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Settled Science
Plants Absorb Much More Carbon Than Previously Thought

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.

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  • Andrew Allison

    It is the purpose of climate models to predict warming trends, and they have all failed miserably. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the effect of increased atmospheric CO2 is very much less than advertized by the AGW scriptures.

  • FriendlyGoat

    What on earth would “smarter, more strategic thinkers in the green arena” do?
    Agree with Republican orthodoxy that there is no climate issue, no effect, no cause, no problem? Agree with Republicans that any bad climate effect the people of the wealthy north force upon the people of the global south is forever and always explainable as “just nature”?

    • Laurence Levin

      How about a moderate sensible policy where we move off of coal and onto natural gas for the short run and then spend money on researching non carbon producing energy sources (like liquid thorium reactors) for the long run. Certainly would be better than the German policy that doubles energy costs while increasing carbon admissions.

    • C.J.Murphy

      “Smarter, more strategic thinkers in the green arena” would first admit that petroleum products provide virtually unmatched energy density, stability in storage, and exceptional benefits to human society. They would then admit that at this point in time “renewable” solutions are not able to provide the energy we need without a drastic reduction in quality of life. Then, they would argue the absolutely tangible benefits of “green” solutions. A decentralized power grid may provide strategic benefits and freedom to those who choose to produce their own power. Wind turbines and solar panels provide excellent solutions for small outposts which need little energy without the need for large infrastructure investment. These can provide limited backup in the case the main grid fails. Lastly, they would argue that the main benefit of using less energy–being more efficient–produces real savings!

      There are many reasons to be “green”. Concern about climate change does not have to be one of them.

      • FriendlyGoat

        In other words, come up with innovative arguments to trick the deniers into doing what they should do anyway—–but without offending their certainty about no AGW?

  • Curious Mayhem

    Plant don’t absorb carbon; they inhale carbon dioxide. That’s why carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, contrary to the quacks and fanatics at the EPA and elsewhere.

    The most signficant “greenhouse gas” (another misnomer in this miserable swamp of quackery) is water vapor, followed at a distant second by carbon dioxide, and at an even more distant third by methane — also not “carbon” — it’s CH4.

  • S.C. Schwarz

    Leonardo DiCaprio says the science is settled so that settles it, right?

    More seriously, when studies like this are mentioned in the NY Times or on CNN then they will start to matter. As for now they will just be ignored.

  • C.J.Murphy

    While perusing NASA’s website recently I stumbled across this article:

    Surely, I thought, this would be front page news! I’ve been monitoring the NY Times website for the past few weeks and have not seen a thing about it. Personally, I am not concerned about global warming and remain skeptical of the predictions. However, I would like to believe that scientists and news outlets would objectively report conflicting data. Failure to report results such as these with the same fervency as those which back up the predictions is dishonest. Further, it shows that these outlets are pressing an agenda.

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