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Welcome to the CO2 disaster — 4 billion tons more plants, more greenery

During the recent warmest decades on record, Earth suffered under the highest CO2 levels of the last 800,000 years. Life responded to this devastating situation by — flourishing. There are now some 4 billion tons more living matter on the planet than there was in 1993. What a calamity. (And what a lot of carbon credits.)

It has, naturally, got nothing to do with warmth and aerial fertilizer. The researchers tell us it due to that force of nature known as “good luck”. Remember, human CO2 emissions were pollution that was going to afflict life on Earth. After twenty years of predicting the loss of forests and species, it turned out that biology bloomed instead. Notch up another model “success”. The press release headline: Good luck reverses global forest loss. (What else would we expect from UNSW?)

To those who know basic biology — and that almost half the dry weight of plants is carbon, sucked straight out of the air — this is not so much good luck as one entirely foreseeable and foreseen consequence of rising CO2. Acquiring carbon is often a plant’s hardest task. When the sun comes up, a cornfield begins sucking, and by lunch time its already got all it can get, so growth slows til night returns to pump up the CO2 levels again. Pulling out all that plant fertilizer from under Middle Eastern deserts and spreading it around where the plants could get it has a predictable effect on plant life (though it’s fair to ask if our emissions actually contribute very much).

Remember in post-modern climate science, your air-conditioner causes snowstorms, but if CO2 rises and plants grow — that’s “luck”.

Lui et al studied, as they call it, natural radio waves, recorded in satellite data of our land surfaces.[1]

Fig 2:  Mean annual change in aboveground biomass carbon between 1993 and 2012.

Press release UNSW

         Good luck reverses global forest loss

Global vegetation has increased by the equivalent of 4 billion tonnes of carbon – despite ongoing large-scale deforestation in the tropics.

Analysis of 20 years of satellite data has revealed the total amount of vegetation globally has increased by almost the equivalent of 4 billion tonnes of carbon since 2003. This is despite ongoing large-scale deforestation in the tropics.

An Australian-led international team of scientists published the findings in Nature Climate Change, finding a range of causes for the increase.

“The increase in vegetation primarily came from a lucky combination of environmental and economic factors and massive tree-planting projects in China,” said Dr Yi Liu a lead author and remote sensing scientist from the Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at UNSW Australia.

“Vegetation increased on the savannas in Australia, Africa and South America as a result of increasing rainfall, while in Russia and former Soviet republics we have seen the regrowth of forests on abandoned farmland. China was the only country to intentionally increase its vegetation with tree planting projects.”

At the same time massive vegetation loss is still occurring in many other regions. The greatest declines have been on the edge of the Amazon forests and in the Indonesian provinces of Sumatra and Kalimantan – the Indonesian part of Borneo.

“Vegetation increased on the savannas in Australia, Africa and South America as a result of increasing rainfall, while in Russia and former Soviet republics we have seen the regrowth of forests on abandoned farmland. China was the only country to intentionally increase its vegetation with tree planting projects,” he added.

Buried low in the press release is a mention that CO2 might not be all bad:

The main cause of this strong growth over the savannas came from higher rainfall, particularly in recent years, although higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere may have helped plants there to grow more vigorously.

What are the priorities in this press release?  Every point is framed to fit The Global Narrative.

And below, what “ongoing” Australian landclearing are they referring too?

“With our approach we found unexpectedly large vegetation increases in the savannas of southern Africa and northern Australia. The increase in Australia occurred despite ongoing land clearing, urbanization and big droughts across other parts of Australia.”

Australians have stopped so much land clearing since 1990 that it’s the main reason we can meet our Kyoto Protocol commitments. (Per capita emissions declined by 28% in Australia since 1990, but two thirds of that decline is due to land use and forestry changes.) Farmers like Peter Spencer were forced to pay for Australia’s carbon commitment with their land. In his case, until it bankrupted him. It was also no accident that landclearing slowed. The native vegetation act ensured it.

Australia’s total emissions from electricity and what-not are about 550 Mt a year (not counting land use changes). We spent $14 billion to reduce global emissions by 0.004%, which, based on the evidence, means we may have achieved slightly less greenery on Planet Earth.

Rather than admitting this research means things might not be as dire as forecast for plants, forest, crops or global CO2 levels (and that the models were wrong), researchers remind us instead things could “rapidly reverse”, things are still poised on the brink, and golly but global warming would be happening faster if not for this lucky process. Does that mean plant-growth is just another excuse for “the pause”?


Vegetation change plays a critical role in the Earth’s carbon (C) budget and its associated radiative forcing in response to anthropogenic and natural climate change1, 2, 3, 4. Existing global estimates of aboveground biomass carbon (ABC) based on field survey data provide brief snapshots that are mainly limited to forest ecosystems5, 6, 7, 8. Here we use an entirely new remote sensing approach to derive global ABC estimates for both forest and non-forest biomes during the past two decades from satellite passive microwave observations. We estimate a global average ABC of 362 PgC over the period 1998–2002, of which 65% is in forests and 17% in savannahs. Over the period 1993–2012, an estimated −0.07 PgC yr−1 ABC was lost globally, mostly resulting from the loss of tropical forests (−0.26 PgC yr−1) and net gains in mixed forests over boreal and temperate regions (+0.13 PgC yr−1) and tropical savannahs and shrublands (+0.05 PgC yr−1). Interannual ABC patterns are greatly influenced by the strong response of water-limited ecosystems to rainfall variability, particularly savannahs. From 2003 onwards, forest in Russia and China expanded and tropical deforestation declined. Increased ABC associated with wetter conditions in the savannahs of northern Australia and southern Africa reversed global ABC loss, leading to an overall gain, consistent with trends in the global carbon sink reported in recent studies1, 3, 9.

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[1^] Yi Y. Liu, Albert I. J. M. van Dijk, Richard A. M. de Jeu, Josep G. Canadell, Matthew F. McCabe, Jason P. Evans  & Guojie Wang (2015) Recent reversal in loss of global terrestrial biomass, Nature Climate Change | Letter doi:10.1038/nclimate2581 [abstract]

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