January 4, 2011

Eco-math doesn't add up

Does this forest make me look fat?
In the wake of Climategate and the growing skepticism of man made global warming (AGW), it's possible that 2011 could be the year climate change hysteria is finally quelled. But don't expect that to stop the  environmentalist charge against western capitalism to not attempt to take another tack. My hunch is that deforestation will become the new environmentalist holy grail since the polar ice caps are inconveniently, NOT melting. What's left?  Rainforests. They are disappearing at an alarming rate along with 1500 species per day don't you know. Yeah. Let me play skeptic here.

According to PhysicalGeography.net there are 148,940,000 square kilometers of land on earth. There are 247.1 acres per square kilometer.  I know it's metric so far - bear with me.  The math means there are 36,803,074,000 acres of land on earth.  In fact, there are only 625 million hectares, or 1,693,750,000 acres, of rain forest worldwide.

But according to National Geographic the world is losing 12.8 million acres of rainforest per year, down from 20 million acres per year in the 1990's.  Assuming deforestation didn't exist before 1980, that would equate to 328,000,000 acres having been lost in the last twenty years.  That means in 1980 there would have been approximately 2 billion acres of rain forest. It also means that in the last 20 years roughly 15% of the world's rain forests have disappeared, presumably largely due to mankind. Claims that the world could be completely without rain forests within one hundred years seem plausible in that light.

But consider, in 2006 that National Geographic reported that the world's forest were rebounding and that 22 of the 50 most forested nations had seen an increase in woodlands. Still, Brazil and Indonesia, with their rain forests were notable exceptions. Further, numbers are thrown around often without any validation or even understanding of what the term deforestation even means.

An example of the validation issue (emphasis added):
On May 11, 1994, two scientists, Compton Tucker and David Skole, presented the results of a NASA survey at the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs of the United States Congress, a formal scientific assessment of deforestation in Brazil aimed at putting to rest the debate on the rate of forest removal and questions on the effectiveness at Brazilian environmental policies. Whilst undertaking a monitoring and complete assessment was very difficult due to the size of the rainforest, they concluded that satellite observations had shown a reduction in the rate of forest removal between 1992 and 1993 and that World Bank estimates of 600,000 square kilometers (12%) cleared by that year appeared to be exaggerated. The NASA assessment concurred with the findings of the Brazilian National Space Research Institute (INPE) with an accurate estimation of 280,000 square kilometers (5%) for the same period.
OOPS. Notice also that it states "undertaking a monitoring and complete assessment was very difficult due to the size of the rainforest". Oh my. Does that mean the 'facts' are estimated? Consider how deforestation is defined. NASA's effort to up-size the numbers made the following observation (emphasis added);
Unless an area is completely deforested by loggers, it’s not likely to be labeled as such in Brazil’s annual tally. Partially logged or burned areas are visible in satellite imagery, but they begin to regrow so quickly that they are often overlooked in the annual estimate.
OOPS again.  If they regrow so quickly then perhaps they shouldn't be counted.  Not to mention, deforestation is portrayed as an irreversible scourge upon the land but the rain forests regrow so quickly, that they don't show up on satellite images as being burned or logged. Wow.  The forest can heal itself. Quickly.

This sort of partial understanding leads to a lot of hyperbole and mis-interpretations like this;
By the year 2000, timber will be cut nearly twice as fast on national forests as new trees can replace it. Costa Rica has lost a third of its forests, loses 60,000 hectares a year and at this rate will have none by the 2000.
And I haven't even begun to contemplate how it can be claimed that 1500 species are disappearing per day.  I'm not saying deforestation doesn't exist or might not be a problem.  Whether it is or isn't should be based on factual data and not subject to the same sort of global warming hysteria that permeated that debate.  So far, that doesn't look like it's going to be the case.

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