Monday, June 15, 2015

Britain burning its historic forests to save the planet

Who said Greenies like trees?

One gloomy day in March 2012, Pip Pountney, recently retired from Warwick University, went for a walk in Ryton Wood near Coventry with Ann Wilson, a former textile chemist.

Ryton’s 216 acres are described by its owners, the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, as ‘one of the largest semi-natural ancient woodlands in Warwickshire’. A Site of Special Scientific Interest, it has long been famous for its bluebells, which flourished every spring beneath a canopy of English oaks.

But what ex-teacher Pountney and Wilson saw looked to them like utter desolation. They came across a stand where about 50 mature oaks, some 300 years old, had been felled the previous winter. Their trunks lay in ragged piles, some sawn into roundels.

The oaks’ fate, the Trust has confirmed, was to be burnt: as ‘sustainable’ heating fuel in log-burning stoves – a market which is expanding rapidly. According to trade group HETUS, almost 200,000 such stoves are installed every year – a five-fold increase since 2007.

Logs, however, feed only a part of Britain’s expanding appetite for ‘green’ wood-sourced energy. Adding to demand is the even faster-growing market for heating and hot-water systems fuelled by wood chips and pellets – which is heavily subsidised by taxpayers.

The Forestry Commission and the biomass industry’s lobby group, the Woodland Heat Association, insist this policy is justified on environmental grounds. They say the new ‘biomass’ energy market can improve the quality of forests, by creating new financial incentives to ‘manage’ woods that have been neglected and allowed to run wild.

However, other experts fear that in some forests, the consequences will be disastrous. Oxford University ecologist Clive Hambler said: ‘Subsidising biomass is one of the most counter-productive policies ever invented, and about the most bizarre thing you could possibly do to counter climate change.’

In his view, felling British hard wood forests in order to burn them is harming biodiversity, destroying habitats, and may well increase emissions. He said: ‘Big, hardwood trees are enormous carbon sinks, and take hundreds of years to be replaced.’

Dr Mark Fisher, research fellow at the Wildland Research Institute at Leeds University, agreed, saying: ‘Forests are being butchered in the service of an ideology. This new industry incentivises devastation, and no one is looking at the long-term consequences for our woods.’

Overall, more wood is now being burnt from British woods than at any time since the industrial revolution

Last week, this newspaper revealed how the burning of millions of tons of wood pellets at the heavily subsidised Drax power plant in Yorkshire is destroying forests in America. Today the focus is closer to home – the impact on domestic woodlands of the vogue for burning wood.

Under EU rules, wood fuel qualifies as ‘zero carbon’, because felled trees will supposedly grow back and re-absorb the CO2 emitted by burning them. Burning wood to generate electricity or heat counts towards emissions targets, so that chips, pellets and sometimes logs qualify for a ‘green’ subsidy.

Known as the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), this has rewarded the owners of wood burning boilers with a sum close to £200 million since it started in April 2012. And such installations, despite the cheapest system for an average farmhouse costing about £6,000, are growing exponentially: the 1,667 domestic units registered in the first quarter of 2015 represented a 96 per cent increase on the previous year.

Overall, more wood is now being burnt from British woods than at any time since the industrial revolution. The Government’s target is that the annual fuel harvest should reach two million tons by 2020 – about 18 per cent of the current total cut from British forests.

At present trends, it will easily be surpassed, because the RHI is astonishingly lucrative. Piping Hot, a wood-heat company in Daventry, 15 miles from Ryton, says on its website that it ‘will not only give you free heating, but also generate staggering paybacks, often paying for a biomass installation within 3 years, and then years of free heating. The fact that RHI is linked to inflation means that you are virtually protected against increases in fuel prices.’

Under the RHI, householders, businesses or public bodies with a biomass boiler make a profit every time they use it. The rates are different for domestic and commercial premises, and they vary with the size of boiler. But they work out as about 8p per kilowatt hour of heat produced for homes, and 6p for most businesses. But the cost of chips is much lower – between 2.7p and 3.5p per kilowatt hour, depending on the size of a delivery. The subsidy is index linked, tax-free and guaranteed for 20 years in the case of businesses and seven for homes.

However, unlike the subsidies for other ‘renewable’ energy, the RHI is met not by levies on consumers’ energy bills, but general taxation. A part of every VAT or income tax receipt goes towards it – cash which could have been spent on the NHS or schools.

The argument over whether the RHI is justified is focused especially on hardwood forests such as Ryton. According to the Forestry Commission, 75 per cent of British hardwood cut in 2013 – some 400,000 tons – went to fuel.

But conservationists have been sharply divided for years as to how such woods should be managed.

One view, held by the Warwickshire Trust and others, is that in woods which have been left ‘unmanaged’, trees such as oaks should be reduced in density, to allow more light to penetrate the canopy. This, the Trust says, will help butterflies and certain flowers flourish.

The Trust says it is also trying to restore traditional ‘coppicing’ – cutting trees such as hazel close to the ground, so they rapidly sprout multiple stems. In past centuries, coppicing supported rural crafts, such as fencing.

Clive Hambler said that sometimes, this was ‘defensible’. But often, he added, it ignored the many species that flourish in shady broadleaf woodland, including bats, woodpeckers, many kinds of moth, stag beetles and several rare mosses. Moreover, restoring coppiced woods which had been left to grow for decades was extremely difficult. Dr Fisher said: ‘You can’t just recreate conditions that existed 40 years ago or more. The effect of bringing back coppicing to woods like these can be to wipe out the entire ecosystem which is actually there. When you cut down the trees, you remove the homes of animals, birds and plants.’

Woods where there has been recent felling never look pretty, and in Ryton last month, it wasn’t hard to tell felled and untouched areas apart. Where no trees had been cut, there was still a lush canopy, and carpets of flowers. Elsewhere were dozens of newly felled oaks, their stumps still coated with sawdust. Just a few isolated examples had been allowed to remain – in forestry parlance, ‘standards’. Many of these trees, no longer protected from the elements by the oaks that had surrounded them, seemed to be dying.

At nearby Wappenbury Wood, also owned by the Trust, the scene looked still worse. There too, the Trust is trying to restore coppicing and thin out mature hardwoods. In one spot, a huge grove of aspens had just been felled, leaving almost no vegetation at all. In its place was just several acres of black mud.

At least in Warwickshire the intention is to preserve, not destroy, the woodland. But at Bickerton Hill, on Cheshire’s Welsh border, the owner – the National Trust – is trying to wipe out huge swathes of a much loved birch wood altogether. Here, the plan is to ‘re-heath’ – restore the heathery, open slopes that existed before the birch trees began to grow 80 years ago.

A local forest contractor said that last winter he helped remove 3,000 tons of birch that had been felled – all sold for logs and biomass. Yet according to Hambler, the scheme is doomed. It takes centuries to create the biological conditions that had created a heath, he said – not just a few years. Indeed, in areas felled in 2008, it could be seen that when resilient birch seedlings had started to sprout the Trust had them doused in powerful herbicide, wiping out all the vegetation – birch and heather alike. A Trust spokesman acknowledged the concerns of locals but insisted that eventually, the re-heathing would be successful.

Either way, although the NT also received a grant, it is clear that demand for biomass has made this scheme more economically viable.

The same is true for the felling and coppicing at Wappenbury. Wildlife Trust woodland officer Eddie Asbery said that there a deal was done with a contractor: in return for removing the trees for free, he sold the wood for biomass.

Hambler said: ‘British forest wildlife has been on a downward spiral for thousands of years. A massive new market for wood should be ringing very loud alarm bells. We should not be complacent just because removing wood is a defensible management in some sites.’

Be that as it may, the results dismay Pip Pountney – who along with Ann Wilson, has formed a campaign group to preserve Warwickshire’s forests, and taken an ecology diploma at Warwick University.

‘This is where I played as a child,’ she said in Ryton Wood. ‘They call it an ancient woodland. The way things are going, it’s going to end up as an oak forest with no oaks.’


EPA moves toward regulating aircraft emissions

The Obama administration on Wednesday released a scientific finding that greenhouse gases from aircraft pose a risk to human health, paving the way for regulating emissions from the U.S. aviation industry.

The "endangerment finding" by the Environmental Protection Agency would allow the administration to implement a global carbon dioxide emissions standard being developed by the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization.

In its 194-page finding, the EPA said it took "a preliminary but necessary first step to begin to address greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector, the highest-emitting category of transportation sources that the EPA has not yet addressed."

The ICAO is due to release its CO2 standard in February 2016, with the aim of adopting it later that year.

But the requirement is expected to apply only to new aircraft designs certified from 2020, leaving most of the world's existing fleets unaffected for years to come.

Aviation accounted for 11 percent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector in 2013, and nearly 30 percent of global aircraft emissions in 2010, the latest year with complete global emissions data.

The EPA's ruling will mark the first step toward regulating aviation's greenhouse gas emissions, and aviation will become the latest industrial sector to be regulated under the Clean Air Act after cars, trucks and large stationary sources like power plants.

But it came only after a federal court ruled in 2012 in favor of environmental groups that had sued the EPA, saying it was obligated to regulate aircraft emissions under the law.

The airline industry favors a global standard over individual national standards since carriers operate all over the world and want to avoid a patchwork of rules and measures, such as taxes, charges and emissions trading programs.

"If you're a big airline and you're flying to 100 countries a day, then complying with all those different regimes is an administrative nightmare," said Paul Steele, senior vice president at the International Air Transport Association, the industry's main global organization.

But some environmental groups are concerned that the standard being discussed at ICAO will do little to change the status quo right now.

"The stringency being discussed at ICAO is such that existing aircraft are already meeting the standard they are weighing," said Sarah Burt, a lawyer at Earthjustice, one of several groups that sued the EPA.

Planes generally stay in service for 20 or 30 years, she added.

International Council on Clean Transportation Program Director Dan Rutherford said that to ensure real emissions reductions from airlines, ICAO should apply a carbon dioxide standard to all new aircraft delivered after 2020.

But ICAO is weighing a standard that would apply only to new designs certified after the expected application date of Jan. 1, 2020.

Such an approach would mean the standard would only cover about 5 percent of the global aircraft fleet in 2030, he said.


The Warmist mental bubble

Writers in America have come out with research which could explain why the debate on climate change continues to rumble on, even though there is a solid consensus on the facts of the matter.

Essentially, according to the researchers, people tend to live in "echo chambers" as far as climate matters go, seeking out information and advisers who agree with what they already believe. Thus, they may persist in deluded views regardless of what others think.

"Individuals who get their information from the same sources with the same perspective may be under the impression that theirs is the dominant perspective, regardless of what the science says," explains Professor Dana Fisher, the corresponding author who led the research.

The prof is of course correct: people will continue to believe marginal bloggers on climate matters, even when their "information" is debunked by proper climate scientists: here's a case from last year in which various dubious lunatic-fringe blogs - "DeSmogBlog"*, "Climate Central" etc - were found to be peddling misinformation on hurricanes in defiance of qualified  climatologists. And yet many people continue to believe what these bloggers say.

On a larger scale it's been repeatedly established in recent surveys that most people don't agree with the idea that climate change is mainly caused by human activities. The United States Senate recently declined to endorse this position, also. And it's well known that nations around the world have consistently failed to sign up to any binding agreement on significant cuts to carbon emissions, no matter what position they may espouse on climate change.

So it's pretty clear that the "dominant perspective" here is the sceptical one: the belief that climate change certainly occurs, but it's not been proven to be primarily driven by carbon emissions - and in any case that the theorised consequences of carbon-driven change have not been shown to be such as to require urgent and economically painful action.

And yet many people, living inside their misguided "echo chamber", keep on insisting that the science is settled in the alarmist direction and the case for economic pain is made - or alternatively, that no pain is involved in emissions cuts, quite the reverse (though in that case it seems odd that people haven't just cut emissions on their own). These people obdurately persist in their denial of the consensus position.

“We find that the occurrences of echo chambers are indeed statistically significant, meaning our model provides a potential explanation for why climate change denial persists in spite of the consensus,” says Dr Lorien Jasny, a computational social scientist at the US National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).

Jasny, Fisher and their colleagues have laid out their research in full, in a paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The two social scientists acknowledge that, of course, the echo chamber problem exists on both sides of the debate and it is important for those holding majority beliefs to realise that there is some chance - tiny as it may be - that the alarmist position may be correct, or more plausibly may have elements of correctness in it.

"Our research underscores how important it is for people on both sides [our emphasis] of the climate debate to be careful about where they get their information. If their sources are limited to those that repeat and amplify a single perspective, they can't be certain about the reliability or objectivity of their information," Jasny says. ®


*DeSmogBlog is especially unscrupulous. It is funded by convicted criminal John Lefebvre and other individuals linked to the site have been noted to employ legally dubious tactics.

We have not used the word "boffin" in this article as the researchers involved - sociologists, and as such from the soft-studies sector - do not qualify for that noble appellation.


Methane no danger

Recent scientific studies on the behaviour of methane released into the environment contradicts climate science predictions about the gas as a global warming risk. gulf oil spillAnalysis of the impact of the terrible 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil disaster (picture right) and a study of peat bogs, shows climate scientists may be wrong to claim such “greenhouse gases” can cause catastrophic long term impacts.

For years computer models used by climate scientists have predicted alarmist outcomes if humans permit levels of “greenhouse gases,” such as CO2 and methane in the atmosphere, to rise.

Melting permafrost due to CO2-driven global warming is said to be one of the major dangers to humanity due to its release of greenhouse gases, which they claim causes a worrying “positive feedback” loop of warming.

In particular, it was believed the release of methane (CH4), along with CO2, would boost the warming feedback leading to “runaway” warming. But findings by experts studying global peat bogs, a main emitter of methane, shows that this particular scare story is not supported by the science.

Due to recent advances in scientific understanding of permafrost and the effects CH4 has on the atmosphere, there is no evidence to warrant concern about dangerous climate change.

Making the position plain in the renowned book ‘Peatlands and Climate Change,’ Maria Strack, of the International Peat Society, disavows the unfounded fears trumpeted among climate scientists. In fact, the best evidence shows peatlands will actually become a sink for any increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, man-made global warming's biggest "threat." So rather than there being more CO2 escaping into the atmosphere, there will likely be less due to the increased uptake potential of further exposed peatland.

Strack reports, “Several studies have documented increased rates of C [carbon] storage as peat following surface permafrost degradation….Currently peat-lands globally represent a major store of soil carbon, a sink for carbon dioxide.”

It seems Nature may have its own inbuilt safety mechanism, after all. The eminent expert adds: “Thus in response to permafrost degradation peatlands are likely to become larger sinks for CO2.”

In short, if melting permafrost continues, as it has being doing steadily since the last Ice Age, then more carbon dioxide will be absorbed. This represents a massive natural buffer to any “tipping point” predicted by climate change doomsayers.

Mother Nature’s ‘Self-cleaning’ Mechanism?

So what else have independent experts been learning about methane, this most powerful “greenhouse gas”?

Well, it appears something good came out of the shocking BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill of April 20, 2010.  On that day eleven people lost their lives and an enormous fire burned for 36 hours before the rig sank and a vast quantity of hydrocarbons leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. But the tragedy afforded an opportunity for scientists to study the large scale release of methane first hand. And researchers found that Methane (CH4) released into the environment doesn’t act the way climate science models said it would. [2]

Calling the results “extremely surprising,” scientists from the University of California, Santa Barbara and Texas A&M University showed that methane gas concentrations in the Gulf of Mexico returned to near-normal levels only months after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.

Oceanographers John Kessler of Texas A&M and David Valentine of UCSB reported:

 “We were glad to have the opportunity to lend our expertise to study this oil spill. But also we tried to make a little good come from this disaster and use it to learn something about how the planet functions naturally. The seafloor stores large quantities of methane, a potent ‘greenhouse gas,’ which has been suspected to be released naturally, modulating global climate. What the Deepwater Horizon incident has taught us is that releases of methane with similar characteristics will not have the capacity to influence climate.”

So here the scenario of “catastrophic” global warming causing the melting of the Arctic permafrost, thawing the peat-lands and releasing yet more “dangerous" gases to poison the environment falls flat on its face. The true scenario is more likely that Nature has, for billions of years, evolved its own "self-cleaning" mechanism.


Coral not co-operating with Warmist theory

As the ocean absorbs atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) released by the burning of fossil fuels, its chemistry is changing. The CO2 reacts with water molecules, lowering the ocean's pH in a process known as ocean acidification. This process also removes carbonate ions, an essential ingredient needed by corals and other organisms to build their skeletons and shells.

Will some corals be able to adapt to these rapidly changing conditions? If so, what will these coral reefs look like as the oceans become more acidic?

In addition to laboratory experiments that simulate future ocean conditions, scientists are studying coral reefs in areas of the ocean where low pH is naturally occurring to try and answer important questions about ocean acidification, which threatens coral reef ecosystems worldwide.

One such place is Palau, an archipelago in the far western Pacific Ocean. The tropical, turquoise waters of the Palau Rock Islands are naturally more acidic due to a combination of biological activity and the long residence time of seawater within its maze of lagoons and inlets. Seawater pH within the Rock Island lagoons is as low now as the open ocean is projected to be as a result of ocean acidification near the end of this century.

A new study led by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) found that the coral reefs there seem to be defying the odds, showing none of the predicted responses to low pH except for an increase in bioerosion -- the physical breakdown of coral skeletons by boring organisms such as mollusks and worms. The paper is to be published June 5 in the journal Science Advances.

'Based on lab experiments and studies of other naturally low pH reef systems, this is the opposite of what we expected,' says lead author Hannah Barkley, a graduate student in the WHOI-MIT joint program in oceanography.

Experiments measuring corals' responses to a variety of low pH conditions have shown a range of negative impacts, such as fewer varieties of corals, more algae growth, lower rates of calcium carbonate production (growth), and juvenile corals that have difficulty constructing skeletons.

'Surprisingly, in Palau where the pH is lowest, we see a coral community that hosts more species, and has greater coral cover than in the sites where pH is normal,' says Anne Cohen, a co-author on the study and Barkley's advisor at WHOI. 'That's not to say the coral community is thriving because of it, rather it is thriving despite the low pH, and we need to understand how.'


A fallacy about polar bears

They are adaptable -- don't need an invariant environment

My new Arctic Fallacy paper- Sea ice stability and the polar bear
Posted on June 8, 2015 | Comments Off on My new Arctic Fallacy paper- Sea ice stability and the polar bear
I have a new paper out that explains a fundamental problem with polar bear conservation.

Chukchi June 15 2014_USGS_Brian Battaile_after swim_sm

I’m convinced that a flawed and out-dated ecological concept — that sea ice, under natural conditions, provides a stable, predictable habitat — is what has allowed the present doom and gloom attitude of most polar bear specialists to develop.

Sea ice changes, of course, from season to season. However, the concept that sea ice is a stable habitat assumes that these seasonal changes are predictable and virtually the same from one year to the next – at least, similar enough that the differences are not responsible for causing marked declines in population size.

The assumption is that under natural, stable conditions populations of Arctic animals will either stay the same over time or increase. Biologists were taught at university that sea ice should be a stable habitat and as a result, they’ve glossed over evidence they collected to the contrary. [see recent posts here and here, for example]

Negative effects on populations of short-term natural variations in spring sea ice or spring snow cover on sea ice have been entirely ignored in modeled predictions of future conditions. The focus has been on summer ice extent.

I have summarized this evidence in a fully referenced, peer-reviewed essay that explores how the acceptance of this fallacy (“sea ice is a stable habitat”) has so skewed the conservation biology of polar bears that to outsiders it may look like a scientific integrity issue.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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