87 thoughts on “I’ll believe it’s a crisis when the people who tell me it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis”

  1. As I said over at Quark soup, his calculations are off by over three orders of magnitude. Yeesh, you’d think people who toss around numbers like this could multiply.

    [Fair enough, you’re right. The point remains, though -W]


  2. The point remains, though -W

    No…no actually it doesn’t.

    This recurring meme (“people worried about global warming fly a lot and so it must not be a serious as they claim”) is just an attempt to distract and is actually a combination of logical fallacies: Tu quoqu (“you too”) and ignoratio elenchi (“irrelevant conclusion”) to be specific.

    To see this replace the argument with something else requiring investment of resources to achieve a goal of increaing those resources. For example, using oil burning machinery to drill a well. “But they are using oil to drill!!!!”

    Well, duh. The real question is “but what is the return on investment” (ROI)?

    If you burn say 10,000 tons of carbon in a year flying to conferences that result is to only reduce the overall world burning of carbon by 10,000 tons per day the ROI is is better than 360 to 1.

    That is a fantastic deal and a superb investment of resources.

    Arguing that you shouldn’t “invest money to make money” is a stupid argument.

    [Does anyone expect anything useful to come out of Bali? I don’t. Certainly not a positive return on the investment -W]


  3. Nice smack down Benjamin Franz. 🙂

    That kind of arguments (other variants are, for example: Al Gore uses ENERGEY!!111!!!OneONE!!! GLOBAL WARMING IS A LIE!!!!) are really stupid, but seem to be a favorite around the political right. You would think that those people with their free market belief would get the concept of ROI, but sadly no. :/


  4. This recurring meme (“people worried about global warming fly a lot and so it must not be a serious as they claim”) is just an attempt to distract and is actually a combination of logical fallacies

    No, it’s an example of “do as I say, not as I do”.

    They don’t have to fly by private jet – they could fly commercial. If they’re not even willing to make that small sacrifice, why should I take them seriously?


  5. Is Cate – “leaf blowers represent everything that’s wrong with humanity” – Blanchett flying in via private jet?

    Will Al Gore be leaving the thermostat up in his 25,000 square foot mansion while he is away?

    Hypocrisy in the name of saving the planet is still hypocrisy.


  6. “They don’t have to fly by private jet – they could fly commercial. If they’re not even willing to make that small sacrifice, why should I take them seriously?”

    So, if they walked there the science would suddenly change?


  7. “So, if they walked there the science would suddenly change?”

    Let’s just say I doubt the salt march would have been quite so successful had Gandhi been carried the whole way by Sherpas.


  8. Tim Lambert,

    The Bali News article (via Instapundit) complained about the lack of PARKING SPACE for private jets. Unlike commercial liners, private jets sit there, occupying precious tarmac space, what the guy in the article calls the apron.

    The carbon footprint calculations miss an important point: not only do private jets burn more fuel per passenger, they also demand more asphalt. Hence, more landfill, less grass, less water retention, more heat absorption.

    They also destroy the credibility of these activists. This point is the least tangible but also the most important here, as Glenn Reynold justly pointed out.


  9. People can fly there… on commercial airlines. (They could also row there, presumably, but there is indeed an ROI concern.) They might even be able to consider not going there at all, but teleconferencing. Of course, the food isn’t nearly as good, and the opportunities for tete-a-tete nonexistent, but my goodness, if the Future of Humanity is at stake…


  10. The next _serious_ climate change conference will be held on one of the low-lying islands offshore of Bangladesh. During typhoon season. Access by rowboat, bring your own boat. Eh?


  11. If you read the original link, the concern is that there may be more than 15 charter jets (and charter jet, by the way, does not mean one person per plane in terms of carbon footprint). If there are 12,000 people attending, I don’t think the percentage arriving by charter jet is significant.

    I would further assume some of charter jet users are governmental people who have security issues, and others are corporate people who are there for the business opportunities, and no more to be condemned or praised than any other business.

    In short, a complete non-issue.


  12. “In short, a complete non-issue.”

    Phew! Glad you settled that for us Brian.

    You know, I really don’t like to upset these fine folks who are toiling day and night under intolerable conditions on our behalf (I heard a few of the Bali delegates are even traveling coach class – imagine that!), but if you could just provide a little evidence for your assertions then I’d feel little more comfortable.

    No doubt you can also provide us with the list of delegates staying in non-air-conditioned hotel rooms to conserve energy. Surely it would be at least 99% of them?


  13. I don’t mind that Bush travels on Air Force One and in motorcades with large entourages. That’s part of the deal. I also don’t mind Gore flying around the world on private jets when commercial airlines don’t coincide with his schedule, which I suspect is usually the case. The “return on the investment” would mean that Gore spends more time talking about Global Warming to large audiences, instead of sitting in airports. And unless human psychology changes, pressing the flesh is more effective than teleconferencing.


  14. Is it knwon how many climate scientits have already relocated, or are planning to relocate soon, polewards?. By now there must be plenty of free positions in the drought-prone Midwest


  15. There ought to be a name for this rhetorical trick – maybe the Mugwump Pivot?

    Part 1: “Any enviro who doesn’t live in a cave and eat roots is a hypocrite with automatically-wrong positions. Don’t take them seriously!”

    Part 2: “Look at those unbelievably-crazy hippies who walk everywhere and grow their own food. Don’t take them seriously!”



    “Global Warming will dissipate cirrus cloud cover, thereby cooling the planet.” My quote, not his.

    “I know some climate modelers will say that these results are interesting but that they probably don’t apply to long-term global warming,” he said. “But this represents a fundamental natural cooling process in the atmosphere. Let’s see if climate models can get this part right before we rely on their long term projections.”

    All major models assume that cirrus cloud cover will increase with global warming, therby compounding the problem by trapping heat. This study finds the opposite. He claims that 75% of global warming effects will disappear in the models, once these new data are introduced. Hmmm…


    The results of this research were published recently in the American Geophysical Union’s “Geophysical Research Letters” on-line edition. The paper was co-authored by UAHuntsville’s Dr. John R. Christy and Dr. W. Danny Braswell, and Dr. Justin Hnilo of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, CA.

    Damn, and we Canadians were SO LOOKING FORWARD to global warming… Imagine, for the FIRST TIME, we would have been able to find our land mass under the ice and snow.


  17. There’s a name for your rhetorical trick, Brian: it’s called the strawman argument. I’m not asking for cave-dwelling. But *some* sacrifice would seem to be appropriate under the circumstances.

    I don’t think you’ll find many supporters of “Do as I say, not as I do” out here in Joe Punter land. Or, as we say in the corporate world: “Do they eat their own dog food?”


  18. Re Brian Schmitt – 3:27pm

    Quote – “there may be more than 15 charter jets” the statement doesn’t say there “may be” It rather emphatically indicates very large numbers. So much so that they have to be parked in Jakarta, Surabaya’ Lombok and Sulawesi – that’s no small number and no trivial issue. How much extra fuel is being burnt dead heading these jets from Bali to their parking area and back? Take a look at a map, the distances involved are not small. It’s not just hypocrisy but profligate beyond belief so please let’s not introduce something as ludicrously contrary as ROI into this “bugger the cost” orgy of self indulgence.


  19. “But *some* sacrifice would seem to be appropriate under the circumstances.”

    Maybe we have some room for agreement then. I’ll expect quite a few attendees have below average emissions for their countries on an annual basis, and spending emissions to go to this conference is their biggest expense. Could be worse. Then there’s the whole offset purchases, which I generally expect will have some value, and rarely will be useless or counterproductive.

    I agree that those who fly on some elite private jet and don’t have a damn good excuse should be ashamed of themselves (BTW, I don’t count special charter flights of big jets carrying hundreds of people, that’s not an entirely unusual arrangement and not especially wasteful).

    As for how many more than 15 elite private jets, we don’t know yet, do we? I’m willing to bet though that less than 2% of the attendees arrive on one of those. Anyone feeling lucky? And if not, do you always judge 100% of people in a community based on how 2% of them behave?


  20. Argument tu quoque I think.

    But it does beg the question, why isn’t teleconferencing used more broadly?

    I understand the desire to reward conference attendance, which can be a real unrewarding pain in the ass a lot of the time – especially as an organizer or presenter – with a trip. It’s a reflection, more than anything, that scientists, bureaucrats, whoever, are just human beings and want to get the hell out of the office every once in a while. If they’re going to do all the prep work to set this up, present, etc., it needs to be balanced with some reward, like a tropical destination.

    Think I’m wrong? Schedule your next conference in Detroit, and see what happens.


  21. Brian,

    I think it’s extremely unlikely that many attendees have below-average emissions – quite the reverse, these people fly all over the place at the drop of a hat and are basically rich and big consumers in their everyday life anyway.


    Worse than Detroit, schedule your conference in Japan and see how many come even with all expenses paid…


  22. I think my main question would be, ‘why Bali?’. Could they could have worked out a place where there would be fewer “attendee miles” (or at least more of them could have been by train, etc.)?


  23. Brian, I agree with you that if large charter jets are involved then it is not a big issue. It’s not likely however that aircraft of that size with intercontinental reach are going to be parked for several days waiting for a returning party. Were that the case the cost per passenger would be way in excess (multiples) of using commercial flights i.e so wildly extravagant someone with oversight would have to catch it.

    Anyway let’s test your 2% estimate. The attendees are expected to be 10,000 so 2% is 200 people. That’s less than one large charter but no need to revisit that. My guess is 15 planes parked in Bali, 5 each at Surabaya, Lombok and Sulawesi (all domestic airports) with another 10 in Jakarta – say 40 in total. That works out to 5 people per plane. But wait and see for a few more days as the information will be readily available here (I live in Bali) and I’ll post it back to this thread.

    BTW. Yes I do judge a group of people by 2% of their members when the individuals in question are the leaders and public face of their movement. Surely the core issue is important enough for them not to allow it to be submerged in this kind of ridicule – is first class that unbearable. As I review this before posting my stomach sinks at the realization that “only” 40 of these aircraft is wildly optimistic.


  24. i think this example shows nicely that most of the people on earth will not make personal sacrifice (i.e. bahavioral changes) in order to reduce the carbon footprint. Thus, the only possibility is technology. I can’t see any other viable way of significant CO2 reductions…


  25. I’m not a math person, but, assuming an even dispersion of delegations, if the attendees come from all around the world, wouldn’t it be roughly the same number of miles to any destination?

    [Its a fair bet that they are not evenly dispersed – there are probably more from Europe and the US. More, it is a fair bet that most delegations are larger than they need to be, and than many delegations are there for the side shows and don’t need to go at all -W]


  26. To be fair, a good number of us are offsetting emissions associated with our flight and stay in Bali. And while I share Stoat’s cynicism that little substantive will come out of the conference, it is a necessary step on the arduous road toward a post-2012 climate regime.

    International negotiations are a necessary evil. A free day on the beach in Bali is a slightly less evil but more guilty.

    In other news, the Secretariat has decided to abolish coats and ties for the conference. And there was much rejoicing.

    [Ha! One of the guilty speaks! Thank you. So I’m interested: being as honest and open as you are able, what fraction of the delegates do you think really need to be there?

    Do you, for example, need to go?



  27. The Bush administration is going to send 60 people. There are 189 countries and 10,000 delegates, so the USA’s number is about average.


  28. Just found that the Democrats are sending their own delegation to offset Bush’s. Citing security reasons, they say they cannot divulge their means of travel. I think Kerry is a sailor, so for now I’m guessing sailboat from Australia.


  29. “‘m not a math person, but, assuming an even dispersion of delegations, if the attendees come from all around the world, wouldn’t it be roughly the same number of miles to any destination?”

    That would assume an even distribution of countries, which isn’t the case. Also, if it was held on the Eurasian land mass, a large number of delegates could arrive by train (and boat for those from Africa). Not that government types would of course.

    Which brings me to the point that there are probably number of disparate types of people going (some who won’t need to go), and they probably shouldn’t all be judged as a homogeneous mass.


  30. I WARN YOU FOLKS, if I don’t get a reply to my post about the cirrus cloud disappearance reversing global warming… I may just count your silence as an implicit win on my part. (If you can’t take the heat, get out of the modeling lab.)

    BY THE BYE, the best place to discuss AGW is in Iqaluit. Close to the North Pole, beautiful landscape, icebergs, pack ice, ‘bergy bits’ and ‘growlers’. Polar bears, whales, seals, some northern lights (sorry, no stoats).

    Weather today is bracing, but lovely: “Flurries. Temperature falling to minus 17C this afternoon.” This time of year has a typical high of -14C, low -22C. Good airport, nice accommodations. overflow attendees can stay in tents, commute to conference by Skidoo.


  31. Personally, I don’t judge the importance of an issue based on the existence of hypocrisy-free politicians. “All men are created equal, except my slaves” and all that.

    Re: Cirrus clouds. “The big question that no one can answer right now is whether this enhanced cooling mechanism applies to global warming.” The models work on the past, they should work on the future.


  32. Do I need to go? Absolutely not. But as a graduate student working on climate and energy policy, its an opportunity that I won’t easily pass up. Plus, by offsetting the emissions associated with our trip, there is no real compelling reason not to go (seeing as the university is footing the bill).

    As far as what is really needed, any real agreement will be hashed out in the back rooms with the key representatives of the major emitters. You could probably accomplish just as much with 500 people as 10,000, and generate considerably less hot air and empty rhetoric in the process.


  33. The worst part of the Bali conference is that denialists will use it as a shot against the science, as Reynolds does. People don’t understand radiation in the atmosphere, but they understand when someone doesn’t walk the walk.


  34. OK DemocracyRules: The cirrus results are interesting. If I remember correctly, a monthly scale oscillation has shown fewer cirrus during the warm phase. Since cirrus on average warm the ground this represents a negative feedback. Does this cirrus change result also apply to slow longterm change, or just to short timescale oscillations? If it is the former, then it is a negative feedback, and all other things being equal would reduce the climate sensitivity. If it is strictly the latter then it wouldn’t impact the climate sensitivity, but would be interesting nonetheless. You can bet that some climatologists are studying the issue.


  35. “In total, the group said it compensated for 2 million tons of carbon, which required $7,500 in total donations by SOM students and faculty.”

    That’s 0.375c per ton.

    A fast-growing tree in the tropics stores about a ton of CO2 over its 40 year life, at a cost of 10c to plant (although that doesn’t account for land cost).

    CO2 is currently trading in Europe at about 7 Euro cents a tonne (comparable with the tree cost).

    So somethings not right: how did the Yale students offset 2 million tons of CO2 for just 0.375c per ton?


  36. For our trip, we are paying for the aforestation of agricultural land in Kansas on a conservation easement donated by an alum.

    Granted, aforestation-related offsets have some issues (primarily uncertainty surrounding albedo effects in temperate regions), so its not perfect.

    As far as the SOM offsets go, I’m not sure what they are using. I’ll ask someone about it tomorrow, considering they are right across the street. Even in the U.S. voluntary market, with all its snake oil and non-additional boondoggles, the average price is around $3ish. $0.375 a ton is suspicious… I hope they aren’t buying RECs or something similarly blatantly non-additional.



    Thank you CCE and BigTom for responding. I hate to say ‘Gotcha’, that would be rude. However, just for fun, ‘Gotcha’. Of these TWO KINDS of people, one group is disinterested scientists. They do not make value judgements. They are enamoured of the truth, and are willing to give up all they believe if a new fact compels it.

    For disinterested scientists, the NULL HYPOTHESIS is true unless you can compellingly disprove it. In this case, we have a string of null hypotheses: (1) there is no global climate, (2) there is no single global temperature, (3) there is no upward trend in global temperature, (4) there are no interaction terms which would change the pace of global temperature, and (5) Pamela Anderson is really hot, especially her dirigibles [just checking if you were still reading].

    According to the null hypothesis (4), no you cannot just say “The models work on the past, they should work on the future,” because the models are wrong as of today, and you must constantly prove otherwise. Remember, the touchiest, most difficult part of hypothesis generation and testing relates to the handling of interaction terms.

    Any non-linear trend implies a physical (and statistical) interaction. These are very difficult to get right in this real world of field research, where N-way interactions are the norm. (Global climate is a very large field study.) Consider the ‘Population Bomb’ [Paul Erlich, 68-69]. It didn’t go off, partly because population growth did not prove to be unremittingly logarithmic. (Humans, once they were in bed, didn’t ‘interact’ quite as predicted).

    [W] was just wrestling with interactions in his recent discussions of polar ice. The models are predicting ice-melt, albedo, and air movement interactions which do not seem to be happening on the projected time scale.

    SO I’M SORRY group one, Dr. John R. Christy et al. have you by the LittleTom until you can prove him wrong. The good news is that you can fly to Bali guilt-free, because you are disinterested scientists who do not have to ‘walk the walk’. You only have to ‘talk the talk’.

    GROUP TWO, LINE UP AGAINST THE WALL… uh, oops did I really say that? No, I mean group two, you are in this for the political cause. Therefore, I’m afraid you will have to swim to Bali, eat Vegan, eschew (but not swallow) SUV’s, live without heat [the Brits did it for centuries], and in other ways follow a virtuous eco-friendly lifestyle ad nauseam. Tragically, you will have to ‘walk the walk.’

    You will, however, eventually rise to heaven, unlike those problem-drinking, cigarette-sneaking, graduate student-lusting scientists who were bound for hell from the get-go.


  38. Granted, aforestation-related offsets have some issues (primarily uncertainty surrounding albedo effects in temperate regions), so its not perfect.

    Not to mention the fact that when the tree dies and rots, all the sequestered carbon is released back into the atmosphere as CO2.

    Like I said above, carbon-offsets are to global warming as bulimia is to dieting. But hey, why not make some money? This is better than a Ponzi scheme for alleviating the middle-class of their excess cash.


  39. The offsets should go to something like wind power, industry frequency converters, heat exchangers or insulation.
    Those can CERTAINLY reduce CO2 emissions with simple money.


  40. Shoot, right after I say offsets are rarely counterproductive, Zeke brings up afforestation. I’d like to see if albedo changes were included in your offset calculations, Zeke. And if the land already had a conservation easement, what exactly did you all purchase with the $7500?

    Mugwump, for his part, fails to understand that one tree dies, usually another takes its place. It’s a forestry thing.


  41. The land is not currently covered by any conservation easement. It would be donated to us as a conservation easement that would not otherwise exist. As its currently being used for agriculture, we would pay for the planting of native tree species on the land.

    In terms of albedo effects of temperate forests, frankly, no one really knows the net effects at this point. There is a quickly developing and highly contentious literature on this subject. Personally, I would have preferred using something easy like Native Energy, but the group wanted to do a project in-house.

    And as Brian Schmidt pointed out, as long as the land remains forested the carbon stays sequestered. The fate of individual trees is somewhat irrelevant.


  42. The climate has warmed markedly over the past 3 decades. It is not imaginary. It is real. The energy balance of the Earth’s atmosphere and ocean has changed measurably, and something has caused it. It was not an increase in solar intensity. It was not a decrease in GCR. The best explanation is a rise in GHG concentration, combined with lesser natural and anthropogenic causes. The models take many of these factors into account, and they successfully recreate the climate of the past when taken in the aggregate. They are not perfect and they never will be, but no one ever suggested that. A paper by Spencer and Christy (themselves, not exactly “error free”) is not going to overturn this conclusion so near to its publication. They don’t even claim to do this.

    So let us sit back and see what the scientific community says, because no one on this blog is going to be able offer a credible analysis, unless someone like Gavin drops by. However, the idea that their suspicians are automatically assumed to be correct (that their findings apply globally), based on an imaginary “null hypothesis,” is a bit silly.


  43. Hmmm,

    carbon offsets by trees are at least questionable. Because if one uses airplane (i.e. fossil fuels), this is burning of *ancient* carbon. If one plants a tree – this is *modern* carbon. Yes, the biosphere can soak-up a certain amount of carbon. But not at a rate that people would like to. Further, is seems, it is not terrestrial biosphere rather than oceans and plankton, that regulate air CO2 concentrations.
    In summary, I would say, carbon offsets by trees can help a little, but will not lead to significant carbon reduction in the long-term, as it is sometimes claimed. Support of alternative energy projects and research is more useful, probably.


  44. And as Brian Schmidt pointed out, as long as the land remains forested the carbon stays sequestered.

    But it’s not a “renewable” source of sequestration. Once the forest is mature, the rate of carbon sequestration drops to zero, as the dying trees rerelease the carbon that the growing trees are removing.

    You’re using capital to pay your expenses.


  45. Once the forest is mature, the rate of carbon sequestration drops to zero, as the dying trees rerelease the carbon that the growing trees are removing.

    No and no.

    Mature trees still sequester carbon. You are confusing the rate of uptake. And dead trees store carbon. And then the carbon goes into the soil then other plants. You are not accounting for scale of release into the atm, which is longer than a human generation in most ecosystems outside of the tropics.




  46. Dano, conservation of mass says you can’t be right. Unless the mass of the forest continuously increases, it can’t continue to sequester carbon once it is mature.

    It is interesting we’ve reached a state where a one-off carbon-offset for the international travel of Ivy league students is considered a better use of several square miles of productive agricultural land than feeding thousands.


  47. “a better use of several square miles of productive agricultural land than feeding thousands”

    Because clearly America woefully underproduces food, and our underproduction is a major driver of world hunger.

    A bit of google due diligence is useful before posting silliness.

    Alex: The terrestrial biosphere represents roughly half the global carbon sink, so its not secondary to the ocean per se. As the carbon remains sequestered as long as the land is forested, and the timeframes involved in the climate issue are on the order of centuries, this is not a reason to discount forestry-based sequestration out of hand. It is more complicated to calculate than, say, building a wind turbine, but there is real abatement there.


  48. Zeke, I am not being silly at all. It is you and your fellow students that seem not to have thought this through.

    For $7,500 a Yale alum has donated agricultural land large enough to sequester 2,000,000 tons of CO2. Based on a ton of CO2 per tree, that’s 2,000,000 trees. Once those trees are grown, net sequestration will fall to zero, unless you plan on repealing the law of mass conservation.

    Assuming trees are spaced on a 10 foot grid (which is probably too tight), that’s roughly 14,000 feet by 14,000 feet to get 2,000,000 trees, or 7 square miles, or 4,500 acres of agricultural land.

    Kansas averages about 40 bushels per acre per harvest, at about 50 pounds per bushel of dry wheat. So about a ton per acre.

    There’s about 1500 calories per pound of wheat, so overall the land devoted to sequestration if harvested instead would produce enough food to feed about 20,000 people assuming a daily intake of 2,000 calories.

    But you want to argue that we already produce too much food. Fine, but you can’t then complain about global warming reducing the productive capacity of the world’s breadbasket in the midwestern US, like so many greenies do.

    So, under business as usual we have land devoted to food production enough for 20,000 people forever. On the other hand, we have a one-off sequestration of 2,000,000 tons of CO2 over the next 50-100 years.

    Global CO2 emissions are projected at about 4 trillion tons over the next 100 years. So 2 million Yale projects, or about 14 million square miles of forest will sequester the next 100 years of CO2 (but of course do nothing beyond that). The Earth’s arable land area is about 12 million square miles.

    – Carbon offsets for one generation of Yale students: $7,500
    – Number of people going without food to make it happen: 20,000
    – Number of new Earth’s needed per century to make the project work: 1
    – Feeling of self-righteousness as you fly to Bali: priceless


  49. I don’t get this. We have ancient oaks in our area. Some are around 200 to 300 years old. Each year they produce a growth ring, which is actually a cone of wood that completely covers last years cone. That means the trees store additional carbon each year as there is no way to make the wood for the growth ring without it. These are huge trees, so the amount of wood required to make this growth ring is many many times larger than would be required for a sapling. A tree service guy told me these trees weigh around 80,000 to 100,000 tons.

    What percentage of that weight is carbon?

    The oak beams in the Tower of London are structurally sound. Wood can last a long time.


  50. JCHimself, the mature oak grows much more slowly than the younger oak, so its rate of deposition of wood is slower. It loses branches and roots where the younger tree does not. Eventually it dies and the carbon starts its journey back to CO2.

    Those oak beams in the tower of London will eventually need to be replaced. Then what do you do with old ones? Landfill? Burn? Either way, the carbon rejoins the carbon cycle as CO2.

    The only possibility is to harvest, store, and preserve the wood. But storing 100,000 square miles of forest annually seems pretty silly when the total high grade nuclear waste that would be generated in meeting all the world’s energy requirements from nuclear power is less than 1 cubic centimeter per person per year (per first-world person, that is).

    Even if we have 10 billion people consuming energy at first-world levels, that’s only a cube 20 meters on each side that we have to store each year. Compare that to 25 billion trees.


  51. The growth rings on a 200-year-old oak are just as wide as a 20-year-old oak’s. They get heavier each year. The cone of wood is many many many times larger. It has to be. The weight of the 200th growth ring (cone) would be thousands of times heavier than the 10th growth ring (cone).

    I’ve worked with old-growth wood all my adult life. Trees keep growing until they die, and it takes more carbon storage each year to accomplish that, not less.


  52. I am not making this up. Google “mature tree carbon sequestration” and look at the links that come back, eg

    “That said, it has to be emphasized that carbon offsetting by tree planting is only a. temporary solution – a mature forest does not sequester carbon …”

    Whatever the mechanism, simple mass conversation tells you this has to be the case: the carbon has to go somewhere, so unless the forest keeps getting bigger, sequestration in growing trees has to be offset by decay.


  53. The trees in a forest never stop growing. We have an old-growth stand adjacent to our Missouri farm – mostly red oak and walnut. It’s owned by the Nature Conservancy (not far from kansas). The trees in that forest have put on 86 growth rings since my father was a toddler wandering around among them in 1921. There are some new trees, but most of them were mature trees when he was born in 1919. There are 100s of thousands of more tons of carbon in that mature forest than there were in 1919. They are much taller trees now than when he was born, and the trunk diameters much larger than when he was born, and they were huge trees then.

    The cones (growth rings) have to be bigger each year. Quarter saw a board. The growth rings are fairly consistent over a tree’s life. Look at the growth rings on the top of a 1930s Martin guitar. You can see almost the entire life span of a red spruce. The grains are the same width. The weight of the final cone is thousands of times heavier than the first cone. The 2nd cone is twice as large as the first cone, but only a clear cutter would use your logic.

    You must be using the rules for trash trees.


  54. There are 100s of thousands of more tons of carbon in that mature forest than there were in 1919. They are much taller trees now than when he was born, and the trunk diameters much larger than when he was born, and they were huge trees then.

    So it wasn’t a mature forest in 1919, and perhaps still isn’t. But eventually the forest must reach equilibrium, where growth equals decay. Take that as the definition of a “mature” forest if you like.

    [The forest can asymptotically approach equilibrium but never get there, but that doesn’t change the argument: a forest has a finite carbon capacity. Hence they are a one-off carbon sink unless you can come up with something creative to do with the wood that doesn’t involve burning it or decomposition]


  55. mugwump,

    It is true that an affrestation project is not infinite in time – it will absorb a finite amount of carbon over a finite amount of time before it comes into equilibrium.

    So what? Zeke’s trip to Bali is not infinite in time, either. It will emit a finite amount of carbon over a finite amount of time.

    If Zeke’s new forest absorbs that amount of carbon plus enough extra to offset possible feedback effects (from albedo, and from the time his Bali carbon is in the atmosphere before being absorbed), then it is in fact a net offset.


  56. Lee, the point is forest sequestration is unsustainable. It might give Zeke the warm fuzzies now, but it is just putting off the issue of what to do with the carbon until tomorrow.

    If my calculation is correct, you need to harvest the trees and store the wood from an area roughly equal to the entire arable surface of the Earth each century to soak up our CO2 emissions.

    It’s just like the issue of high-grade nuclear waste: you need a long-term storage solution for that too. Only for nuclear it is one cubic centimeter per person per year (ie, roughly the size of one dice), whereas for forest sequestration it is roughly 2.5 fully mature trees per person per year.


  57. Mugwump is right that eventually, forests stabilize their amount of carbon storage. More accurately, they’ll have a long-term average that can vary over the short term (sometimes varying dramatically if the forest goes through fire cycles). Dano though, had pointed out that you don’t reach that average when a virgin forest gets its first mature trees, it’s still storing additional carbon before it reaches its long term average level.

    As for JCHimself’s forest, if it was an old-growth 400 years ago, it probably isn’t storing significantly more carbon now than it did then.

    Mugwump is otherwise wrong. Especially his idea than any solution that is less than a complete solution to any problem he can possibly think of, is no solution for anything.

    The funny thing about Mugwump’s assertion is that it’s commonly used by people who oppose nuclear power. “Nuke plants can’t solve everything, therefore we shouldn’t have any.” It’s equally illogical in both cases.


  58. If it’s in equilibrium because decay and fire have equalled all the new growth rings in the forest, then that sounds like a management issue.


  59. Brian I am not objecting to tree sequestration because it is not a complete solution. I am objecting because it is pointless. All it does is salve the conscience of the emitters who can afford it.

    But you are right in one sense: the argument is identical to that used by some opponents of Nuclear power, only not in the form you put it. Their argument is that the costs of disposal of the nuclear waste has to be accounted for in the cost of the energy. I agree entirely with that argument. But the same argument applies to tree sequestration: the cost of disposal of the waste (in this case the trees) has to be accounted for. Currently it is not.

    Reforestation is equivalent to polluting the landscape with locked up CO2.


  60. Everything is unsustainable if taken to the extreme. However, aforestation can be part of a broader solution including expanded renewable energy generation, reduced deforestation in the tropics, carbon sequestration, other GHG-gas reduction (e.g. HFC and methane incineration), etc.

    Additionally, if there was a scarcity of land for food production, the market price of land would increase and offsets via aforestation would become more expensive. The market would than switch to a cheaper form of offsets.

    Lets stop tilting at straw men, shall we?


  61. Which market would that be Zeke? You had the land donated.

    Tree sequestration is not unsustainable in the extreme: it’s a non-solution today. Seriously, what percentage of CO2 emissions do you think we can sequester with aforestation?

    The tree-offsets serve one purpose: to allow the emitters who can afford it to carry on emitting.

    I notice you don’t consider forgoing your own air travel as part of your broader solution, which actually would reduce CO2 emissions immediately. Nor does your solution include investing in the most readily available source of CO2-free energy: nuclear.


  62. I’m not claiming this study is correct; just inviting comments:

    “Important new scientific studies, including a recent SCIENCE article, highlight the importance of old-growth forest ecosystems as a mechanism to address climate change, and provide a powerful new argument for protecting ancient forests. New studies indicate that old-growth continues to remove carbon even when fully mature, and that old and wild forests are better than plantations at dependably removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Huge amounts of carbon are sequestered for long periods in old-growth ecosystems–both in trees and perhaps more importantly in soils. …”


  63. JCHimself – I think I found the link you’re citing, here:


    The NY Times article says that logging old-growth and regrowing it releases more emissions than it takes up, so it makes more sense to leave the old growth alone. No argument here.

    That’s not the same as saying that a 1000-year old forest stores much more carbon than a 500-year old forest. And some temperate-zone forests are 10k years old or older, while pockets of tropical forests are even older than that. The carbon storage uptake can’t go on indefinitely.


  64. In most of the Pacific Northwest (west of the Cascades), the forests burned down about every 400 years before the coming of the European descendants. The exception was the northern part of Vancouver Island, with some trees at least 1200 years old.


  65. ” In Checaumegon Bay, Wisconsin, on Lake Superior, the Superior
    Lumber Company is involved in the recovery of millions of sunken
    logs 60 feet below the bay’s surface. Because the logs have
    existed for approximately 100 years at large depths and in very
    cold water, they have been preserved almost to perfection. Most of
    the old slow growth wood at the bottom of the bay was clearcut in
    the late 1800s from areas in Canada, Minnesota, Wisconsin and
    Michigan, …”


  66. mugwump,

    No you don’t have to harvest and sequester the wood. You just have to leave the new forest alone. All those trees contain carbon that is no longer in the atmosphere – teh carabn taht zeke is offsetting – and as long as the forest stands, that carbon is sequestered. When existing trees die, new ones grow – the FOREST is the sequestration.

    It is true that it will eventually stop sequestering new carbon, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t already done so for the carbon it was planted to offset. As long as the forest stands, that is.


  67. In 1800s they did, by accident, store millions of large, old-growth logs.

    If not for some enterprising divers, it would still be down there.


  68. Remember forests increase down as well as up; the amount of material being put into root zones, digging into the cracks between the rocks and separating them and holding the slopes together, goes on increasing too. And half the soil in northern coniferous forests, I recall reading decades ago, is arthropod shit — it’s not just wood that trees make, it’s ecosystems that can and do continue to become bigger as they become more complicated. Fire removes a relatively small amount of that, if it happens naturally and relatively often. It takes a real Smoky Bear fire — one after decades of fire suppression — to burn the topsoil down to gravel.


  69. It is true that it will eventually stop sequestering new carbon, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t already done so for the carbon it was planted to offset.

    Sure, but that’s not my argument. My point is that it is an unsustainable and a very inefficient use of land; we’d need a new Earth every century to sequester all the CO2 we produce.

    Realistically, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to reforest more than 5% of the current arable land surface of the Earth, so at best tree sequestration will buy us 5 years.

    Contrast that to nuclear energy, which will buy us at least another 100 years and probably several times that once we develop fast-breeder (thorium-burning) technology further. By the time all the fissionable fuel is burnt, we’ll have fusion.


  70. 2/3rds of our MIssouri farmland is worthless as farmland and never should have been cleared in the first place. 1/3rd of it is a top-notch cornfield. The old-growth forest that the Nature Conservancy owns is a hilltop that overlooks the cornfield. Even my ancestors were not dumb enough to chop it down.

    We planted several 1000 oaks and walnuts about 6 years ago. It had nothing to do with carbon. It’s all for which that land is good. The cornfield is still a cornfield, and it makes its annual contribution to filling your tanks. I can’t imagine someone would be stupid enough to plant trees on fertile land in Kansas. That’s where they’re busy planting low-tax suburbs and shopping centers, and I’ve never heard anybody cry fake Lomborg tears for the 20,000 people they’ve starved through adopting a better use.


  71. Mugwmp,
    Why contrast nuclear generation with aforestation? Its not like they are mutually exclusive, and the scope of the problem requires more of a silver buckshot than a silver bullet. Plus, its not like subsidizing nuclear for $3 a ton of offset emissions (relative to the average U.S. energy mix) would make the current economics of nuclear any less dismal. I agree that nuclear will be a big part of the solution in the short to middle term, given energy density and intermittency limitations of renewables, but there are a lot of structural barriers that need to be overcome first, not the least of which is constructing a nuclear power plant that does not end up costing twice the estimated construction cost for the first time in 40 years…

    Regarding the Yale SOM offset boondoggle earlier, it ends up that the newspaper made a mistake and reported the emissions offset as 2 million tonnes rather than 2 million pounds. The actual amount paid was $8.25 a ton.


  72. The actual amount paid was $8.25 a ton.

    Clearly I gotta get me a piece of this CO2-offset business.

    Why contrast nuclear generation with aforestation?

    Because nuclear can solve the energy/CO2 problem, whereas aforestation is a chimera.

    I produce about 35 tons of CO2 a year (I fly a lot – about 100,000 miles). If I believe the climate-offset advocates, I am a good environmental citizen if I plant 35 trees a year. That’s actually very easy for me to do: my father owns 20 acres, and we plant trees there all the time. But, just like you with your Yale alum sugar-daddy, I am one of a lucky few. If even a fraction of my neighbourhood tried to offset their emissions by planting trees we’d reach tree capacity in very short order.


  73. Returning to the original topic of this blog post, we get some context from Andy Revkin:

    “The main corporate presence I’ve seen at the talks over the years is one of fierce lobbying, either by those companies and sectors desperate to avoid emissions curbs, or those seeking trading opportunities in carbon markets.”


    How many of those private jets belong to fat cats saying “there’s no catastrophe! Please don’t force us to cut emission”? And here some people are using the presence of people who are trying to sabotage the process as a reason to claim there’s no catastrophe. I call foul.


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