Global warming is actually good for rainforests, say boffins
+3°C, 1000ppm CO2 did jungles a world of good last time
OK, so let's take it that global warming is coming: that temperatures are set to rise by easily 3°C by the end of the century. Disaster, right? The tropical rainforests - lungs of the planet - will die, CO2 levels will thus rise even faster, a runaway process will set in and planet Earth will be transformed into a baking lifeless hell.
Not so much, according to top boffin Carlos Jaramillo of the US Smithsonian Institution. Jaramillo, who works at the Smithsonian's Tropical Research centre, says that 60 million years ago temperatures were up to 5°C higher than now and atmospheric CO2 was running close to 1000 parts per million - way beyond the planet-busting thresholds set by the UN - and yet the rainforests flourished.
"It is remarkable that there is so much concern about the effects of greenhouse conditions on tropical forests," says Jaramillo's Smithsonian colleague Klaus Winter.
Scientists led by Jaramillo examined the fossil record of the Paleocene-Eocene jungles of Colombia and Venezuela. Their research is published today in leading boffinry mag Science. The boffins write:
We observed a rapid and distinct increase in plant diversity and origination rates, with a set of new taxa, mostly angiosperms, added to the existing stock of low-diversity Paleocene flora. There is no evidence for enhanced aridity in the northern Neotropics. The tropical rainforest was able to persist under elevated temperatures and high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, in contrast to speculations that tropical ecosystems were severely compromised by heat stress.
"Rainforests were doing very well" during the high-carbon, significantly-hotter "thermal maximum" period studied by the scientists. They found that rather than making species extinct the warmth drove diversity and brought many new species into the world - including both passionflowers and chocolate.
So it would seem that even if temperatures do climb as many forecasters predict, the consequences may not be disastrous after all.
Jaramillo and his colleagues' paper, Effects of Rapid Global Warming at the Paleocene-Eocene Boundary on Neotropical Vegetation, can be read by Science subscribers here. ®
So just to clarify...
... global warming means more chocolate?
Facts, figures and things people forget
Twenty years ago, a friend of mine completed her Environmental Science degree. She was somewhat disappointed, however: She wanted to do a thesis on weather cycles, but these were, apparently, too complex to map and intersections were too unpredictable. Instead she studied deer shitting in woods. Turns out they do. And in fields and anywhere else they happen to be.
But she did note something, even back then. Actually, she noted several things:
1) We are currently in an Ice age. We have been for a very long time and are due to emerge from it any day now. Seriously, we're actually overdue. Bit worrying there's no sign, isn't it? I mean, icecaps have to melt completely for us to be out of the ice age. (Just for reference, we're interglacial - the glaciers retreat, exposing the land. If they advance again, we're in trouble: They'll want their land back. And the lawn mower...).
2) When we hit the 'flip' from ice age to temperate, we could well see Sabre toothed cats reappear. She likes cats. So do I. It would be fun watching people's reaction to the appearance of Sabre toothed cats again.
More recently, with all this C02 business and 'Global warming' panic, she noted:
3) They (the environmental scientists, that is) have been expecting this. It's in the course books, after all, so it's been published for 20+ years, along with predictions as to what we might see (refer to 2, above). Gee, I wonder what the Sabre toothed cats will look like this time. Are house cats teeth growing? Or are the ABC's our new feline overlords...
4) Someone's having a laugh: Panic over C02? It's nothing: Methane is a more dangerous 'greenhouse' gas...
5) Greenhouse gasses. How are they going to work, exactly? Oh, they hold heat in? But won't they reflect heat, too? After all, the normal temperature of the planet is 6 C. Anything above that is from the sun. Look, clouds at night keep the land beneath them warmer, but during the day they provide shade that keeps it cool. Won't greenhouse gasses do the same but on a global scale? Won't it all balance out in the end?
6) Where are those Sabre toothed cats!
And me? I sit there and listen and I wonder... all this data: Is it correct? What factors have they taken in to consideration. They are scientists, aren't they: They haven't changed anything or missed anything out. But it always bothered me that they don't mention this thing about the ice age: That permanent icecaps are actually bad for the planet, and at some point they really need to melt. That we need to move into a temperate age. Well, the planet does, anyhow: Man really isn't that important as far as the planet is concerned. Little more than an infestation, an irritation, a pest to be exterminated it when the time comes. And then I wonder about these claims about how much impact man has on all this... you know, I'm not convinced we're not seeing a natural change to the planet's temperature, and that the worst thing man could be doing is just making it happen a little faster...
But hey, someone has to preach about the end of the world. Someone has to make money by scamming people through scare tactics. Someone has to be declared a heratic for pointing out the claims don't quite add up. And the bulk of us sit on, bemused, as people argue the world is flat/round/rhomboid/doomed.
Anyway, I'm off to go look at those cats. They seem to be smiling. Big smiles with big teeth...
This is clearly bollocks!
We all know that the rainforests will die, all the glaciers will melt and puppies will drown!