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Overriding the benefits

The World Resources Institute blog has a fascinating article about the greening of Ethiopia in recent years. This is largely based on a paper in Science of the Total Environment by Nyssen et al. 

Jan Nyssen, a geographer at the University of Ghent, together with a large team of colleagues reviewed historic photographs of the Ethiopian highlands comparing them to more recent pictures of the same locations. They then assessed the change in greenery in the landscape, using a benchmarking methodology to assign a value, before performing a multiple regression analysis against possible causes.

The upshot of their paper is that these welcome changes seem to be largely the result of human activity - the landscape has greened the most in areas of higher population density. This seems to be related to factors such as the planting of eucalyptus trees in response to market demand for poles as well as more obvious conservation measures such as the use of terracing to prevent water run-off and soil erosion.

I'm slightly bemused by the authors' conclusion though (my emphasis).

We conclude that except for an apparent upward movement of the upper tree limit, the direct human impacts on the environment are overriding the effects of climate change in the north Ethiopian highlands and that the northern Ethiopian highlands are currently greener than at any other time in the last 145 years.

The problem is apparent when you refer to the graph of their correlation analysis:

The red line is the rainfall graph, precipitation presumably being the key climatic variable in such an arid area. How can human activity be "overriding" the effects of climate change when any such changes have, if anything, been entirely beneficial?

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Reader Comments (22)

Climate science isn't suppoed to make any sense, or display any reasonable, rational, logical basis, it's meant to produce scarey stories! Human = BAD! Green = GOOD!

Jul 29, 2015 at 2:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

But surely everyone knows that man is intent on destroying the Earth and that any beneficial results from man's actions must therefore be purely accidental.

Jul 29, 2015 at 2:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

Looking on the bright side, could this mean that future generations may be spared the caterwauling and earnest handwringing of pop stars both old and new?

Jul 29, 2015 at 2:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterroger

"these welcome changes seem to be largely the result of human activity"

I expect the extra CO2 helps, too...

Jul 29, 2015 at 2:54 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

I vaguely seem to recall that when the last pop/climate fest was held all the CO2 emissions to decry global warming,all those jey-setting popstars put out a "carbon footprint" the size of a small country, in just a couple of days!

@Bloke down the pub: I have always wondered why the greens always claim that anyone who doesn't agree with their catastrophic viewpoint, is too stupid to see that we're destroying the planet. I always wondered "where else do you think we're going to live, so why should we destroy our own home?" The logic beats me it truly does.

Jul 29, 2015 at 3:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

I expect the extra CO2 helps, too...
Don't be ridiculous, jamesp. CO2 has only adverse effects, as any fule kno. If Ethiopia is getting greener then that can only be thanks to the activities of Greens, that's what becoming greener means.
So let's be grateful for Greenpiss and Fiends of the Earth and WTF and all those dedicated activists who are making this planet a fit home for whatever it is that lives in wherever it is.
And don't forget to send money so that we can keep on doing whatever it is that we are doing.

Jul 29, 2015 at 3:11 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

give us your fookin, er , precipitation

Jul 29, 2015 at 3:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterEternalOptimist

I've read an estimate that the greening alone is presently feeding a billion people worldwide.

Jul 29, 2015 at 3:35 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

We are told we must eat our Greens.

Is this what they do in Darkest Africa?

Jul 29, 2015 at 3:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

Did Tristan and Cassandra from WTF not have any noticeable effect?

Jul 29, 2015 at 3:59 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat

I am told by the drums that Tristan and Cassandra were delicious but needed some garlic to counter the overpowering odour of entitlement and privilege.

Jul 29, 2015 at 4:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

I didn't know that photography was sufficiently advanced 145 years ago to allow for such conclusions to be reached, particularly in colour, from aeroplanes.

Were the skies above Ethiopia where top secret testing was carried out by sinister foreign powers?

I know it is a bit of a guess, but is it possible that the climate patterns have changed naturally since the siege of Paris?

Jul 29, 2015 at 4:07 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

roger (Jul 29, 2015 at 2:49 PM)

could this mean that future generations may be spared the caterwauling and earnest handwringing of pop stars..?
It depends on the weather. With 10% growth p.a. Ethiopia might one day be rich enough to counteract the effects of drought etc., just as we are.

A sobering thought though. Most of the predicted catastrophes due to global warming are outside human control. One that's not is increased international conflict and consequent climate refugees.

I'm not suggesting that a politician like Cameron or Hollande who's hitched his star to the doom wagon would consciously say: “Oh no! Despite our forecasts Africa's actually getting richer, healthier and altogether a better place to be. Let's invade.” But we're all influenced by unconscious motivations...

Jul 29, 2015 at 4:08 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

"we must eat our Greens"

I'm not sure I could eat a whole one...

Jul 29, 2015 at 4:32 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

is it possible that the climate patterns have changed naturally since the siege of Paris?
Or possibly, GC, in preparation for the Siege of Paris?

Jul 29, 2015 at 4:33 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Mike Jackson

"don't forget to send money"

A close friend of mine died recently and his house was full of charity mailshots - so many, in fact, that I spread 100 or so of them on the floor and photographed them. The odd thing is that they were mainly from charities he had already given to, but because he didn't tick the 'opt-out' boxes, his address got circulated. It seems a bit cynical of the charities to see donors as a soft touch, rather than to say thank-you and hope for further support in the future, but it seems now to be as much a dog-eat-dog world as any other business. I'm contributing to a piece on this on 'You and Yours' tomorrow (R4).

Sorry if this has strayed OT, Bish. I'll copy to unthreaded.

Jul 29, 2015 at 4:43 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Obviously the author had to have ASSUMED that any effects of climate change must be detrimental, else the conclusion doesn't make sense, even given the paper's own internal logic.

Jul 29, 2015 at 10:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnne Ominous

Mike Jackson, Paris 2015 may result in a humiliating defeat, with beneficial consequences that will ripple around the world.

Paris 1870-71 was a humiliating defeat.

Jul 29, 2015 at 11:41 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

"Shortly after the overthrow of the Marxist regime .....". Hmmm.

Jul 30, 2015 at 8:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

I was on holiday in the Northern Ethiopian highlands 3 years ago. Eucalyptus is grown everywhere primarily as fuel for cooking & a construction material. Addis Ababa couldn't exist without the planted forests surrounding it (& the women who carry enormous bundles of wood down into the city every day). I would suggest that peaceful development after the problems with the Marxist Derg in the 1990's has more to do with it. The Chinese are building roads everywhere, replacing the ones the Italians built in the 1930's. Agriculture is still primitive- I saw corn being threshed by driving bullocks over it, which would not have looked out of place on an ancient Egyptian wall painting.

Jul 30, 2015 at 9:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharles Brecknell

Not sure how many hats should be thrown into the air in response to the news that Eucalyptus is doing well in Ethiopia. It is quite unsurprising, since a) it's been planted, b) it's drought resistant, c) it survives coppicing, d) it probably isn't edible even if you're a goat, i.e. there are no natural consumers. Eucalyptus is in fact highly invasive and is Quite Unpopular in ecological circles in some parts of the world. Obviously if you have a tree that nothing eats it does quite well, and if it's a rapidly growing species then it may displace native trees and all the trophic levels above the basal producers will suffer as a consequence.

It is of benefit if all you have is desert, obviously, but if it is replacing native forest that was cut down for fuel a hundred years ago, not brilliant.

Finally monocultures of Eucalyptus are very good at burning when introduced to a spark. Look out for "worst wildfires ever in Ethiopia" stories in a few decades. And of course the cause of these fires will probably be ascribed to good old CO2.

Jul 30, 2015 at 10:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterJit

…the cause of these fires will probably be ascribed to good old CO2.
What rich irony! If we had enough CO2, it would put these pesky fires out! Maybe we should be campaigning for more CO2 for just that reason – when the atmosphere has enough, there will be no fires to destroy anything (ignoring the fact that there will be nothing to destroy, but, heigh-ho…).

Jul 30, 2015 at 4:22 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

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