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« Science, advocacy and the Royal | Main | More revolving door »
Thursday
Feb072013

Relentless good news

The flow of good news is relentless isn't it? After all that lower climate sensitivity stuff, we have some excellent news from the Amazon (well, Exeter actually):

The Amazon rainforest is less vulnerable to die off because of global warming than widely believed because the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide also acts as an airborne fertilizer, a study showed on Wednesday.

The boost to growth from CO2, the main gas from burning fossil fuels blamed for causing climate change, was likely to exceed damaging effects of rising temperatures this century such as drought, it said.

"I am no longer so worried about a catastrophic die-back due to CO2-induced climate change," Professor Peter Cox of the University of Exeter in England told Reuters of the study he led in the journal Nature. "In that sense it's good news."

Cox was also the main author of a much-quoted study in 2000 that projected that the Amazon rainforest might dry out from about 2050 and die off because of warming. Others have since suggested fires could transform much the forest into savannah.

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Reader Comments (54)

How extraordinary! A professor realises that CO2 is good for plants. You wait, I bet the next revelation will be something along the lines, "plants grow better in warm weather".

Feb 7, 2013 at 11:52 AM | Unregistered Commenterheide de klein

So he's getting his excuse in then.

He still believes in global warming and it's still happening, but in his area at least, the effect is minimal. So that's all right then.

Ground breaking stuff coming out of Exeter about CO2 being a plant food. Who knew?

Feb 7, 2013 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

Questions to Cox? How does the Amazon rainforest know that global warming is going on? How can the Amazon rainforest warm up when the temperature is controlled by water processes, not plant fertiliser (English spelling)?

Feb 7, 2013 at 12:02 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Wow

The 'Professor of Climate Systems Dynamics' has just discovered that CO2 is an essential part of plant growth! Hold the front page! Who knew?

In today's other shocking news:

'I have sylvan toiletary habits' (Bruin the Bear)
'I think there is a lot to be said for the Catholic position' (The Pope)
'On the one hand...but on the other' (Archbishop of Canterbury)
'Guilty' (Chris Huhne)
'Oh s**t - who let Ridley in?' (Baroness Worthington)

Exeter joins the list of universities I'm glad I didn't attend.

Feb 7, 2013 at 12:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Good heavens!
CO2 as a fertiliser! Whatever will they think of next?

Feb 7, 2013 at 12:24 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

The referenced Reuters article also has the bizarre statement

'By underlining the importance of trees for soaking up CO2, the study could also bolster slow-paced efforts to create a market mechanism to reward nations for preserving tropical forests as part of U.N. negotiations on a new treaty to slow climate change, due to be agreed by the end of 2015.'

Translation:

Pay us Danegeld or the forest gets it!

I'd like to point out that I am quite prepared to burn fewer fossil fuels. All that is required is a large transfer of funds into my bank account......once completed, I promise to try to use less.

And a further thought...will the UN pay the UK for not burning the still large reserves of coal on which we sit?

Feb 7, 2013 at 12:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Problem is that the MSM don't like good news because good news does not sell at all. Imagine a headline saying:

"The Planet is Safe and No Dangers Exist"

And how can Hollywood produce a 140 minute blockbuster with such a title?

Feb 7, 2013 at 12:48 PM | Unregistered Commenteralex

Even without CO2 fertilization, the alleged prospect of Amazon forest 'savannisation' seems to lack scientific foundation. See my paper 'Whither the Amazon forest? A cold look at the Impacts of Deforestation and Climate Change", available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1995799 and now in process of publication in a somewhat shorter version. The evidence from Exeter on CO2 fertilization is a welcome complement to other lines of inquiry that lead to similar conclusions.

Feb 7, 2013 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterH.M.

He said "In that sense it's good news."

He means, yes it weakens the gravy train, but sometimes one is forced to tell the truth because it so incredibly obvious.

Feb 7, 2013 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

"In that sense it's good news"

Although, in the sense that funding for research into uncatastrophic events might be less forthcoming, it probably isn't. I imagine that departments of Ethics have similar problems.

Feb 7, 2013 at 1:06 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

They might lose funding for discovering catastrophes with this news, but surely we will now fund investigations into the new phenomonen they've discovered that CO2 feeds plants. These guys are at the cutting edge for sure.

It's OK you guys scoffing at Prof Cox, but I believe he's onto something here, and unless you can cite peer reviewed papers telling us that CO2 is plant food I suggest you hold your fire, This looks like a real breakthrough to me, makes you proud to be British.

Is it me, or is the whole thing unravelling for the alarmists?

Feb 7, 2013 at 1:21 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Of course, the hack-and-slash husbandry of the Amazon rain forest to date can have nothing to do with plant die-back, can it?

Just what planet are these plonkers from?

Feb 7, 2013 at 1:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

I'm shocked... SHOCKED to find out that CO2 is a fertilizer!!!!

Feb 7, 2013 at 1:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterDean

@Radical Rodent (Feb 7, 2013 at 1:22 PM) who asks: "Of course, the hack-and-slash husbandry of the Amazon rain forest to date can have nothing to do with plant die-back, can it?":
1. Deforestation has greatly diminished lately, and is now mostly confined to some specific spots at the borders of the basin, where there is no rainforest but other forms of forested area (e.g. bush or open forest). In fact, the vas rainforest core of the Amazon basin has little agricultural use. Also, deforestation by commercial agribusiness has also been minimized: the remaining deforestation is mostly done by smallholders trying to clear some subsistence land among the bush and other forest forms at the East of the basin (chiefly at the State of Pará, Brazil).
Moreover, more than half of crude deforestation (conversion of forest to non forest at a specific location on a given year relative to the year before, as seen from satellites and confirmed on the ground) occurs in fact on secondary regrowth of previously deforested areas. The other half of the small amount of deforestation that still occurs happens on primary forest (almost all of it at the borders of the basin in Eastern Amazonia). The main reasons for the decline in deforestation are (1) that most of the usable parts of the basin have been already deforested, and (b) a significant expansion of protected areas and more strict law enforcement on the part of the Federal and State governments of Brazil.
Data on deforestation for the Brazilian Amazon region (which covers most of the rainforest) may be found at the PRODES website of the Brazilian Space Research Agency, INPE (http://www.obt.inpe.br/prodes/index.html).

Feb 7, 2013 at 1:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterH.M.

Please excuse my semantic ignorance, but is CO2 a food or a fertiliser? I am by no means a botanist or biologist but it seems to me that fertiliser acts more like vitamins which provide basic nutrients that are missing from the diet. You can live without vitamin suppliments (perhaps not very well), but you cannot live without food. The people living in areas suffering from famines need food first not vitamins, though we may probably send both.

Plants are not fertilised by CO2, they are fed by CO2. Increasing the food supply improves the health and abundance of the population whether they are flora or fauna.

Plants have been living on a restricted diet due to to reduced levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. It is not at all surprising that their lot improves as their food supply increases. This is not a fertilisation. Do we say we fertilise Somalia with every relief shipment?

By calling CO2 "a fertilizer" they are blurring the science undermining the importance of CO2 as a basic food requirement for the whole food chain.

Feb 7, 2013 at 1:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeff Norman

Jeff Norman: completely right. However, the beneficial effect on plants of higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations is usually called "CO2 fertilisation". Calling CO2 a fertiliser, instead, is not usual in the scholarly literature.
Words do the job they are told to do, as Humpty Dumpty said to Alice.

Feb 7, 2013 at 1:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterH.M.

What courage does it take for such an academic to say a kind word about CO2?

How like a heretic in the time of Galileo saying something favourable about a sun-centric model of the solar system, a heretic who is wise enough to scatter qualifiers about to show he has not lost the true faith and is aware of the correct position on the matter -' just convenient for calculations', 'the earth is of course at the centre of it all', 'we are right to be concerned abour that chap Galileo', and so on.

Feb 7, 2013 at 1:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Jeff Norman:

Jeff, give them a break, they've spent the better part of their careers demonising CO2 and it takes real courage to draw back from that position. So a Professor of Climatology doesn't know that CO2 is plant food and thinks it's a fertiliser, last year he thought it was the Devil's spawn, so we're moving forward'

Feb 7, 2013 at 1:57 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

So, on the one hand, as Reuters reports: "A retreat of the Amazon forests, releasing vast stores of carbon, could in turn aggravate global warming that is projected to cause more floods, more powerful storms and raise world sea levels by melting ice sheets."; yet realising the scare is wrong and unnecessary is only good news 'in a sense'.

Feb 7, 2013 at 2:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

I want paying for restoring the Amazonian rainforest!

I refused to reduce my CO2 output and it cost me money.

Where's my compensation?
/sarcoff

Feb 7, 2013 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

Several years ago Bill Clinton said that CO2 was plant food, but he has carefully never said it again.
============

Feb 7, 2013 at 2:12 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

It doesn't take long for academics to catch up, does it..?
Tomato farmers have been pumping CO2 into their polytunnels for years - why..? Because it costs money..? NO - because it INCREASES YIELDS..!
I wonder - just wonder - if we are seeing the gradual reduction in funding for all those research projects which start: 'The effect of climate change on (insert your pet subject here)...'

Feb 7, 2013 at 2:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

I haven't said it for a while: This is what winning feels like.

Feb 7, 2013 at 2:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

TBYJ: "I haven't said it for a while: This is what winning feels like."

I think we've a long way to go, if we're ahead when the final whistle blows then that's what winning will feel like. There are too many reputations, too much money and too much hubris for this lunacy to pass away on the grounds of science, or common sense. Think Damian Carrington and Leo Hickman.

Feb 7, 2013 at 2:36 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

www.telegraph/earth/Louise Gray has had to take a break from cut n paste and is having a little lie-down/html:-/

Feb 7, 2013 at 2:40 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat

Yes, we're a long way off, I know. But it definitely feels like progress.

Feb 7, 2013 at 3:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

geronimo,

Good point.

Did anyone else notice the title of the Reuters article: "Amazon forest more resilient to climate change than feared - study"?

So it's worse than we feared even when it's better? What percentage of the population reading that title will fail to grasp the meaning of the word resilient?

Feb 7, 2013 at 3:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeff Norman

FDH - people who own and operate greenhouses appear to call it CO2 enrichment or supplementation, "Optimal CO2 concentrations for the greenhouse atmosphere fall within the range 700 to 900 ppm" LOL

http:/www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nfs/all/opp2902#4

LOL = laugh out loud
FDG = flog dead horse

Feb 7, 2013 at 3:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeff Norman

Jeff Norman-

The site you linked to is from the Province of Alberta, Canada. No-one should ever trust any information from a government that is sitting on $20 Trillion worth of oil sands...

On the other hand, this adds a third revenue stream for Alberta:

1. Extract oil from oil sands and sell it.
2. Demand payment for sopping up the largest natural oil spill in the world.
3. Demand payment for liberating billions of tons of flora-food into the atmospheric commons.

Its a win-win-win!

:-)

Feb 7, 2013 at 4:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterchris y

Catastrophic Plant Obesity problems in 3,2,1...

Feb 7, 2013 at 4:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterAC1

I wish Prof.Cox could turn his attention to Africa and bring David Attenborough into the light. The latter's Africa programme last night was full of wild statements about how climate change is devastatiing that continent Kilimanjaro will be snow and ice free quite soon and the temperature of Africa has risen by 5 degrees etc. How depressing to see a nice guy infected by the CAGW disease.

Feb 7, 2013 at 5:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Thompson

Jack

I did wonder who wrote the script. Bearing in mind that DA has worked for the BBC man and boy, he's probably used to accepting their offerings uncritically. Given that most species have died out of their own accord without any human assistance, I think that blaming us for all of it is a bit harsh.

Feb 7, 2013 at 5:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Humans are a plague on the Earth that need to be controlled by limiting population growth, according to Sir David Attenborough.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/9815862/Humans-are-plague-on-Earth-Attenborough.html

Feb 7, 2013 at 6:20 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Attenborough can speak for himself, re the plague comment.

Feb 7, 2013 at 6:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

It's a long climb down when taken one rung at a time. Cox and Annan seem to have made descended to the penultimate rung recently. More to follow if temperatures remain stubbornly flat.

Feb 7, 2013 at 8:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Austin

Let's see:
Skeptics pointed out the IPCC was wrong about Himalayan glaciers. They were right.
Skeptics have said for a long time that climate sensistivity is low. That is now being recognized as correct.
Skeptics said that polar bears are not in trouble. That was correct.
Skeptics said that Greenland is not in danger. They are correct on that, too.
Skeptics said that CO2 increases would have beneficial effects on plants. That is correct.

Feb 7, 2013 at 8:17 PM | Unregistered Commenterlurker, passing through laughing

Plants are not fertilised by CO2, they are fed by CO2. Increasing the food supply improves the health and abundance of the population whether they are flora or fauna.

Plants have been living on a restricted diet due to to reduced levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. It is not at all surprising that their lot improves as their food supply increases.

Feb 7, 2013 at 1:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeff Norman

But I thought there was a divergence problem.

Feb 7, 2013 at 8:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob

Carbon Dioxide improves photosynthesis and the current higher levels are also helping plants to retain moisture so that they have a greater capacity to grow in desert like areas. Something noted by NASA as the planet greens up.
CO2's main job is to be the planet's number one plant food....plain and simple.
Summing up the smart thinking is that we have been suffering "Carbon Dioxide Starvation"

Feb 7, 2013 at 9:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames Griffin

Will the EPA get the memo? The same EPA who now classifies CO2 as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Realize the EPA argument is CO2 causes warming, warming will endanger polar bears, the Clean Air Act enables the EPA to limit airborne emission of pollutants, Q.E.D. EPA can regulate CO2 emissions from US power plants.

Feb 8, 2013 at 12:16 AM | Unregistered Commenternvw

heide de klein (Feb 7, 2013 at 11:52 AM)

How extraordinary! A professor realises that CO2 is good for plants. You wait, I bet the next revelation will be something along the lines, "plants grow better in warm weather".

"plants life grow(s) better in warm weather" (with increased CO2/water/sunlight - the base of our entire planetary food chain). A professor realises ... they don't call it 'the ivory tower' for nought.

Feb 8, 2013 at 2:19 AM | Unregistered Commenter3x2

OMG. I think I'm on to something here. CO2 + water (with some photons from The Sun) ---> base of the planetary food chain.

What do you think? Should I publish? The pension scheme looks really good.

Feb 8, 2013 at 2:47 AM | Unregistered Commenter3x2

Jack Thompson Feb 7, 2013 at 5:35 PM

I wish Prof.Cox could turn his attention to Africa and bring David Attenborough into the light. The latter's Africa programme last night was full of wild statements about how climate change is devastatiing that continent Kilimanjaro will be snow and ice free quite soon and the temperature of Africa has risen by 5 degrees etc. How depressing to see a nice guy infected by the CAGW disease.

Yup - I watched them right up to the point where I saw that the next episode was titled "The Future" (blurb) David Attenborough meets a baby rhino and asks what the future holds for this little one. He meets the local people who are standing side-by-side with the wildlife. Didn't watch that one for some reason. He isn't 'infected' - he's a carrier. Humans are a virus, except for his loving (and massive) family of course. Like all watermelons - he's special.

Feb 8, 2013 at 3:05 AM | Unregistered Commenter3x2

It's a rout =)

Feb 8, 2013 at 3:18 AM | Unregistered Commenterthe sweet sound of backpedaling

On the other hand. speaking of forests and trees ... according to the CBC which picked up and churned a Press Release from the University of Guelph [all emphases below are mine -hro] ...

[CBC:]

Bio-diversity safeguards against natural disaster, study finds

Losing species can cause real economic harm, ability to preserve original growth

Losing bio-diversity can destroy a farmland's ability to bounce back from disasters such as fires and droughts, a Canadian study, one of the first to test the thesis in the field, suggests.

The study focused on long-term attempts to protect valuable pastureland from fire damage — a process that can lead to a loss of bio-diversity and, in turn, the inability to recover and regenerate should a fire occur.

But efforts to protect valuable tree species in timber forests and farmland likely also give rise to the risk of similar potential catastrophes, says lead author Andrew MacDougall, a biologist at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

[...]

[MacDougall] warned that the findings illustrate the risk posed by the human tendency to grow a very small number of plant species with a consistent set of traits — such as high yields, but poor drought tolerance — at a time when climate change is increasing the frequency of events such as droughts and fires.

"We have to think about managing our portfolio more diversely to handle these environmental perturbations that seem to be increasing in frequency."

[The UofG Press Release:]

Biodiversity Helps Protect Nature Against Human Impacts: Study

“You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s collapsed.” That’s how University of Guelph integrative biologists might recast a line from an iconic folk tune for their new research paper warning about the perils of ecosystem breakdown.

Their research, published today as the cover story in Nature, suggests farmers and resource managers should not rely on seemingly stable but vulnerable single-crop monocultures. Instead they should encourage more kinds of plants in fields and woods as a buffer against sudden ecosystem disturbance.

Based on a 10-year study, their paper also lends scientific weight to esthetic and moral arguments for maintaining species biodiversity.

[...]

Their research confirms that having lots of species in an area helps ecosystems avoid irreversible collapse after human disturbances such as climate change or pest invasion.

“Species are more important than we think,” said MacDougall. “We need to protect biodiversity.”

Link to "cover" story (behind paywall, off course) But be sure to check the "Editor's Summary", in which he concludes:

This work demonstrates how persistent human activity can homogenize both structure and function of an ecological system, while weakening the diversity-related mechanisms needed to compensate for sudden disturbance. There are many terrestrial systems today that have become homogenized by persistent human activity that may be similarly vulnerable to sudden environmental change that will be only evident after the collapse occurs.

If it's not one damn scare, it's another, eh?!

Feb 8, 2013 at 3:23 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

Does he still think that a (predicted) atmosphere containing more water would cause the Amazon to dry-out? Or is it just going to be more humid but rain less?

Maybe they've decided to downgrade the CO2 effect, but still keep the water-feedback. All the agricultural irrigation must be pumping a shed-load of water into the atmosphere.

Feb 8, 2013 at 6:39 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Further to
@Robert Austin (Feb 7, 2013 at 8:06 PM) "It's a long climb down when taken one rung at a time. Cox and Annan seem to have made descended to the penultimate rung recently..."
//////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Professor Cox has recently presented a programme on the wonders of life (I don't recall the precise title). In one episodde he sat on a beach explaining that during the day the sand receives 'high quality high ordered' energy from the sun, and at night, the sand gives up the energy it receives. However, the energy that it gives up is 'low quality disordered' energy that can do 'less work' he actually said that the returned energy can do less work.

This is quite an interesting comment, namely differentiating been high quality, high ordered energy and low quality, disordered energy.

Without questioning him to clarify precisely what he was inferring, it may be that I am taking his statement out of context. However, my impression was that he was talking about the law of entropy and the never ending descent into disorder. Whilst energy is conserved, every time that it is used and recycled it loses some inherent quality. With every use and reuse the energy becomes ever so slightly more disordered such that it can do less and less useful work. I gained the impression that he considered this to be inherent in the law of entropy itself.

It appeared to me that he was saying that whilst the energy that the sand has received is radiated and returned back into the atmosphere (the system0, the quality of the energy that was being returned was of a lesser quality being more disordered than the high quality high ordered energy that the sand received from the sun.

If Professor Cox was saying what I think he was saying that recycled energy is less useful than primary energy because it has in some way lost part of its order, that would have an impact on AGW theory where energy is constantly being absorbed and radiated and reabsorbed and reradiated etc millions of times; the radiated energy from the Earth surface and the reradiated energy from above (DWLWIR) can do less useful work than the high quality high ordered primary energy.received from the sun.

The K&T energy diagram does not take account of the above. perhaps it fails to properly take account of the law of entropy since it assumes that the DWLWIR is as useful as the high quality high ordered primary energy that the earth received from the sun.

Feb 8, 2013 at 10:55 AM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney

We need to beware the 'Attenborough syndrome'...
As he approaches sainthood, its getting to the stage where his every utterance is listened to with awe and amazement (cue Joanna Lumley's shouted adoration at the British Television Awards)...
However, he is a BBC man to the core, and looking forward to his pension no doubt (if not already receiving it) - so he'll milk the 'climate change/disaster' meme to the hilt.
He's a dangerous man...

Feb 8, 2013 at 12:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Further to my post above, the Professor Cox that I was referring to was not Professor Peter Cox of Exeter University referred to in the article, but rather the high energy particle physist, Professor Brian Cox of Manchester university.

Sorry for any confusion.

I now rarely watch Attenborough programmes for views expressed above. Quite sad really to see someone so respected be so blinkered and not presenting a more balanced and wider picture of events.

Feb 8, 2013 at 8:06 PM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney

Speaking of Attenborouhg, we should reflect on the sad fate of sir Arthur C. Clarke who in his dottage was claiming to have seen pictures of life on Mars and such.

Feb 9, 2013 at 12:46 AM | Unregistered Commenterlurker, passing through laughing

By underlining the importance of trees for soaking up CO2,

Tropical rain forest trees are near useless as as carbon sinks. They grow very slowly, then proceed to fall down and rot quickly, giving back all that carbon they ate.

The only way plants can act as a sink, as opposed to a temporary store, is if they transfer the carbon into the soil. Unless man is doing that actively with them, such as by ploughing, they do so very slowly.

Rain forests have notoriously poor soils, and so cannot be transferring much carbon that way (http://rainforests.mongabay.com/0502.htm).

Feb 9, 2013 at 3:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterMooloo

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