Climate Change Impacts on Ontario Forests & More on Kyoto

Issue: 
July-August 2008

IN THIS ISSUE'S CLIMATE CHANGE FOCUS, we profile the topic from two very different sources. First, we summarize the Government of Ontario’s position on climate change and present a synopsis of the wealth of information they have available on their website. Included are excerpts from their Forest Research Information Paper No. 143 that will be of interest to arborists. Second, we reprint a recent article by Lawrence Solomon regarding the large academic community who are against the Kyoto Accord. Solomon is one of Canada’s leading environmentalists, a regular columnist for the National Post, former columnist at The Globe and Mail and past editor of The Next City magazine. His book, The Conserver Solution (Doubleday), which popularized the Conserver Society concept in the late 1970s, became the manual for those interested in incorporating environmental factors into economic life. Solomon has since been at the forefront of movements to reform foreign aid, stop nuclear power expansion and toll roads. He is currently best known as a denier of global warming. He is a founder and managing director of Energy Probe Research Foundation and the executive director of its Urban Renaissance Institute and Consumer Policy Institute divisions. His most recent book, The Deniers (Richard Vigilante Books, 2008), has received a great deal of press worldwide.

Government of Ontario Climate Change Studies
As stated on their website, Ontario continues to be a leader in efforts to improve air quality and address climate change. Ontario supports a national process that will allow Canada to continue to fight climate change. Meanwhile, the province continues to take action now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and study the potential impacts of climate change.

Developing new initiatives and building on existing programs, the Ontario government is committed to ensuring the momentum for clean air actions in the province continues. The following is a sampling of research Ontario is undertaking to address climate change. Extensive information on each is available online.

• The Impacts of Climate Change on Ontario’s Forests
• Quantifying Ontario’s Forest Carbon Budget: Carbon Stocks and Fluxes of Forest Ecosystems in 1990
• Critical Review of Historical and Current Tree Planting Programs on Private Lands in Ontario
• A Review of Current and Potential Seedling Production in Ontario for Afforestation
• Options for Allocating Afforestation Stock in Ontario with Anticipated Climate Change
• Greenhouse Gas Reductions and Credits Through Biodiversity Conservation Projects: State of Science for Estimating, Measuring and Auditing Carbon Reserves

Excerpts From ‘The Impacts of Climate Change on Ontario‘s Forests
It is clear that the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last two centuries is due to human activities. Despite current uncertainty as to the absolute effects of these gases on the earth’s climate and biota, there is compelling evidence to support assertions that global climate change is a serious threat to the biosphere. A significant warming of the earth’s atmosphere is currently occurring, with the period since 1980 being the warmest in the past 200 years. In fact, global average temperatures for January to May 1998 indicate the spring of 1998 was the warmest in the last 1,000 years.

All areas of Ontario will experience a doubling of atmospheric CO2 in the latter half of the next century and this is expected to increase temperatures, with the greatest temperature increase predicted in northwestern Ontario. Precipitation in Ontario is expected to decrease in the northwest and south and increase in the northeast. The warmer and drier conditions expected in northwestern and southern Ontario will favour species that are more tolerant of periodic drought. Based on their physiology, more frequent and severe drought will affect the growth of the following tree species in northwestern Ontario increasingly in the order: jack pine (least negatively affected), white spruce, aspen, and black spruce (most negatively affected).

Increased carbon dioxide, drought, and temperature will affect the growth and survival of plants by altering their physiological behaviour. The genetic structure of plant populations may be affected by altered selection pressures resulting from a changed environment, and species with larger genetic variability are likely more adaptable to a variety of climate conditions and as a result may be more successful. Competitive abilities of plant species now present in Ontario’s forests may change, with some species becoming more competitive and others less so (e.g., herbaceous plants are favoured by increased CO2 compared to woody plants).

Productivity and timber supply in northwestern and southern Ontario may decline due to increases in drought, forest fires, insects and disease. However, this could be partially offset by increases in growth rates accompanying higher CO2 levels, warmer temperatures, and a longer growing season. Increases in precipitation in northeastern Ontario along with higher CO2 levels, increased temperatures and longer growing season could significantly increase productivity and timber supply in that region.

Over hundreds of years, plant species may migrate northward. In one scenario, tolerant hardwood forests of central Ontario may migrate as far north as Kapuskasing. Species, such as those of the oak-hickory forests of the central U.S., may eventually migrate into what is currently the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forest. However, differing migration rates and the reactions of individual species to new environmental conditions could result in new plant species mixes for which we lack forest management experience.

Forest management offers some means of reducing negative impacts to forests if the anticipated levels of climate change occur. Thinning to reduce moisture stress and early harvesting of stands deteriorating due to stress, followed by planting with more climatically adapted populations and species could help maintain higher levels of productivity. Climatic adaptation could be increased through tree breeding aimed at increasing pest and stress tolerance.

Forests are important for their role in absorbing and storing carbon from the atmosphere. Although not presently a stated goal, carbon sequestration (storage) could in the future become an objective of forest management. Carbon sequestration is maximized by silvicultural practices that increase tree growth rates but release little carbon through the burning of fossil fuels. Process-based models of specific elements of forest eco-systems will be needed to predict the effects of climate change and consequently to develop forest management practices that will minimize negative effects on Ontario’s forests.

Regardless of some continuing disagreement over the extent of the effect of greenhouses gases on future global temperatures, the increase in atmospheric CO2 will by itself be sufficient to substantially alter forest ecosystems in Ontario. Some effects of climate change and increased atmospheric CO2 will be insidious and progressive. For example, changes in the competitive ability of different plants may already be undergoing changes in a slow, progressive manner. However, such changes might not be apparent without careful monitoring of plant species abundance and growth rates.

Other ecosystem changes, such as long-range species migration, might not be observed for hundreds of years. Because of the uncertainty over the timing and extent of climate change and its effects on forest ecosystems, we propose that “no risk” forest management practices (i.e., practices that increase the resilience of forests to climate variability, such as the protection of genetic diversity) be identified now and, where feasible, implemented to minimize the potential negative impacts of climate change and increased atmospheric CO2 on forests in Ontario. More dramatic responses to climate change (e.g., the large-scale planting of southerly genetic sources and species hundreds of kilometres north of their present ranges) should be considered once improved regional climate change projections are made.

Sidebar: Species Differences (Plant Responses to Carbon Dioxide)

Relative physiological responses of competing forest plant species to climate change can be as important as absolute species responses. “Response hierarchies” based on plant physiological responses to increased CO2 have been developed by Körner (1993). In general, increased CO2 will favour evergreen species less than deciduous woody species, which will in turn be less favoured than perennial species (e.g., fireweed, raspberry, and grasses). Annual herbaceous species will be most favoured by increased CO2 . Elevated CO2 will favour seedlings more than young trees and young trees more than old trees. Late successional species (e.g., maple, yellow birch, white spruce, white pine) will be less favoured than early successional species (e.g., aspen, poplar, oak, jack pine, black spruce). Species with small or infrequent seed and fruit crops (e.g., black spruce, aspen) will be less favoured than species with large frequent seed and fruit crops (e.g., oak, white pine). Nitrogen-fixing species will be more responsive to elevated CO2 than non-nitrogen-fixing species, and mycorrhizal species more so than non-mycorrhizal species. In terms of forest sites, elevated CO2 levels will favour plants growing on non-nutrient deficient and warm soils over those on nutrient deficient and cold soils. Similar response hierarchies are needed to understand the effects of increased temperature and drought on Ontario forest species.

Lawrence Solomon’s 32,000 Deniers
That’s the number of scientists who are outraged by the Kyoto Protocol’s corruption of science.

Question: How many scientists does it take to establish that a consensus does not exist on global warming? The quest to establish that the science is not settled on climate change began before most people had even heard of global warming.

The year was 1992 and the United Nations was about to hold its Earth Summit in Rio. It was billed as – and was – the greatest environmental and political assemblage in human history. Delegations came from 178 nations – virtually every nation in the world – including 118 heads of state or government and 7,000 diplomatic bureaucrats. The world’s environmental groups came too – they sent some 30,000 representatives from every corner of the world to Rio. To report all this, 7,000 journalists converged on Rio to cover the event and relay to the publics of the world that global warming and other environmental insults were threatening the planet with catastrophe.

In February of that year, in an attempt to head off the whirlwind that the conference would unleash, 47 scientists signed a “Statement by Atmospheric Scientists on Greenhouse Warming,” decrying “the unsupported assumption that catastrophic global warming follows from the burning of fossil fuels and requires immediate action.”

To a scientist in search of truth, 47 is an impressive number, especially if those 47 dissenters include many of the world’s most eminent scientists. To the environmentalists, politicians, press at Rio, their own overwhelming numbers made the 47 seem irrelevant.

Knowing this, a larger petition effort was undertaken, known as the Heidelberg Appeal, and released to the public at the Earth Summit. By the summit’s end, 425 scientists and other intellectual leaders had signed the appeal.

These scientists – mere hundreds – also mattered for nought in the face of the tens of thousands assembled at Rio. The Heidelberg Appeal was blown away and never obtained prominence, even though the organizers persisted over the years to ultimately obtain some 4,000 signatories, including 72 Nobel Prize winners.

The earnest effort to demonstrate the absence of a consensus continued with the Leipzig Declaration on Global Climate Change – an attempt to counter the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. Its 150-odd signatories also counted for nought. As did the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship in 2000, signed by more than 1,500 clergy, theologians, religious leaders, scientists, academics and policy experts concerned about the harm that Kyoto could inflict on the world’s poor.

Then came the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine’s Petition Project of 2001, which far surpassed all previous efforts and by all rights should have settled the issue of whether the science was settled on climate change. To establish that the effort was bona fide, and not spawned by kooks on the fringes of science, as global warming advocates often label the skeptics, the effort was spearheaded by Dr. Frederick Seitz, past president of the National Academy of Sciences and of Rockefeller University, and as reputable as they come.

The Oregon petition garnered an astounding 17,800 signatures, a number all the more astounding because of the unequivocal stance that these scientists took: Not only did they dispute that there was convincing evidence of harm from carbon dioxide emissions, they asserted that Kyoto itself would harm the global environment because “increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.”

The petition drew media attention, but little of it was for revealing to the world that an extraordinary number of scientists hold views on global warming diametrically opposite to those they are expected to hold. Instead, the press focussed on presumed flaws that critics found in the petition. Some claimed the petition was riddled with duplicate names. They were no duplicates, just different scientists with the same name. Some claimed the petition had phonies. There was only one phony: Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, planted by a Greenpeace organization to discredit the petition, and was soon removed. Other names that seemed to be phony – such as Michael Fox, the actor, and Perry Mason, the fictional lawyer in a TV series – were actually bona fide scientists, properly credentialled.

Like the Heidelberg Appeal, the Oregon petition was blown away. But now it is blowing back. Original signatories to the petition and others, outraged at Kyoto’s corruption of science, wrote to the Oregon Institute and its director, Arthur Robinson, asking that the petition be brought back.

“E-mails started coming in every day,” he explained. “And they kept coming. “ The writers were outraged at the way Al Gore and company were abusing the science to their own ends. “We decided to do the survey again.”

Using a subset of the mailing list of American Men and Women of Science, a who’s who of Science, Robinson mailed out his solicitations through the postal service, requesting signed petitions of those who agreed that Kyoto was a danger to humanity. The response rate was extraordinary, “much, much higher than anyone expected, much higher than you’d ordinarily expect,” he explained. He’s processed more than 31,000 at this point, more than 9,000 of them with PhDs, and has another 1,000 or so to go – most of them are already posted on a website at petitionproject.org.

Why go to this immense effort all over again, when the press might well ignore the tens of thousands of scientists who are standing up against global warming alarmism?

“I hope the general public will become aware that there is no consensus on global warming,” he says, “and I hope that scientists who have been reluctant to speak up will now do so, knowing that they aren’t alone.”

At one level, Robinson, a PhD scientist himself, recoils at his petition. Science shouldn’t be done by poll, he explains. “The numbers shouldn’t matter. But if they want warm bodies, we have them.”

Some 32,000 scientists is more than the number of environmentalists that descended on Rio in 1992. Is this enough to establish that the science is not settled on global warming?

— Reprinted with permission of the author from the Financial Post, May 17, 2008

For Further Information

In addition to visiting the following sites, a wealth of information can be found by “googling” Lawrence Solomon, climate change and forests, global warming, etc. As always, we’d love to hear your opinion. Drop us a line!

www.energyprobe.org
www.ene.gov.on.ca/envision/air/climatechange/index.htm

Our mission is to enhance and promote the care and benefit of trees for present and future generations in Ontario through education, research and awareness.