Our planet’s flora does a lot more to “store” carbon emissions than previously thought, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers report that climate models have been underestimating the work done by plants to store the greenhouse gas by as much as 16 percent over the last century. The BBC reports:
Scientists say that between 1901 and 2010, living things absorbed 16% more of the gas than previously thought. The authors say it explains why models consistently overestimated the growth rate of carbon in the atmosphere. […]By analysing how CO2 spreads slowly inside leaves, a process called mesophyll diffusion, the authors conclude that more of the gas is absorbed than previously thought. Between 1901 and 2100 the researchers believe that their new work increases the amount of carbon taken up through fertilisation from 915 billion tonnes to 1,057 billion, a 16% increase.
So much for settled science, then.The environmental movement has taken great pains to present the case for anthropogenic climate change as open-and-shut, using science to bludgeon their opponents to advance policy aims. To a certain extent, they’re right: certain gases trap more solar radiation in our planet’s atmosphere, raising temperatures and bringing on a host of other changes to our climate, and humanity bears some responsibility, as we’ve dramatically increased emissions of those greenhouse gases with industrialization.But the green movement, in its attempt to combat the most oversimplifying climate skeptic arguments, has overplayed its hand. By insisting that climate science—the study of an immensely complicated system replete with innumerable variables and relationships that we’ve just barely begun to scratch the surface of—is somehow settled, environmentalists have opened themselves up to attack. When climate models fail to predict warming trends, as has been the case with the recent plateau in warming rates over the past decade or so, those who insisted on their infallibility inevitably look foolish, and their detractors gain momentum.This latest development is just one of many recent examples that illustrate how stunted our best understanding of our planet’s climate is. Over time, we’ll continue to refine climate science, and one day might produce models with some sort of predictive power, and that’s all to the good. But today, right now, the known unknowns loom large, and the environmental movement does itself a grave disservice by pretending otherwise. Given the gravity of the problem, we need much smarter, more strategic thinkers in the green arena.