Seeing the wood for the trees

A new study in the journal Science ($) claims to have detected… “increases current estimates of global forest cover by at least 9%”, by using new “high resolution satellite images covering more than 200,000 half-hectare-sized plots” in dryland areas.

“The extent of forest area in dryland habitats, which occupy more than 40% of Earth’s land surface, is uncertain compared with that in other biomes. Bastin et al. provide a global estimate of forest extent in drylands, calculated from high-resolution satellite images covering more than 200,000 plots. Forests in drylands are much more extensive than previously reported and cover a total area similar to that of tropical rainforests or boreal forests. This increases estimates of global forest cover by at least 9%”

Sounds like very good news. But I suppose there are three niggling questions here, which immediately spring to mind.

1) Is that 9% figure within the margin of variability for a sample of 200,000 one-acre plots, from an area as massive as whole of the Earth’s dryland tree-growing areas? I mean, if you made a basic Earth model in 3D and pointed a virtual camera at 200,000 random plots, what would be the variability of the results arising simply from chance? Could I re-run it with different samples, multiple times, and then pick one result from a range of -10% to +20%?

2) What proportion of this tree cover has always been there, hiding in plain sight? And to what extent is this 9% figure measuring the carbon fertilisation effect, the ‘global greening’?

3) What part of the 9% is measuring the ‘leafing out’ of the massive tree-planting efforts in the developing world? A chart from the paper, published on a short Science blog post, sort-of-helps with that, but not much…

My hunch would be that a large chunk of of the 9% is natural re-greening in Africa and Russia, plus the huge levels of tree planting in Asia which is now ‘leafing out’ in a manner which makes the saplings visible on high-res satellite images.

Sadly the paper itself is behind a paywall, so it’s difficult to ask the above questions of it. But, effectively, it appears humanity has discovered the equivalent of ‘another Amazon’ sucking down a whole lot of carbon — something which hasn’t yet been fed into the greenhouse warming models.

Biding TIME

TIME magazine: “The Left Is Killing Itself With Pessimism”. Who knew?

The author has a new book, The Optimistic Leftist. Judging by the reviews the best the irrelevant political left can now expect is that… if they quit all their whining and moaning and lying… and if they slap on a big Jimmy Carter smile… and if they wait it out into the medium-term future (2030?) then…

“Good economic times will promote upward mobility and a sense of personal optimism” amid a quietly ideological “commitment to abundance” and to “opportunity” among ordinary people.

This, the author then ambitiously claims, will lull the elites into a dozy drift back towards a…

“orientation toward collective advance that will greatly facilitate the agenda of the broad left.”

If the left still exists, at that point.

The growing Rational Optimist genre of nonfiction

This week Inside Higher Ed (the U.S. equivalent of the Times Higher newspaper) has a glancing look at what it terms the Progress‘ and the ‘Rational Optimist‘ Genre of Nonfiction and asks…

“This is the sort of book that I think that every college freshman should be required to read. … What books would you add to a Rational Optimist genre of nonfiction?”

It’s a ‘do my homework for me’ question, but also a book promotion opportunity. Zero comments, so far.

The case for optimism in the Arab world

Macleans has a long new feature on The case for optimism in the Arab world

“The Arab Spring is not over. It has barely begun — fueled by a youth movement that will bring down the old order, one way or another”.

“A great deal of muddled thinking also distorts the way Arabs are seen in the western democracies. The “Arab youth bulge” is routinely apprehended as a harbinger of listless, semi-literate young men malingering in the cities, nursing their grievances and signing up for jihad at the first opportunity. That worry isn’t wholly unreasonable, but if it’s only a security lens you’re looking through, that’s all you’ll see. The University of Waterloo associate professor Bessma Momani, author of Arab Dawn: Arab Youth and the Demographic Dividend They Will Bring, sees something else in the Middle East, “a young region full of hope, ready for progress, and eager for a bright and prosperous future.””