Tree worshippers and wood nymphs will take this news hard, but scientists are increasingly pointing to forests as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. This challenges the widely held belief that mankind is the primary cause of the problem and that we can slow the rate of climate change, and offset industrial emissions, by using forests and other green areas as “carbon sinks” that absorb CO2.
“New research suggesting that plants are a major source of methane could force policymakers to reconsider the role of forests in global warming,” according to last week’s Greenwire. “But they cautioned that policy shifts should wait until scientists know more about how plants produce the gas.”
It’s OK to freak out about global warming, in other words. But let’s not leap to the conclusion that trees are to blame.
German researchers found that trees and plants are responsible for 10 to 30 percent of methane released into the atmosphere annually, according to an article in the journal Nature. That confirms the conclusions of other recent studies on the subject. It also suggests that much about this phenomenon is still poorly understood, despite assertions of certainty by those advocating radical government responses.
“We now have the specter that new forests might increase greenhouse warming through methane emissions rather than decrease it by sequestering CO2,” wrote David Lowe, of New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. “This paper will undoubtedly unleash controversy, not the least of which will be political.”
Politics in the global warming debate? Who would inject politics into the global warming debate?
This doesn’t mean mankind is off the hook entirely. And it’s not likely to deter the Chicken Little lobby from pushing for costly and possibly counterproductive responses to the problem. But it does call into question the validity of what we think we know about climate change, and suggests that caution is in order, lest we embrace the wrong solutions.
Should we go out now and fell all the forests, or sign on to new international treaties that cap U.S. forest cover at 1990 levels? We think that would be rash — but no more rash than what some are advocating in response to this still poorly understood phenomenon called climate change.