pristine)

    Jill B,
    You actually seem to have a pretty good handle on one very tricky subject. Regarding forestry offsets and their pros and cons – see the same link above to Joe’s post on it.

  9. David B. Benson says:

    It doesn’t matter where trees are replanted, every one will help. The issue is what to do with the wood when the trees are fully mature. I opine that sequestering some as torrified wood, deep underground, is a good idea.