Can't See the Warming for the Trees

By Steve Milloy
April 15, 2007,

If you need further evidence that hysteria is outpacing science in the global warming debate, consider the study published this week about Northern Hemisphere forests actually causing significant global warming.

Researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory reported in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” (April 17) that while tropical forests exert a cooling influence on global climate, forests in northern regions exert a warming influence — and it’s not just a trivial climatic effect.

Based on the researchers’ computer modeling, forests above 20 degrees latitude in the Northern Hemisphere — that is, north of the line of latitude running through Southern Mexico, Saharan Africa, central India and the southernmost Chinese island of Hainan — will warm surface temperatures in those regions by an estimated 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100.

Most of the warming is predicted to occur north of 50 degrees latitude — that is, north of the line of latitude running just north of the U.S. border with Canada, through Northern France, Northern Mongolia and Southern Siberia.

As the researchers explained in their media release, forests affect climate in three different ways: they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and evaporate water to the atmosphere (which increases cloudiness), both of which cool the planet.

Forests are dark and absorb sunlight (the “albedo” effect), warming the planet. In tropical forests, the net effect of these phenomena is cooling, while in Northern forests, the net effect is warming.

Although the media has largely ignored the study, it should give us plenty to think about.

First, it’s a stunning reminder that we still have a very steep learning curve when it comes to climate and how nature and man may impact it. In addition to this study, just over a year ago scientists discovered that plants emit as much as 30 percent of the annual global production of methane, the third most important greenhouse gas after water vapor and carbon dioxide.

Last fall, we learned that 5 years of cosmic ray activity could cause as much warming as 200 years of human greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s no wonder that alarmists want — and need — us to rush to judgment about manmade global warming before scientific discoveries dismantle their shaky polemic.

Next, the United Nations projects that global temperatures may rise anywhere from 2.5 to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. So exactly how does the 10-degree warming caused by Northern forests fit into the picture? Could Northern forests be a (the) major contributor to the supposed problem of global warming?

Then there are the eco-activist groups that have been spreading misinformation about Northern forests in their campaign against businesses that manufacture or sell products made from timber harvested from subarctic, or Boreal, forests.

ForestEthics, for example, claims that “Because the Boreal holds more carbon than any other terrestrial landscape, its conservation is imperative. Degrading the Boreal landscape threatens to transform the Boreal from one of the few healthy ‘lungs of the planet’ into a net climate destabilizer.”

Just last month, ForestEthics issued a report, “Robbing the Carbon Bank: Global Warming and Ontario’s Boreal Forest,” that alleged, “The logging of intact forests is one of Canada’s least recognized drivers of global warming.”

Having completely overlooked the albedo effect in its report, ForestEthics seems to have the net climate effect of Boreal forests exactly wrong. But this hasn’t stopped it from successfully attacking a variety of businesses for selling products made from Northern timber.

ForestEthics has browbeaten a long list of brand-conscious companies into commitments not to use timber from Northern forests including Apple Computer, Dell Computer, Federal Express, Hewlett-Packard, Home Depot, IKEA, Johnson & Johnson, Kinko’s, Lowe’s, Nike, Office Depot, Staples, Starbucks and many others.

ForestEthics’ most recent success came last December at the expense of Limited Brands, which was targeted with the group’s “Victoria’s Dirty Secret” campaign (Victoria Secret’s catalogues used paper made from Northern timber).

After caving in to ForestEthics, the Limited Brand’s Tom Katzemeyer said, “We’re hoping to raise the bar on the availability of environmentally friendly paper and pulp. …”

But how will Limited Brands’ “hope” ever overcome the Boreal’s albedo effect? If global warming is the dreaded catastrophe advertised by the enviros, then Northern forests hardly seem all that eco-friendly insofar as they may cause 10 degrees Fahrenheit of warming by 2100.

Finally, let’s not overlook the scam factor.

For years, global warming opportunists (aka “climateers”) urged consumers to compensate for their so-called “carbon footprints” by paying to plant trees. But as the facts slowly emerged about reforestation, the carbon-offset industry quietly backed off planting trees and moved on to other offset schemes.

One carbon-offset vendor, The Carbon Neutral Co., says on its Web site, “In those early days, the icon of a tree and its emotional appeal were critical to attract audiences. But, thankfully, the market has grown in sophistication — markedly over the last 4 years, and such obvious symbols are less necessary.”

Translation? Perhaps, “the facts have caught up with us and so we’ve changed shell games”?

Science is slowly, but similarly catching up with global warming alarmism. The only question is how the race will be won — with facts or fear?

Steven Milloy publishes and He is a junk science expert, and advocate of free enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Climate Change's Carnival Atmosphere

by Steve Milloy
February 6, 2007,

The global warming carnival hits its full stride this week in preparation for the release of the long-awaited and much-hyped United Nations report on global warming. It’s unfortunate for the climateers that this week’s climate science doesn’t live up to all the hoopla. Continue reading Climate Change's Carnival Atmosphere

Asbestos Fireproofing Might Have Prevented World Trade Center Collapse

By Steven Milloy
January 18, 2007,

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, I suggested in this column on Sept. 14, 2001 that many lives could have been saved if asbestos fireproofing been used in the World Trade Center. Continue reading Asbestos Fireproofing Might Have Prevented World Trade Center Collapse

Eco-Intimidation Bypasses Scientific Debate

By Steven Milloy
January 11, 2007,

Junk science traditionally has been pretty much of an in-your-face phenomenon. Activist-generated scary headlines that are followed by a hysterical rush to adopt new laws and regulations is standard fare.

But that may be changing. Consider the more insidious and subtle tactics of the San Francisco-based As You Sow Foundation. Continue reading Eco-Intimidation Bypasses Scientific Debate

New York City Bans Science

By Steve Milloy
December 07, 2006,

The New York City Board of Health this week banned the use of trans fats by restaurants. The decision is directly traceable back to the “research” of Harvard University’s Alberto Ascherio and Walter Willett, the promoters-in-chief of trans fats hysteria.

Now that the Board has deemed their dubious trans fats research suitable for dictating public policy, New Yorkers ought to hope that Ascherio and Willett don’t press the Board to implement some of their other published research that is similar in “quality” to their trans fats work.

New Yorkers could, for example, see restaurants banned from serving potatoes, peas, peanuts, beans, lentils, orange juice and grapefruit juice. Ascherio-Willett reported an increase in the risk of heart disease among consumers of these foods in the Annals of Internal Medicine (June 2001). Although none of those slight correlations were statistically meaningful — and, in all probability, were simply meaningless chance occurrences — a similar shortcoming didn’t seem to matter to the Board when it came to their trans fats research.

Indian restaurants could be banned from cooking with sunflower oil. Ascherio-Willett once found that consumers of Indian food cooked in sunflower oil were up to 3 times more likely to suffer heart attacks than consumers of Indian food cooked in mustard oil (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 2004).

Sure it was only one study and even they acknowledged the need for more research — but that didn’t stop Ascherio-Willett from recommending the switch in cooking oils.

Red meat might disappear, too.

Ascherio-Willett reported a 63 percent increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes associated with iron intake from red meat (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Jan. 2004). They didn’t bother to verify how much iron from red meat any of the study subjects consumed and, therefore, don’t actually have a firm basis for linking red meat consumption with the disease – but what the heck, they don’t really know the quantity of trans fats consumed by any of those study subjects either.

It’s not looking good for dairy products either. Ascherio-Willett reported in the Annals of Neurology (Dec. 2002) that consumption of dairy products was associated with an 80 percent increase in the risk of Parkinson’s Disease among men. Although they concluded at the time that the finding needed further evaluation, why should the Board wait for more research? That could take forever. If the inconsistent and contradictory trans fats research doesn’t require further evaluation, I can’t imagine why it would be necessary for dairy products.

Regular (sugar-sweetened) soft drinks ought to be history as well. Willett linked them with weight gain and diabetes in women (Journal of the American Medical Association, Aug. 25, 2004). It didn’t even matter that the same study also inexplicably linked diet soft drinks with a similar risk of diabetes.

It’s really odd that when their research inadvertently debunks itself and other food myths, almost no one learns of it. And that’s true for their trans fats research, as well.

The Board’s notice of its decision to ban trans fats tries to bolster its case by playing on popular misconceptions about saturated fat. The notice states that, “trans fat appears even worse than saturated fat.” The Board apparently isn’t familiar with the several Ascherio-Willett studies that fail to link saturated fat with heart disease and stroke.

The public’s 30-year long fear of saturated fat and the Board’s statement is, in fact, without a scientific basis. It’s simply astounding that the Board can get away with exploiting one debunked myth to help propagate another.

Just to show that not all the Ascherio-Willett research is about simply banning foods – after all, it is possible that at some point the public will tire of being nannied – the Board may want to consider requiring restaurant patrons to order caffeinated coffee with every meal. One Ascherio-Willett study reported that the risk of type 2 diabetes was reduced by a statistically significant 54 percent among men who consumed 6 or more cups of coffee per day (Annals of Internal Medicine, Jan. 6, 2004).

The Board might also want to mandate the daily consumption of pizza by men. Ascherio-Willett reported that men who consume more than 10 servings of pizza per week reduce their risk of prostate cancer by one-third (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Dec. 1995).

It’s not that either coffee or pizza is a proven “health” food – far from it – but the Board should consider their great distraction potential. Just as the ancient Roman emperors distracted citizens with bread and circuses while taking away their freedoms, the Board could easily distract New Yorkers with coffee and pizza as it dismantles consumer choice in restaurants bit by bit.

Come to think of it, why is the Board’s trans fats ban limited to restaurants? What about grocery stores and convenience shops? If trans fats are so bad, why should you be able to purchase food in a store that is too dangerous to be served in a restaurant?

The Board’s trans fats ban has dramatically lowered the bar for scientific proof. It’s such a sad spectacle that the Board of Health ought to be renamed the Bored of Science.

Steven Milloy publishes and He is a junk science expert , an advocate of free enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Cranberry Health Claims: A Thanksgiving Turkey?

By Steven Milloy
November 22, 2006,

“Research shows benefits of cranberries” proclaimed an Associated Press headline this week – a gentle nudge, I suppose, just in case you forgot to make cranberries part of your Thanksgiving dinner. Continue reading Cranberry Health Claims: A Thanksgiving Turkey?

Day of Reckoning for DDT Foes?

By Steven Milloy
September 21, 2006,

Last week’s announcement that the World Health Organization lifted its nearly 30-year ban on the insecticide DDT is perhaps the most promising development in global public health since… well, 1943 when DDT was first used to combat insect-borne diseases like typhus and malaria. Continue reading Day of Reckoning for DDT Foes?

Bald Eagle-DDT Myth Still Flying High

By Steven Milloy
July 6, 2006,

Pennsylvania officials just announced success with their program to re-establish the state’s bald eagle population. But it’s a shame that such welcome news is being tainted by oft-repeated myths about the great bird’s near extinction. Continue reading Bald Eagle-DDT Myth Still Flying High