The surprising downsides to planting trillions of trees

“Solving a problem as vast as climate change or biodiversity loss is never as straightforward as planting lots of trees. People often think, “We’ll just plant trees and call that a restoration project, and we’ll exonerate our carbon sins,” said Robin Chazdon, a forest researcher at the University of the Sunshine Coast. Usually, she said, “that fails.”

Buzzy tree-planting programs tend to obscure the fact that restoration requires a long-term commitment of resources and many years of monitoring. “We should just stop thinking about only tree-planting,” as climate scientist Lalisa Duguma has said. “It has to be tree-growing.” Even fast-growing trees take at least three years to mature, he added, while others can require eight years or more. “If our thinking of growing trees is downgraded to planting trees, we miss that big part of the investment that is required,” Duguma said.”

” A bigger problem still is that many large planting campaigns don’t account for the underlying social or economic conditions that fuel deforestation in the first place. People may cut down trees to collect firewood or carve out land for their animals. In those cases, putting seedlings in the ground won’t do much to end deforestation. “Planting trees might not be the intervention,” Fleischman said. “The intervention might be giving people a substitute for firewood.””

“there are plenty of successful restoration programs — and they’re getting better, said Chazdon, who’s also an adviser for the WEF trillion trees campaign. “There is ample evidence that when restoration is done properly, it works,” she said.”

What’s causing California’s unprecedented wildfires

“There are several key ingredients needed for wildfires. They need favorable weather, namely dry and windy conditions. They need fuel. And they need an ignition source.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said that they are still investigating the origins of most of the blazes underway. But other factors this year stacked the deck in favor of massive conflagrations.

California and much of the western US are in the midst of a years-long drought. With limited moisture, plants dry out and turn into kindling. Ordinarily, vegetation at higher altitudes would still hang onto some moisture and act as a barrier to wildfires in places like the Sierra Nevada. However, the severity of the drought has caused even this greenery to turn yellow and gray.”

“human activity has made wildfires worse at every step. Climate change caused by burning fossil fuels is increasing the aridity of western forests and increasing the frequency and severity of extreme heat events.

People are also building closer to wildland areas. That means that when fires do occur, they cause more damage to homes and businesses. That proximity also means that humans are more likely to spark new infernos. The vast majority of wildfires are ignited by people, up to 84 percent, whether through errant sparks, downed power lines, or arson.

And for hundreds of years, people have suppressed naturally occurring fires. European settlers also halted cultural burning practices from the Indigenous people of the region. Stopping these smaller fires has allowed forests, grasslands, and chaparral to grow much denser than they would otherwise. Paradoxically, that means more fuel is available to burn when fires do occur, causing blazes to spread farther and faster.”

We’ve been radically underestimating the true cost of our carbon footprint

“according to some top environmental economists, we have good reason to believe the true cost of emitting carbon is actually a lot higher than that price tag suggests.

There are a couple of reasons for that. First, until now, the economists who calculated the SCC had barely factored in one of the biggest harms that climate change can cause: human mortality. Second, the way the SCC had been calculated rested on a problematic premise: that damage in the future counts for significantly less than damage in the present.”

“People do tend to value the present more than the future. You may grab that chocolate chip cookie today, for instance, even though you know it means you’ll have to lean into the diet extra hard tomorrow. But that doesn’t necessarily mean our climate models should follow suit. In fact, some philosophers think baking in people’s rate of pure time preference is a terrible idea.

“We’re basically just measuring a form of human impatience and irrationality, then trying to add it into political decision-making,” Toby Ord, a senior research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, argued on the 80,000 Hours podcast in 2017. “It doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that one should be respecting at all. It’s just like finding a cognitive bias that we have, and then adding it back into your economic analysis in order to make your analysis biased in the same way.””

“Now, that’s not to say the pure rate of time preference should be absolutely zero. As Carleton and Greenstone wrote, “Perhaps the most compelling explanation for a nonzero pure rate of time preference is the possibility of a disaster (e.g., asteroids or nuclear war) that wipes out the population at some point in the future, thus removing the value of any events that happen afterwards.” Ord has made the same argument, suggesting we should discount the future by the extinction risk to humanity, and no more.

Whatever you think about discounting, intellectual honesty requires us to admit that how we choose to answer the question of what we owe to future generations gets baked into the discount rate and thus into the SCC. And any answer to that question will be a subjective moral judgment, not some objective mathematical truth.”

“even the first purely economic reason to discount the future (society will be wealthier in the future, and damages matter less the wealthier you are) is not some objective truth.”

A Jobs-Killing Civilian Climate Corps Is Not the Way To Fix Climate Change

“The backlog of forest restoration projects suggests that there are issues on public lands that really need to be addressed, but that is not an argument for creating a vast new federal bureaucracy with as many as 1.5 million government employees.”

Climate change worsens extreme weather. A revolution in attribution science proved it.

“Bolstered with better data and even clearer trends, they’re no longer reluctant to point the finger back at humanity for worsening these calamities. In the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a team of leading researchers convened by the United Nations presented some of the most robust research that connects the dots. It shows how some greater weather extremes can be traced back to rising average temperatures, which in turn stem from emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly from countries and corporations burning fossil fuels.

“On a case-by-case basis, scientists can now quantify the contribution of human influences to the magnitude and probability of many extreme events,” according to the report.”

It’s time to freak out about methane emissions

“In the public conversation about climate change, methane has gotten too little attention for too long. Many people may be unaware that humans have been spewing a greenhouse gas that’s even more potent than carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate not seen in at least 800,000 years. It harms air quality and comes from sources as varied as oil and gas pipelines to landfills and cows. But methane and other greenhouse gases, including hydroflurocarbons, ozone, nitrogen dioxides, and sulfur oxides, are finally getting the attention they deserve — thanks largely to advances in the science.

Until the past few years, methane’s relative obscurity made sense. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is by far the largest contributor to climate change, and it comes from recognizable fossil fuel sources such as car tailpipes, coal smokestacks, and burning gas and oil. The most troubling part is that it sticks around in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, making climate change not just a problem for us now, but generations well into the future. Carbon is now embedded in our language, from “carbon footprint” to “zero-carbon lifestyle.””

“Even though methane is not nearly as well understood as carbon, it’s playing an enormous role in the climate crisis. It’s at least 80 times as effective at trapping heat than carbon in a 20-year period, but starts to dissipate in the atmosphere in a matter of years. If this is the “decisive decade” to take action, as the Biden administration has said, then a methane strategy has to be at the center of any policy for tackling global warming.

Methane could mean the difference between a rapidly warming planet changing too quickly and drastically for humanity to handle, and buying the planet some much-needed time to get a handle on the longer-term problem of fossil fuels and carbon pollution.”

“Identifying the millions of sources of methane around the globe isn’t so simple. Cattle release methane, and so does decomposing organic material. All the food waste that goes into landfills release methane. And natural gas is almost entirely methane.

If you’ve heard politicians call natural gas a “bridge fuel,” what they mean is that natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than coal. It’s wrong to call it clean, because burning methane still releases carbon — and methane that escapes without burning is a powerful warmer.”

“Environmental Defense Fund, which has commissioned flights to monitor methane over Texas oil and gas fields, has found that oil fields in the US are leaking 60 percent more methane than the Environmental Protection Agency estimates. University of Michigan scientist Eric Kort found methane spewing from offshore wells at far higher rates than previously understood. The environmental group Earthworks, using expensive, on-the-ground camera equipment, helped track down some sites that were repeat offenders of venting methane into the atmosphere.

The scientific papers have mounted: Since 2013, at least 45 scientific papers have highlighted the disproportionate role of oil and gas operations, according to a review by the advocacy group Climate Nexus.”

“There’s widespread agreement, even from some in the fossil fuel industry, that the place to start is tackling leaks. This will get easier as scientists gather better data about where methane is leaking. From the industry’s perspective, companies are losing product and dollars.”

“Fractions of degrees could translate into wild swings in extreme weather, or tipping points we don’t even fully understand. In the effort to prevent climate catastrophe, methane will count tremendously.”

The devastating new UN report on climate change, explained

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations’ climate science research group, concluded in a major report that it is “unequivocal” that humans have warmed the skies, waters, and lands, and that “widespread and rapid changes” have already occurred in every inhabited region across the globe. Many of these changes are irreversible within our lifetimes.

This is the first report of its kind in eight years, and a lot has changed. Scientists have backed away from many of the best-case scenarios. They’re more confident than ever that human-caused climate change is already worsening deadly weather events, from flooding to heat waves. And they’re investigating culprits of climate change that warm the planet even more than carbon dioxide.”

“The goal of these reports is to compile the best available science and create a solid foundation for decision-makers to act, whether that’s to invest in clean energy, relocate people from high-risk areas, or help the most vulnerable places cope with unavoidable impacts.”

“While researchers have better answers now on some fronts, they are also blunt about the things they still don’t know, which could have huge effects on the livability of the planet. Certain tipping points, feedbacks, and currently unappreciated mechanisms could further tilt the climate out of balance in ways that are hard to predict.”

“in the eight years since the last comprehensive IPCC report and the six years since the Paris accords, humanity’s output of heat-trapping gases has only grown. Even with a dip in emissions stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere reached a record high this year, topping 419 parts per million, a level the planet has not seen for at least 2 million years.

This rise in emissions has given scientists unprecedented opportunities to study climate change in real time. Alongside improvements in computer simulations, measurement technology, laboratory experiments, and historical records, scientists have gained far more insight to, and confidence in, humanity’s role in cranking up the planet’s thermostat.”

“According to the report, it now seems impossible that the world will get lucky and warming will somehow stay within the Paris agreement targets without massive action to limit emissions, starting right away.”