A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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News: 2.6 trillion lost trees found — whole world owes carbon credits to whole world

Yale scientist’s big new advance is to find the 2,600 billion trees humankind had not known about. Before now, 82% of the Earth’s trees were not counted, unknown, missing. This increases the tally of known trees by 7.5-fold.  Phew. They reckon there are now 3.04 trillion trees, or roughly 422 trees per person.

They also estimate that humans have deforested exactly 46% of the trees on the planet in the last 12,000 years.  (How fortunate that tree density estimates and satellite records are still available from 10,000 BC.) Presumably, the human deforestation factor is around 46% plus or minus 100%. Pick a number. Spin the wheel.

The idea was dumb enough to be produced by Yale and published in Nature.

Seeing the forest and the trees, all three trillion of them

A new Yale-led study estimates that there are more than 3 trillion trees on Earth, about seven and a half times more than some previous estimates. But the total number of trees has plummeted by roughly 46 percent since the start of human civilization, the study estimates.

Using a combination of satellite imagery, forest inventories, and supercomputer technologies, the international team of researchers [...]

Carbon accounting error reduces China’s emissions tally by twice Australia’s entire output

Welcome to carbon accounting games. Which other global “free” market is based on a ubiquitous molecule made by life on Earth, and produced in massive quantities in places where it’s almost impossible to even measure accurately? The largest non-human and human players don’t play (they don’t pay). Massive quantities go missing from the accounts, while other countries are expected to turn their economies upside down to cut one tenth as much.

Shu Liu et al estimate China’s output of CO2 was 14% lower in 2013 than other estimates.[1] They estimate China emitted 2.5 Gt of “carbon” in 2013.  Australia produces around 0.1 Gt a year.* So China’s “reduction” was 2 – 3 times what Australia produces every year. There is no other market in the world where so much hard money changes hands based on soft guesses about a product that no one wants, and is hard to even measure.

Frank Jotzo, ANU, reveals how irrelevant actual CO2 emissions are — it’s “good news” that doesn’t make any difference:

Frank Jotzo, the director of the Center for Climate Economics and Policy at the Australian National University in Canberra, said it was “good news” that Chinese coal was yielding [...]

Australian target set at 26% reduction by 2030 — billions spent to reduce global CO2 emissions by 0.01%

The Australian Abbott government has announced the target of a 26% reduction in emissions of CO2 by 2030. This futile effort to change the weather is all cost and no benefit. It’s 26% reduction in 1.3% (Australia’s share) of  4% (human share) of total CO2 emissions globally. If we succeed there’ll be 0.01% less CO2 in the air (at best).

The only good thing is that the policy supposedly can be achieved without “without any need to purchase emissions reductions from overseas.” That means Australia won’t be feeding the global banker-broker machine and assorted “carbon market” bureaucrats — not until the Labor Party come to government, anyway. This is a big win, helping to slow the cycle of governments feeding vested interests who promote big-government.

For once the Greens had a realistic response, though they probably did not intend it that way:

“The Greens party room also discussed the government’s target. The party’s MPs agreed it was “an all-around science fail” and they “all nodded vigorously”, a senior source said.”

Because “carbon accounting” is a joke, measured in a dozen mindless ways, all sides are spinning this in equal and opposite directions. Black IS white simultaneously, and too [...]

Those Green Australians! Our emissions per person fell 28% since 1990

Get ready for the startling news that Australians have been great corporate “green” citizens — on a per capita basis, all of us are so much more carbon-efficient (sic) than we were 25 years ago. Back then, in those dark days, people frivolously heated and cooled their homes without a thought to how many sinful cyclones they were creating in the Philippines. They drove recklessly in fossil fueled cars, and windmills were used to pump water a mere 10 metres, not to stop floods in Pakistan.

The amazing thing is that Australia’s population has grown by a whopping 38% since 1990. And our emission have grown with that, but the emissions per person has declined by 28% per person. Why aren’t the Greens more excited?

As with all these statistics, watch the pea for the real story.  Most of that decline is not due to solar panels, pink batts, bird blending wind towers, energy efficiency, or even economic trends — it is predominantly due to cutting down fewer trees. The “improvements” are in the “land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF)” sector, of which the “LUCF” basically means deforestation, afforestation and reforestation. The decline is mostly thanks to farmers like [...]

Australian deserts are controlling global CO2 levels?

Does the world owe Australia bezillions of dollars in carbon credits? With years of La Nina rainfall on arid outback Australia, “we” (or rather the citizen plants of Australia) have apparently been sucking down the CO2 at a phenomenal rate: “almost 60 per cent of carbon uptake attributed to Australian ecosystems.” But, sigh, call me unconvinced. I think what this paper demonstrates is that consensus and simulations are not worth much, and that we don’t know where global CO2 is going.

And anyway, the Australian outback vegetation explosion is ephemeral. While there may have been a lot of  carbon sucked out of the atmosphere in 2011, as noted in the paper, it quickly gets oxidized and goes back into the atmosphere over the next year or two when the grasses and flowers die. So maybe hold off on those bezillions of dollars of carbon credits.

Global carbon markets turnover $50-180 billion a year with the aim of changing global carbon dioxide levels. (Yes, that’s what they say these markets are for.) But the brutal truth is that we are still guessing where exactly our carbon emissions end up. The consensus was that probably tropical forests were doing  extra global sucking [...]

Oops. Indian carbon accounting adds lakes, rivers, and changes tally by 42%. Who’s bet billions of dollars on fudgy numbers?

Indian researchers have realized that the carbon modelers there had vastly underestimated the CO2 and CH4 given off by the parts of India covered in water, and when they put them in, they discovered they were churning out methane and carbon dioxide and the output was equal to 42% of what the Indian forests, farms and gardens were absorbing. (Lucky that only one sixth of humanity lives in India, eh?)

Humans are putting out less than 4% of total natural emissions of CO2  (as far as we can tell) – but obviously, we don’t even know what those natural emissions are  — it’s like plus or minus forty percent. (Say hello to the Pacific Ocean and make that plus or minus 100%). Carbon accounting is a fog of best guesses.

And people trade global markets on this?

Below the authors explain why their estimates are so much better than past ones, but why they still don’t know the real answer. They also explain why the numbers change from place to place, river to river, and even from morning tea to dinner time.

The bottom line is that even suggesting a carbon market globally is an invitation to global rorting. In [...]

Australia is either Green genius or Kyoto-criminal depending on fires and forests: Tom Quirk

Tom Quirk has taken look at the numbers for the Australian Government’s direct action plan (someone had to do it). Not surprisingly in a vast nation with hardly any people, the numbers that matter are the ones about “land-use” — which means anthropogenic changes to farms and forests.  Electricity is our largest emitter of CO2, but without shutting down the nation there are no easy gains to be had. Demand is inelastic.  Cuts are expensive. Renewables are pathetic. Ditto for industry and agriculture. Whether we meet our targets and whether there is P-A-I-N all depends on whether we count the CO2 molecules that come and go from agricultural land and managed forests.

The big question then is do we pretend those CO2 molecules coming and going from plants, soils, lakes and animals are irrelevant? (Greenpeace and the EU seem to think that’s a good plan). It’s a make or break thing in the carbon accounting world. But if carbon is causing global warming, surely all CO2 molecules are equally to blame. However only net emissions caused by humans (and which wouldn’t have been emitted naturally) count towards the national tallies and targets.

If we [...]

Amazon River produces monster levels of “pollution”. The dilemma. Should we stop the river?

The mouth of the Amazon is the worst source of “pollution”.

Bad news for fans of The Amazon River. A new study shows that while the Amazon rain forest is the Lungs of The Planet, pulling down gigatonnes of CO2, the river undoes all the good the trees do, and pours all the CO2 back into the sky. Damn that river eh? Lucky it only discharges one fifth of the worlds freshwater.

Apparently most researchers thought bacteria couldn’t digest the tough woody lignin of tree debris fast enough to prevent it getting to the ocean*. Underestimating microbial life seems a common affliction, and we hear was a big surprise that only 5% of the lignin actually ends up reaching the ocean where it might sink to the floor and be sequestered. The rest is broken down by bacteria and released into the air. The clues were there for years that the Amazon was giving off lots more CO2 than people expected, but the consensus was that it “didn’t add up”. So much for that consensus.

Yet another victory for observations over opinions.

Until recently, people believed much of the rain forest’s carbon floated down the Amazon River and ended [...]

Australia’s Invisible Energy Trade: better than most and getting even better

Australia  (orange line second from the bottom) has a lower energy intensity of use than many countries (see below for more information). On this graph. Japan is the lowest. The world average is the dark purple line. China is so high it is off the scale.

It’s part of the spin game  that almost every statistic is spun-into-oblivion, and here, thanks to Mike Wilson, is the analysis of why “per capita” statistics are meaningless.

Ross Garnaut (and dozens of others) claim Australia has a high emissions intensity of energy use. Yet Mike Wilson shows below that  Australia’s energy intensity is not just declining, it’s below the world average, and below Canada, South Africa, China and the US.

The Garnaut Review:

“Relative to other OECD countries, Australia’s high emissions are mainly the result of the high emissions intensity of energy use, rather than the high energy intensity of the economy or exceptionally high per capita income. Transport emissions are not dissimilar to those of other developed countries. Australia’s per capita agricultural emissions are among the highest in the world, especially because of the large numbers of sheep and cattle.

The high emissions intensity of energy [...]