Forget deforestation: The world's woodland is getting denser and change could help combat climate change

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Jungle burned for agriculture in southern Mexico. Image: Wikipedia

For years exponents of climate change theories have used images of deforestation to support their cause.

Here is a 2007 story in The Independent suggesting a causal link:

Deforestation: The hidden cause of global warming

In the next 24 hours, deforestation will release as much CO2 into the atmosphere as 8 million people flying from London to New York. Stopping the loggers is the fastest and cheapest solution to climate change. So why are global leaders turning a blind eye to this crisis?

However, the density of forests and woodland across much of the world is actually increasing, according to a respected scientific study.

The change, which is being dubbed the ‘Great Reversal’, could be crucial in reducing atmospheric carbon, which is linked to climate change.

Read more:


See also this story on the press release in WUWT here.

Plus also: The Earth’s Biosphere is booming, data suggests CO2 to be the cause

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Pull My Finger
June 7, 2011 11:42 am

So, no internal combustion engines, no paper, no coal or wood to burn, just long, cold nights in a cave? No thanks, I’ll take modernity.
3rd world, god-forsaken hell holes have deforestation problems, but it is certainly not an issue in the US and Canada. For a fun take on the Brazilian Rain Forset, see South Park. To paraphrase: ‘the rainforest is full of poisonous animals, horrid diseases, man eating fish, man eating men, and it’s hot as hell. Why the would anyone want to save it?” 🙂

mike restin
June 7, 2011 11:43 am

I still don’t get it.
More people need more resources.
More people generate more co2
More co2 warms the climate melts more snow and ice.
More land opens up to support more people.
Sounds like a natural closed loop system.
What’s the problem, again?

Douglas DC
June 7, 2011 11:44 am

In other words-“We have no idea.” Humanity thinks it is the the pinnacle of evolution for
good or, in the case of the Warmists evil. But we are mere fleas on the backside of the
Cosmic Elephant. Seems the planet has other plans….
Good article ….

Mike M
June 7, 2011 11:45 am

The worst thing we can do is cut down rain forest whether it is increasing in density or not. While increasing CO2 and other favorable factors have contributed to increased density, we are not control of those things and therefore cannot rely on them to continue to offset deforested areas. It would be safer strive toward increasing forest area, (managed or not), and be prepared for when those favorable factors reverse as they have before.
What scares me is the financial attractiveness to cut down rain forest to grow bio-fuel crops such as sugar in Brazil. Bio-fuel should not be mandated, it should be banned.

June 7, 2011 11:54 am

Long, long ago, I read an essay by someone who described flying over New England forests in winter, and seeing the traces of the farms that used to be there.

Old Goat
June 7, 2011 12:00 pm

Global warming. It’s not happening, is it?
Politicians – hello? HELLO?

June 7, 2011 12:16 pm

Here in Fort McMurray, Alberta, home of the oil sands, all oil sand companies combined have planted 50 million trees. How many trees have all the AGW fanatics planted in their lifetime I wonder? While during the last month 400,000 hectares have burned because of wildfires still out of control heading toward 500,000 hectares burned in the next few days. And THAT is nature itself at work – perhaps what eco-loons fail to realize is nature cares nothing for humans or trees – cares nothing about human laws or concerns – cares nothing about human made computer models. Cares nothing about the IPCC or hockey sticks models – or even cares anything about the eco-loons or governments or global warming. Next to nature man is too insignificant to even matter at all. For no man has the power to stop a single rain storm, snow storm, hurricane, tornado, nor stop the wind from decaying the mountain.

June 7, 2011 12:34 pm

It is good if forest density is increasing, no doubt about that. But it is true that deforestation does remove a significant carbon sink – which even if not directly related to CO2 increases and so called Global Warming – IS an important resource (as future fuel, if nothing else!) and needs to be used sustainably if at all possible.

Simcoe surfer
June 7, 2011 12:49 pm

“GREAT REVERSAL”!;) who would have known? Is it ok to breathe again?;)

June 7, 2011 12:53 pm

Even Bill McKibben wrote an article for Harpers or the Atlantic 10 or 15 years ago describing how the eastern half of the US is now largely forested over compared to where it had been 100 years before.

June 7, 2011 12:56 pm
Steven Kopits
June 7, 2011 12:59 pm

Something wrong over at UAH? Can’t get the graphs to print for most of the channels.

June 7, 2011 1:45 pm

I lived in the country in New England. There was a forest behind our home. I went searching for our dog one day and kneeled down to see through the thick trees and saw furrows. Probably 50-100 years ago a farmer had plowed the field and then allowed it to return to nature.

June 7, 2011 1:48 pm

Are environmentalists cheering the increasing density of forests mainly due to monoculture? This is what happens when people demonize carbon and forget everything else. This holy war against carbon seems to be diverting people from real issues. Biological diversity is important.

P. Solar
June 7, 2011 2:32 pm

Daily Mail : tits, big tits , even bigger tits, arse shot, tits, token hunk , more tits, sex scandal.
Sorry I missed the bit about climate , where was it?
Really it is impossible to take anything in that rag seriously. I really don’t see the point in posting any article published by it.
If there’s a paper lets have a link. but having the Daily Mail interpret it for me ? No thanks.

P. Solar
June 7, 2011 2:34 pm

Sounds like a negative feedback to me. But no surprise that plants grow faster with more CO2, we’ve covered that already.

June 7, 2011 3:19 pm

I believe this finding is going to be used to denude the developed nations of more billions of dollars under the REDD scheme.

June 7, 2011 4:05 pm

I wish the forests would quit sucking up so much carbon dioxide–it leaves a whole lot less for foodstuff crops to flourish on! (How’s that for being a subversive dissident when it comes to man’s impact in improving the biosphere?)

June 7, 2011 4:32 pm

One of the craftiest stunts by catastrophists is to focus on clearing and ignore regrowth. The amount of regrowth in my part of rural Australia is enormous. It has to do with efficiencies elsewhere, such as intensive agriculture and improved strains of just about everything. People, however, are trained to make scandalised utterances at the sight of some tree-felling or scrub clearance. The thousands of a acres of regrowth nearby are invisible to the person whose brain is agenda-soaked. The propagandistic jokes about parents having to explain to children what a tree looks like are not made by those who witness the ferocious sprouting of wattles on open land, followed by greedy eucalypt saplings.
The truth is that you can’t stop massive amounts of regrowth after a major canopy of older trees has been removed. Unless there is an economic imperative to keep land clear, CO2-gobbling species will run riot. Our biggest problem in future years with increasing efficiency and less need for paper will be management of forested land which is economically marginal.
How do I know? I look out my window, to areas where I can’t grow my bamboo fast enough to compete with the wattles.

Mike Hebb
June 7, 2011 4:58 pm

Forest densities aren’t increasing around here in New England. Once the canopy has full coverage a mature forest doesn’t get any denser. There’s no more sunshine to go around. I think I’m in the dark on this one.There is no undergrowth to get denser. He must be writing about some place that has been thinned , clearcut or damaged by some natural events.

Steve in SC
June 7, 2011 5:18 pm

It is called under brush.
It is a major fire hazard.
Not to mention snakes.

spangled drongo
June 7, 2011 5:24 pm

The farming area of my youth in Australia 60 years ago had mountain ranges cleared to the skyline for pasture. Today they are all naturally reforrested and growing strong.
However we will be clearing them again soon for wind turbines…..

Richard Scott
June 7, 2011 5:26 pm

I’m a forester.
I have a problem with them using the term “forest density”. What’s that? To a forester, density refers to the number of trees per unit of area of a given size. So using the term “forest density” suggests established trees are getting bigger, which is what trees usually do.
Do they really mean forested area? That doesn’t help, because if most of the forested area increase is in low productivity locations, like northern Canada where it might take 100 years for a tree to get 50 feet tall, you aren’t going to see much carbon uptake. More likely, they mean forest biomass. Even that doesn’t help much because old, slow growing trees don’t take up nearly as much carbon as young, fast growing trees of a similar size.
The concern about monocultures in regard to carbon uptake is misplaced. Monocultures are planted because they produce the biggest trees in the shortest time in a given location, which means faster carbon uptake. If you are concerned about all the critters in the forest, then the concern about monocultures has some merit, but for carbon uptake it doesn’t.

June 7, 2011 6:27 pm

I have been flying out of local airfields in western Victoria in the SE of Australia for over 50 years since I first started flying training in 1959.
The whole region is now a vast open plain [ “plains” in Australia generally mean a large, very open, quite flat area often with scattered and isolated areas of timber in many parts.] of grain fields and was before settlement in the late 1800’s, for the most part either open grasslands with scattered timber or covered with low Mallee eucalyptus scrub.
Most of this original timber and scrub was cleared for farming by the original settlers.
Today whenever I fly across the region I am struck by the contrasts in the amount and increase in tree cover between when i started flying 50 years ago and today. My own estimate is that tree cover in the region has doubled in that 50 years. Some of the increased tree cover is planted timber, not plantations but wind break strips and just plantings for aesthetic purposes by country folk and farmers. But a lot of that increased tree and native timber cover is completely natural as the number and size of trees and it’s undergrowth, a usually very overlooked part of any vegetation assessment, has increased in size and density along road sides and even within the patches of original timber around farm yards many of which the remnant timbered areas have been fenced off from livestock to enable them to regenerate and re -establish.
A very close farming relative has some 90 acres [@ aud$1,500 /acre ] like this which 40 years ago you could see without difficulty over three quarters of a kilometer across that whole area of sparse native Eucalypt timber.
Today you can barely see a hundred metres in many places in that same timbered area due to the re-growth of the large timber and the reappearance of the low undergrowth scrub and the appearance of small to tiny native plants and wild flowers that had not been seen for generation or more previously plus a huge number of native critters of every size and shape who live in that same timber now..
And this is just one instance out of a now quite common practice amongst farmers and country folk in this part of SE Australia.
There is a great myth constantly propagated by the rabid city based anti farming environmental organisations here in Australia that farmers have destroyed all the tree cover in all farming areas.
The reality is here in Australia that it is the big east coast cities with their immense expansion of area over my lifetime of some 70 plus years that have destroyed immense areas of the stands of magnificent timber in the most picturesque areas around the cities so that the same so called environmentalists can live in “harmony with nature”, in little brick box McMansions in endless rows where the great stands of magnificent trees on the hills around the city use to stand.

June 7, 2011 8:10 pm

Let’s think about this. If a given area of trees becomes more dense and stores more carbon, there will be less in the air. But trees do not grow forever and they slow thair rate of carbon storage as they age. If the trees are harvested or if they die, much of the CO2 they held will go back to the air and the effect of densification is lost or lessened. It’s transient. The only way that forestry can act as a carbon sink is for the trees to be managed to grow in their high uptake mode, and/or the area of trees in the world be increased. Sometimes this means that more valuable crops are displaced. You have to think in the longer term, say 1,000 years. What we do in the next few decades of carbon madness is not likely to be more than a pimple on the bum in 1,000 years.
Forestry is often promoted as a renewable sequestration process. It is not. Trees are made of more than carbon. If you grow them on the same patch, year after year, harvest after harvest, and take the timber away from the plot, you will run out of major and minor nutrients like phorphorus, potassium and trace elements. Phosphorus and potassium come from mining. You will have to fertilize, maybe water as well. It’s not sustainable in the pure sense that gets tax breaks.
Forestry is simply another manufacturing industry that includes a bit of nature’s growth and photosynthesis. And, for those nutters so inclined, a bit of tree hugging or spiking.

June 7, 2011 10:09 pm

The natural state is green growth – forests, bushes, weeds, grasses, – wherever there is sufficient rain and fertile soil. Any farmer can tell you that. It is hard work, and expensive too, for a farmer to keep the weeds out of his fields. It has always amused me when eco-loons rant on and on about deforestation. Stand back and watch, I tell them, and see just how fast that forest grows back. Even after wildfires, which occur regularly in many places, green growth appears quickly. That green is absorbing CO2.
What eco-loons truly hate is to be told that Southern California (where I currently live) was a desert just 100 years ago but now has millions upon millions of trees, shrubs, and grassy lawns. Water from Northern California, Mono Lake, and the Colorado River is diverted to Southern California where a part of it is used to water the landscape. Which absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere. This is, of course, a huge man-made CO2 sink.
In addition, the California Central Valley (San Joaquin Valley) also is a huge CO2 sink due to the farming supported by irrigation.

June 8, 2011 12:10 am

in 1960-63 i worked for the united states forest service. part of the time i planted trees in clear cut areas (600 trees per day and about 30 days each year).
in 1995 those trees were harvested and used to build houses in bakersfield ca.
to those who scream about deforestation: YOU MOW YOUR LAWNS DON’T YOU.

John Marshall
June 8, 2011 2:58 am

Logging in tropical rainforest is condemned out of ignorance. The local people need to make a living and cutting and selling hardwoods is their best choice. These forests will naturally regenerate very quickly and within 10 years biodiversity will be as before. Given time the hardwood trees will grow to their former size.
Before the advent of humans all forests were at threat from natural events, flood, landslides, wildfires, disease, and have always recovered. The problem with tropical soils is that without the leaf fall which happens all year, fertility is poor so land recovered for agriculture is better farmed for a year and then left for the forest to take over. This is what indigenous tribes do all the time using slash and burn, growing a few crops and then moving on.
What is important to remember is that rainforest has been in existence for tens of millions of years and the life of a forest tree is perhaps 400 years or less. So many many generations have lived and died and the forests remain.
Let the forests be used for the local people to work and get money to enrich their lives. They are only cutting down a tree that may shortly die anyway.

June 8, 2011 5:46 am

Perhaps, but the denser the forest the bigger the forest fire.

June 8, 2011 7:39 am

The study was the entire front page of the Independent on Sunday (which is pro-green), yet not one mention was made of it in any newspaper review on the BBC on the Sunday morning news. I have still yet to see a mention in any single news item on any news show in the past week, I guess they only have limited editorial time to tell us Nemo is going deaf and food prices are going up due to climate affected drought in the future as a result of co2.
The Indy should sue the DM for plagiarism seeing as they’ve ripped entire paragraphs word for word.

June 8, 2011 9:11 am

In response to the last commnet – yes, and i wish WUWT articles would stop citing the Daily mail for ANYTHING. By god in heaven please cite the original study or , failing that The Indpendent coverage (which, as previous poster points out DM plaigiarised anyway). Anything published by the DM is tainted here in the UK by their reputation of lazy journalism, plaigiariarism and downright lies. Nobody with an argument they want taken seriously should see the backing of the Daily Mail as helpful- its a case of who needs friends like these.

June 8, 2011 3:34 pm

A bit off topic I know…
From the comments; “the balmy Costa Del Forth”

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