Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Forgiving the Perception of the Amazon Fires


When you suspect the whole universe is fake, it is easy to suspect that any story told about the universe is fake too. So when I saw stories starting to go around talking about the Amazon rain forest burning, I knew, if I just waited a bit, certain smart people I've come to trust on such subjects would sort through the misinformation to reveal the truth...or at least the true enough. And that is what happened with the Amazon burning story.

So much of what was circulating was fake, even the photos weren't accurate. Just the premise of a rain forest burning doesn't make sense; if forests burn such forests aren't really rain forests. It turned out that the fires were mainly in agricultural areas as farmers prepared their land for planting. Most land was cleared in the past. That's normal stuff. Not exactly good but still nothing new. And not even much above average. The bigger fire month is September. Even the New York Times had the integrity to call BS: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/24/world/americas/amazon-rain-forest-fire-maps.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur

Here are the current fire stats and historical information from Brasil: http://queimadas.dgi.inpe.br/queimadas/portal-static/estatisticas_paises/

Like I said, normal still isn't exactly good. Forests suck up 2.4 billion metric tons of CO2 each year, with the Amazon absorbing a quarter of that total. That makes the Amazon an important CO2 sink. The good news though is that the CO2 cycle is still not fully understood. So there are still some potentially positive surprises to discover. For instance, grasslands and rangelands can sometimes be better carbon sinks than forests since they drive CO2 underground instead of store carbon mostly above ground in trunks and leaves where burning can release it. Trees are still very good but not the only option. Cutting down forests, using the wood and replanting the trees also has a lot of potential since young trees are a much bigger CO2 sink than older trees.

Circulating with the Amazon story was the bogus statistic that 20% of the earth's oxygen comes from the Amazon. That misinformation was spread by President Macron. To an untrained mind that stat seems believable, but a trained mind at the very least would know to be skeptical.

As skeptical environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg put it:
When people tell you the Amazon is the "lungs of the earth" they are just wrong. Ecosystems...including the Amazon...produce as much oxygen as they consume, thus their net production is about zero. Broeker pointed out long ago, that even if all plants, on land as well as at sea, were killed off and then decomposed, the process would consume less than 1 percent of the atmosphere’s oxygen.

Anyway, the Amazon burning is yet another lesson in not being fooled by the fake world and forgiving instead. Yes, protecting the environment from pollution and devastation is a wise thing to do for practical reasons. But there are many potential systems to use to get to the goal of a clean environment. And not all systems would work as well. Many potential systems would even have the opposite of the intended result. My personal preference for a system is extremely strong private property rights. If you can't pollute other peoples property, including the air above it and the water below it, pollution is merely a problem of the polluter. Instead, pollution is collectivized partly due to humans collectivizing around government. If the government allows pollution, you can't do much about it. And if a government pursues a faulty system for getting to the goal of a clean environment, you can't do much about that either...except suffer the consequences of the collective pursuit of a bad system.