NASA: Global Wildfires Drop By 25% Since 2003 – Plus Study finds Earth’s tree cover increased by 7% since 1982
"Since NASA satellites program MODIS began collecting measurements there has been a decrease in the total number of square kilometers burned each year. Between 2003 and 2019, that number has dropped by roughly 25 percent." --NASA Earth Observatory, August 2019
"News reports about the Amazon fires strike a fear that one of the last great forests is disappearing. That’s completely untrue. Forests are making a comeback! More precisely, the tree cover of the planet is increasing. Since 1982, a recent peer-reviewed paper in Nature suggests, the planet’s tree cover increased by 2.24 million km2 (an increase of roughly 7%)." --Vincent Geloso, American Institute for Economic Research, 26 August 2019
Since NASA satellites program MODIS began collecting measurements there has been a decrease in the total number of square kilometers burned each year. Between 2003 and 2019, that number has dropped by roughly 25 percent. —NASA Earth Observatory, August 2019
News reports about the Amazon fires strike a fear that one of the last great forests is disappearing. That’s completely untrue. Forests are making a comeback! More precisely, the tree cover of the planet is increasing. Since 1982, a recent peer-reviewed paper in Nature suggests, the planet’s tree cover increased by 2.24 million km2 (an increase of roughly 7%). –Vincent Geloso, American Institute for Economic Research, 26 August 2019
Since NASA satellites programme MODIS began collecting measurements there has been a decrease in the total number of square kilometers burned each year. Between 2003 and 2019, that number has dropped by roughly 25 percent.
The control of fire is a goal that may well be as old as humanity, but the systematic monitoring of fire on a global scale is a much newer capability.
In the 1910s, the U.S. Forest Service began building fire lookout towers on mountain peaks in order to detect distant fires. A few decades later, fire-spotting airplanes flew onto the scene. Then in the early 1980s, satellites began to map fires over large areas from the vantage point of space.
Over time, researchers have built a rich and textured record of Earth’s fire activity and are now able to analyze decadal trends. “The pace of discovery has increased dramatically during the satellite era,” said James Randerson, a scientist at the University of California, Irvine. “Having high-quality, daily observations of fires available on a global scale has been critical.”
The animation above shows the locations of actively burning fires on a monthly basis for nearly two decades. The maps are based on observations from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. The colors are based on a count of the number (not size) of fires observed within a 1,000-square-kilometer area. White pixels show the high end of the count—as many as 30 fires in a 1,000-square-kilometer area per day. Orange pixels show as many as 10 fires, while red areas show as few as 1 fire per day.
The sequence highlights the rhythms—both natural and human-caused—in global fire activity. Bands of fire sweep across Eurasia, North America, and Southeast Asia as farmers clear and maintain fields in April and May. Summer brings new activity in boreal and temperate forests in North America and Eurasia due to lighting-triggered fires burning in remote areas. In the tropical forests of South America and equatorial Asia, fires flare up in August, September, and October as people make use of the dry season to clear rainforest and savanna, as well as stop trees and shrubs from encroaching on already cleared land. Few months pass in Australia without large numbers of fires burning somewhere on the continent’s vast grasslands, savannas, and tropical forests.
But it is Africa that is truly the fire continent. On an average day in August, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometers (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites detect 10,000 actively burning fires around the world—and 70 percent them happen in Africa. Huge numbers of blazes spring up in the northern part of continent in December and January. A half year later, the burning has shifted south. Indeed, global fire emissions typically peak in August and September, coinciding with the main fire seasons of the Southern Hemisphere, particularly Africa. (High activity in temperate and boreal forests in the Northern Hemisphere in the summer also contribute.)
The second animation underscores how much fire activity shifts seasonally by highlighting burning activity during December 2014, April 2015, and August 2015. The satellite image above shows smoke rising from the savanna of northern Zambia on August 29, 2018, around the time global emissions reach their maximum.
Though Africa dominates in the sheer number of fires, fires seasons there are pretty consistent from year-to-year. The most variable fire seasons happen elsewhere, such as the tropical forests of South America and equatorial Asia. In these areas, the severity of fire season is often linked to cycles of El Niño and La Niña. The buildup of warm water in the eastern Pacific during an El Niño changes atmospheric patterns and reduces rainfallover many rainforests, allowing them to burn more easily and widely.
Despite the vast quantities of carbon released by fires in savannas, grasslands, and boreal forests, research shows that fires in these biomes do not generally add carbon to the atmosphere in the long term. The regrowth of vegetation or the creation of charcoal typically recaptures all of the carbon within months or years. However, when fires permanently remove trees or burn through peat (a carbon-rich fuel that can take centuries to form), little carbon is recaptured and the atmosphere sees a net increase in CO2.
That is why outbreaks of fire in countries with large amounts of peat, such as Indonesia, have an outsized effect on global climate. Fires in equatorial Asia account for just 0.6 percent of global burned area, yet the region accounts for 8 percent of carbon emissions and 23 percent of methane emissions. On October, 25, 2015, the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera aboard the DSCOVR satellite acquired an image (below) of heavy smoke over Indonesia; El Niño was particularly active at the time.
One of the most interesting things researchers have discovered since MODIS began collecting measurements, noted Randerson, is a decrease in the total number of square kilometers burned each year. Between 2003 and 2019, that number has dropped by roughly 25 percent.
If journalists as well as politicians, celebrities, presidents and the Pope can so easily slip into scientific myth and get the facts so wrong what credibility do they have on other issues of climate science?
The idea that the Amazon rain forest are the lungs of the world is so embedded in our minds that few questioned its widespread use when news about fires in the Amazon was reported this summer. The idea is everywhere – so it’s obviously true. Trees absorb carbon dioxide (bad), don’t they, and give off oxygen (good), and there are billions of trees in the Amazon, so surely it makes sense.
Responding to the fires in the Amazon the Pope has said that the, “Lungs of the forest are vital for the planet.” Emmanuel Macron tweeted, “The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produces 20% of the planet’s oxygen – is on fire.” Leonardo DiCaprio has almost 3 million likes for his Instagram posting saying, “The lungs of the Earth are in flames.” Christiano Ronaldo tweeted that The Amazon Rainforest produces more than 20% of the world’s oxygen,” adding #prayforamazonia
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas says “It’s the lungs of the Earth…which provides 20% of our oxygen.” Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister for International Climate Change tweeted he couldn’t agree with Macron more. Lib Dem MEP’s say the lungs of our planet are literally burning. Even Donald Tusk, the President of the European Commission tweeted of “…the destruction of the green lungs of Planet Earth.”
The Rainforest Alliance say, “The lungs of the world are in flames.” Friends of the Earth want a deal to stop the fires adding, “They need to say ‘we won’t do a deal with you if you are effectively condoning burning the lungs of the world’.” WWF says the Amazon is popularly known as the lungs of the world. DiCaprio’s Earth Alliance has formed an emergency Amazon Forest Fund with an initial commitment of $5 million to focus critical resources on the key protections needed to maintain the ‘lungs of the planet.’
However, as the saying goes, it’s not that simple – things never are in science. Check where the figure comes from (and it’s actually not that straightforward to do) and you will find that it’s not that simple. It’s actually wrong.
The Amazon rain forest is not the lungs of the world and they do not produce 20% of the world’s oxygen as is so often said. The Amazon rainforest is a vast, vital wonder, full of biodiversity and photosynthesizing plants producing 9% of the world’s photosynthetic output but, here is the key figure, 0% of its net output.
You could destroy all of the world’s forests and it would hardly affect our oxygen supply. In fact you could destroy every living thing on Earth and still not dent it because our atmosphere of 20.9% oxygen is the gift of geologic time, slow to build up and we have enough to last millions of years.
Yet this idea of the world’s lungs and of atmospheric oxygen needing to be refreshed and replenished, ideas unsupported by science, is everywhere.
Surely journalists would act differently from advocacy groups, celebrities and politicians and check this fact before writing and broadcasting about it. After all journalists, especially science and environment journalists who are experts in their field, always check figures and statistics? Oh no, they don’t. Just Google the phrase to see how many time it is repeated, by the BBC, the New York Times, CNN, The Australian, to name a few.
ITN in particular has risen above much of the other coverage with its over-the-top reporting. They say the Amazon is burning on a scale never seen before (nonsense). That the Amazon can never be replaced (nonsense), and that Nature is being killed (Oh come off it)!
Who spoke up?
If journalists as well as politicians, celebrities, presidents and the Pope can so easily slip into such scientific myth and get the facts so wrong what credibility do they have on other issues of climate science? Where are their science advisors? Surely they should make this mistake only once before being given proper advice. Or is it that if any of them goes against the trend they fear the condemnation? This is not the way to tackle the important environmental issues we face.
Look how much we had to go through for science to wrench our minds free of what is “obviously true” and seek proof. Is climate science, or at least the public side of it, immune from normal scientific standards? And where are the high profile, “public” scientists setting the record straight, highlighting that the Amazon rain forests are not the lungs of the world?
In the last week, there have been many reports about the fires in the Amazonian forests. Many of these reports led news shows or were on the front pages of leading newspapers. The Amazon forest, which produces about 20% of earth’s oxygen and is the world’s largest rainforest, is often referred to as “the planet’s lungs.” The nickname strikes the imagination and it is frequently used in campaigns regarding the perils of deforestation. As such, the news reports about the fire strike a fear that one of the last great forests is disappearing.
That’s completely untrue. Forests are making a comeback! More precisely, the tree cover of the planet is increasing. To be sure, it is nowhere near what it was at the beginning of the 19th century when the world’s population was below 1 billion individuals (most of whom were abjectly poor). Indeed, many forests on the planet were destroyed and cleared as population grew in number and wealth. However, globally speaking, the tree cover has begun to recover.
The transition also differs by region as some countries saw a recovery of forest much earlier. Many European countries saw the beginning of this recovery in the early decades of the twentieth century (and some began the transition much earlier). For the United States, there are some studies placing the beginning of the recovery in the 1930s but many states (especially in New England and the Middle Atlantic states) saw their forest recoveries begin as early as 1907. To be sure, some regions on Earth are experiencing falls in forest cover. This is the case for Brazil and many other Latin American countries (not all as Chile and Uruguay have already seen their forest recoveries begin). Nevertheless, the global picture is one of optimism.
And there is cause for being optimistic that the trend will continue.
Geographer Pierre Desrochers and economist Hiroko Shimizu noted that nine-tenths of all the deforestation caused by humans took place before 1950. The main reason for this was that forest-clearing was one of the easiest channels by which to increase the food supply while also providing energy.
However, as we are now vastly more productive in our agriculture, we require less land to feed the same population. The effects of productivity growth in agriculture are so strong that some agricultural scientists are speaking of “peak farmland” – the idea that we will need less and less land to feed a growing population.
Moreover, as transports and communication technologies have also improved, we have been able to concentrate production in the most productive areas of the planet in ways that explain a sizable share of total gains in productivity. As we grow more productive in farming, mankind can now leave some acres to return to nature to be reforested. With the prospect of new advances in bio-engineering, meat printing, sky-farms and other innovations, this is a force for reforestation that will only strengthen.
Cristiano Ronaldo is a Portuguese expert on forests who also plays football, so when he shared a picture online of a recent forest fire in the Amazon, it went viral. Perhaps he was in a rush that day to get out of the laboratory to football training, because it later transpired that the photograph was actually taken in 2013, not this year, and in southern Brazil, nowhere near the Amazon.
But at least his picture was only six years old. Emmanuel Macron, another forest ecologist who moonlights as president of France, claimed that ‘the Amazon rainforest — the lungs which produce 20 per cent of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire!’ alongside a picture that was 20 years old. A third bioscientist, who goes under the name of Madonna and sings, capped both their achievements by sharing a 30-year-old picture. […]
Around the world, wild fires are generally declining, according to Nasa. Deforestation, too, is happening less and less. The United Nations’ ‘state of the world’s forests’report concluded last year that ‘the net loss of forest area continues to slow, from 0.18 per cent [a year] in the 1990s to 0.08 per cent over the last five-year period’. A study in Nature last year by scientists from the University of Maryland concluded that even this is too pessimistic: ‘We show that — contrary to the prevailing view that forest area has declined globally — tree cover has increased by 2.24 million km2 (+7.1 per cent relative to the 1982 level).’
This net increase is driven by rapid reforestation in cool, rich countries outweighing slower net deforestation in warm, poor countries. But more and more nations are now reaching the sort of income levels at which they stop deforesting and start reforesting. Bangladesh, for example, has been increasing its forest cover for several years. Costa Rica has doubled its tree cover in 40 years. Brazil is poised to join the reforesters soon.
Possibly the biggest driver of this encouraging trend is the rising productivity of agriculture. The more yields increase, the less land we need to steal from nature to feed ourselves. Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University has calculated that the world needs only 35 per cent as much land to produce a given quantity of food as 50 years ago. That has spared wild land on a massive scale.
Likewise, getting people on to fossil fuels and away from burning wood for fuel spares trees. It is in the poorest countries, mainly in Africa, that men and women still gather firewood for cooking and bushmeat for food, instead of using electricity or gas and farmed meat.
The trouble with the apocalyptic rhetoric is that it can seem to justify drastic but dangerous solutions. The obsession with climate change has slowed the decline of deforestation. An estimated 700,000 hectares of forest has been felled in South-East Asia to grow palm oil to add to supposedly green ‘bio-diesel’ fuel in Europe, while the world is feeding 5 per cent of its grain crop to motor cars rather than people, which means 5 per cent of cultivated land that could be released for forest. Britain imports timber from wild forests in the Americas to burn for electricity at Drax in North Yorkshire, depriving beetles and woodpeckers of their lunch.
The share of Americans calling global climate change a major threat to the well-being of the United States has grown from 40% in 2013 to 57% this year, Pew Research Center surveys have shown. But the rise in concern has largely come from Democrats. Opinions among Republicans on this issue remain largely unchanged.
Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents overall, 84% say climate change is a major threat to the country’s well-being as of July 2019, up from 58% in a March 2013 survey. Views among Republicans and Republican leaners have stayed about the same (27% in 2019 vs. 22% in 2013).
Nearly all liberal Democrats (94%, including independents who lean to the party) consider climate change a major threat to the nation now, up 30 percentage points from 2013. Three-quarters of moderate/conservative Democrats say the same, up from 54% in 2013.
By contrast, there has been no significant change among either moderate or conservative Republicans on this issue. (While the share of moderate/liberal Republicans who see climate change as a major threat is up 9 percentage points since 2013, this change is not statistically significant at the 95% confidence level.)
The partisan trend is similar on a related question. More Americans said in January 2019 that dealing with global climate change should be a top priority for Congress and the president (44%) than did so in early 2015 (34%). But the increased interest in prioritizing climate policy stems from Democrats, not Republicans.
Two-thirds of Democrats (67%), including 83% of liberal Democrats, said this year that dealing with global climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress. This was up from 46% of Democrats in 2015.
In contrast, about two-in-ten Republicans (21%) said this year that climate change should be a top priority – a virtually identical share as in 2015 (19%).
Only when our children have developed the strongest possible level of scepticism, first introduced to the world by Charvaka and later emulated by Socrates, can they be said to have been educated.
Most adults have little or no time to investigate the claims about climate change. They either accept them, assuming that “authority figures” have done their homework, or sit on the fence.
Some consider that only scientists are supposed to understand science. But everyone has an equal place at the table of science and if our questions are not answered or the evidence doesn’t stack up, we are free to reject that “science”.
Climate alarm has long given up the pretence of any link to science. Millions have been successfully “converted” – and they get duly worked up if their belief is questioned: “have you been outside recently?”, “erratic climate events are everywhere!”, “rainfall is getting less every year!”, “flash floods, including in Rajasthan are clear proof!”.
Some of them have gone to the next stage and become missionaries. They go about distributing their religious pamphlets in schools, indoctrinating innocent lower-IQ children. Hopelessly confused children like Greta Thunberg are being churned out as a result. At an age when children like her should be learning to ask questions, they have become the brainwashed front for the climate religion. …
Sanjeev Sabhlok, Senior leader of India’s Liberal Party (SBP)
In my view, if anyone tells a child that climate change is man-made just because someone says so (such as a missionary “scientist” but now increasingly, “royals” and “celebrities”), that person has committed a sin against the enlightenment, against human progress.
I would personally have been supportive of Greta Thunberg if she had been a prodigally intelligent child who dazzled her teachers with amazing questions, then found the answers and was now promoting a view that she thoroughly understood. It would not matter to me that she had come to the wrong conclusion. After all, no one can be right on everything all the time. But she suffers, sadly, from mental issues and speaks as a missionary – she cannot answer a single question about the science.
We are very prone as a species to superstitions, panics, delusions, manias and hysterias. We have gone through thousands of them (many still underway), such as religion, alchemy, witchcraft, astrology, phrenology, eugenics, the Y2K bug, the SARS panic, much of Ayurveda and Chinese traditional medicine and all of homeopathy.
The climate hysteria will ultimately pass, but to avoid such hysterias in the future we need to get our children to start thinking and stop believing. Climate change is a superb topic for teachers and students to explore.
I stumbled upon the ideas of Socrates and Voltaire when I was a child and since the age of twelve, I have been a deep sceptic. “God” would have to pass through a thousand hurdles if “He” came by and tried to make me believe. For example, I recall being the only one staring into the eyes of Sathya Sai Baba in Bangalore in 1981 when all others had prostrated themselves before him. He obviously failed to pull a fast one over me. Today, Michael Strong, author of The Habit of Thought, is one of the few educationists who actively uses the Socratic method. Our educationists must learn from him.
I believe that children from age 10 onwards should attend one class each week only on questions. They should list various topics and then ask as many questions as they can on that topic. As they grow older their ability to ask questions will get deeper and more sophisticated.
The topic of climate change can lead to many questions. What is climate? What factors impact the climate? (Answer: at least a few hundred). How is the Earth’s temperature measured? (Long-term quality thermometer measurements have only been available in a few European and American sites, with most of them now contaminated by urbanisation. Let children also ask about satellite measurements and about the only reliable surface measurements – from the US Climate Reference Network.)
How is the sea level measured? (Let them ask whether the land itself can sink – indeed it does: it is very common.) What is the proof of the greenhouse gas effect? (Let them ask and find out that there is no robust way to prove it in a laboratory.) How is CO2 measured?
What information is needed to confirm (or reject) the CO2 hypothesis? What is the correlation between CO2 and temperature over the recent past? (Answer: very little.) What is the correlation as we stretch out to hundreds and then millions of years? (Answer: zero.) What climate “model” predictions could prove the hypothesis? What would nullify it?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of temperature and CO2 estimates of the past? (Eg tree rings, ice core, marine sediments, pollen. Tree ring data is a better measure of rainfall than of temperature, ice cores show that CO2 increased when the Earth’s wobbles first made it warmer – CO2 was thereafter ejected from the oceans.)
Are extreme events increasing? Let the children read IPCC’s reports that say: “there is only low confidence regarding changes in global tropical cyclone numbers over the last four decades”, there is “low confidence that anthropogenic climate change has affected the frequency and the magnitude of floods” and that there is a “decreasing trend in the global number of tropical cyclones and globally accumulated cyclonic energy”.