New Global Warming Culprit: Plants

New study indicates that plants may be a major source of greenhouse gasses:

According to Lowe, “We now have the specter that new forests might increase greenhouse warming through methane emissions rather than decrease it by being sinks for carbon dioxide.”

Note that this is a National Geographic article quoting a study published in Nature, not Republican Nutjob Weekly.

Just another reminder that climate science is hard, and we still know very little about it. Quoting one of the scientists:

“People who prepare the emission budgets use a bottom-up technology. Someone will make a measurement in a swamp somewhere and simply extrapolate that measurement upwards to represent all the world’s swamps. They’ll measure emissions from a cow or a sheep and extrapolate that upwards to include all of the world’s animals.

“As you can imagine, there are huge errors. The science is so inexact that you could easily fit a new source like this into the estimates.”

What are the ramifications? One possible one is that Kyoto is even more misguided and innefectual than already believed:

the Kyoto protocol—an international treaty designed to try and curb climate change—requires complex accounting that holds countries to specified greenhouse gas emissions limits.

“Several countries are counting their forests as vegetative sinks for carbon dioxide,” he said.

“But are you absorbing more carbon dioxide than you are [possibly] releasing methane? I suppose that the Kyoto protocol accountants are going to be working overtime trying to figure that one out.”

As I have said before and will continue to say: our environmental science is in it’s infancy, and by acting as if we understand the systems we live with we stand a good chance of repeating the mistakes of past generations and making things worse. Humility is called for.

View All


  1. Is that “specter”, Arlan?

  2. This has been known for some time.

    Bush 1 made mention of it and was mocked. Of course, that was the 80s and humanity was seen as the great world-destroying evil.

Comments are closed.