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Wow, Rob, this is an amazing paper. It should be given top billing at a conference where these issues are discussed in a sane and useful manner—instead of buzzwords, knee-jerkism, and ideology. But no, Canada’s Child King will go ahead with his zero-emissions policy, impoverish the citizens, and only make things worse.

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While approving pipelines and keeping the tar sands going.

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Roger, I think you’re missing something here. When you say “One can predict with basic certainty that if you clearcut a forest it will immediately got hotter and drier in that place, and that will effect the local and therefore regional, and ultimately global climate. One can also predict that if the forest is converted to industrial monocrop the soils will degrade and desiccate and the plantation, lacking biological complexity and hydrologic function, will become susceptible to disease and fire. One can further predict that after such a fire, the unprotected ground will be susceptible to erosive rains, losing vital soil, such that come summer it will be even more susceptible to drought, while at the same contributing to it.”

I imagined a specific place.. it depends on how large the area is. Would a 30 acre clear cut affect “global” climate? probably not. And my observations of “mono cropped” loblolly pine plantations is that they are not more susceptible to disease.. and where the economics pencils out (in the US) for plantation forestry (industrial and small landowners) tend to be relatively moist places (think PNW and SE) with moderate climates where fire is not as much a problem.

My basic point is that climate folks tend to make generic worldwide statements but the biota is ultimately pretty specific in times and places. Ultimately it’s a bit of an epistemic problem. There is an idea (which I trace to math envy) that we can understand wholes without understanding parts; we can understand “forests” by averaging over the planet, or assuming the facts of one place to apply everywhere. Otherwise the science communities who actually work with specific places and organisms and people would have to be included, including those in the less-favored parts of the world.. the center of the US; the Global South. As long as we leave scientists and practitioners out.. as long as we have the Global Gaze, we are going to be missing out on reality. IMHO.

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Thanks, Sharon. I agree about the dangers of the Global Gaze. Great term. And yes, every place is unique. You mention the PNW, and I assume you mean the Pacific Northwest. This is where I live and where my example is meant for. Research shows stream flows decreasing by 50% after a clearcut and for many years after, decades really. A thirty acre clear cut may not effect the global climate, but it will get drier and hotter "in that place." In my view, plantation forestry is destroying the PNW forest ecosystem. But yes, focusing on specific places rather than global formulas is key. I sometimes think of the climate as made up of climates.

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That's really interesting, because at Hubbard Brook, clearcutting led to increased streamflows, and there has long been interest in clearcutting for increasing water. https://hubbardbrook.org/experimental-watersheds-research-sites/watershed-101/

Happens that I shared an office with Hubbard Brookians at Yale is why I know that. And in California, there is scientific disagreement about that ... similar, but not as vehement as, climate debates, e.g. the PBS side of the story https://www.pbssocal.org/redefine/study-logging-forests-wont-increase-water-supply

So I think perhaps it would be good to be more specific.. here's aa photo of a 28 year old D-fir stand post-clearcutting. Canopies close relatively quickly in moist forests.

"So little sunlight reaches the floor, and so little wind stirs deep within the woods, that moss is the sole groundcover and creeps its way up the lower trunks of the trees."

https://www.nnrg.org/to-thin-or-not-to-thin/

Of course, not all plantations are alike.

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Well. It's complicated, and I don't claim to be an expert. But so much depends on timing. I should have mentioned that the clearcuts decreased summer streamflow, which is when we need it. Winter stream flow, on the other hand, increases with clearcutting because the water just runs off, silting in the rivers. And as you say, not all logging is the same. And I recently saw a presentation on ecological forestry which was quite interesting.

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For the winter, It seems like it would depend on the slope.. and how soon cover grows back, including grasses and forbs, which come back fairly quickly. Do you have a specific study you are referring to?

Ecological forestry has quite a history..I wrote a chapter on a book on it in... 1997! https://andrewsforest.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/lter/pubs/pdf/pub2331.pdf

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Hi Sharon: Here is the study I referred to. https://cedar.wwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2196&context=wwuet

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Maybe I'm missing something. I searched on the word "clearcut" in that study and only found only this in the citations.. "Brunengo, M., Smith, S., and Bernath, S., 1992, Screening for Watershed Analysis - A GIS-Based Method of Modeling the Water Input From Rain-On-Snow Storms, For Management and Regulation of Clearcut Forest Harvest: WA DNR Forest Practices Division, 23 p." ? It seems like a hydro prediction using downscaled climate models.

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Mar 29Liked by Rob Lewis

Two thoughts:

Firstly, I agree 147% with Roger Pielke Sr.'s comment that "working with tradesmen taught him that all expertise does not rest with PhD's". Quite the contrary. I am one, but I have encountered a significant number of damned fools with PhD's. By contrast I found that the wisdom of welders, pipefitters, crane operators and mechanics was not to be despised. When I approached them with humility, such skilled workers very often taught me more than I did them, and sometimes saved my pale pink fundament from professional humiliation and indeed physical destruction.

Secondly, there is a common assumption that industrialized humans are changing both climate and ecology away from a state of nature, and that returning to that state of nature is a desirable end goal of both climate science and the environmental movement. I question whether such a state of nature has actually existed since humankind underwent the Neolithic Revolution which invented farming. Peoples now thought primitive were altering "nature" in profound ways many thousands of years ago. When I lived in the UK, I learned that early humans built weirs and fish traps which fundamentally changed the water circulation of the Cambridgeshire fens 7000 years ago. Charles C. Mann's book "1491" makes a persuasive case that pre-Columbian Native Americans "humanized" some 25 to 45 % of the landscape of both North and South America with clearing by fire, agro-forestry, irrigation, terracing and earthworks for civilizations serving many millions of inhabitants. The State of Nature true believers strive to re-impose was lost some time around the retreat of the last Ice Age.

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Thanks, Dale and Laura. Yes, the notion of a "natural" condition is hard to pin down, as humans have been altering nature for a long time. But it's an important question. Ted Munn, who coauthored the chapter Human Activities that Affect Climate for the proceedings of the first World Climate Congress, points out that human's have so altered Earth's landscapes that we have no effective baseline for a natural climatic condition. In an essay called Another Mediterranean Climate Mystery: Santiago and Central Chile, https://theclimateaccordingtolife.substack.com/p/another-mediterranean-climate-mystery

I place the "natural" baseline as prior to Spanish colonization. The land of course was already influenced by humans, the Picunches people who were under rule of the Inca. There was already farming and animal husbandry, but it was apparently done in a way that left a well intact water cycle and functioning ecosystems that were dramatically altered within decades of Spanish colonization, with increasing harm ever since. So, while the notion of a pristine "State of Nature" is problematic, I do think we can refer to a healthy state of nature, which is that state attained by pre-contact cultures, particularly in North America, where early explorers encountered profound abundance.

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Mar 29·edited Mar 29Liked by Rob Lewis

With all the solar fields and wind turbines on land and planed for the ocean, what is the impact on the ecological climate? Even with their supposed low carbon footprint, they require a great deal more of land and ocean to produce the equivalent amount of energy compared to fossil fuel or nuclear. We are going through rushed permitting processes for thousands of offshore wind turbines, from 900 -1300 ft high, placed in millions of acres in the ocean off the east coast - on the continental shelf from 9 - 45 miles offshore. There is no thought given to the disturbance of the ocean's ecological system in the Environmental Impact Statements by the government agencies. When concerned citizens argue of the many impacts, they are told that they either don't exist (look at EU and GB offshore wind - no problems there) or there will be studies on ecological damage once the turbines are in the ocean.

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Yes. It's the amount of land that's required that concerns me. And permits are being rushed in complete ignorance of the climate effects of all that land damage. Not to mention the loss of habitat, the main driver of extinction in this country and everywhere. Shorebirds are already in steep decline. Will the turbines deliver the fatal blow?

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Mar 30Liked by Rob Lewis

Not to mention that the earth’s continental shelf represents 10% of the ocean area and contains plankton, plants and marine organisms that clean at least 30% of CO2 out of the air. Studies have shown that wind turbine blades movement will cause changes to down stream turbulence, surface wave energy, currents and upwelling which may impact the ocean’s ability to clean the earth’s air of CO2.

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Thank you for this Rob, have learnt a lot from your essays here and they continue to inform and inspire the way we manage our piece of land here in the Philippines.

We have a river that borders the north side of our property, at the moment it runs year-round and the difference it makes to our comfort is noticeable, especially in the mornings. I went down there for the first time since this very dry season began and it was as if the river hadn’t received the memo that it’s summer already.

My daughter and I camped up on the mountain range that’s the source of the river last night, a beautiful area that’s sadly lacking in any sort of visible environmental protection. There’s quarrying going on for the road and housing developments nearby, whilst “eco” parks are opened to disguise the fairly obvious pillaging. There’s barbed wire fences across hiking trails that were once free to roam for the public. Hard for any sort of protest against this in a country where activists are often “disappeared”, taken from their beds.

In the morning from our tent, I watched for a time the clouds form on the windward tip of the higher peaks and drift across the rest of the range. For a time they drifted over us also, suddenly requiring us to don all the extra clothing layers I’d brought…. and it’s the tropics!

On the hike down we passed a brutal reminder of what often passes for land stewardship here, an ex-army colonel had cleared several hectares of land on the steep side of the mountain in order to build a chicken farm. My daughter, who at 10 seems to have more sense than most people multiple times older than her, remarked the chickens would have been far happier scratching in the fallen leaves and weeds littered below the remaining forest.

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Wow, Leon. How heartbreaking and illuminating. I remember during a recent heatwave going in to a local woods that had old trees and it was like you said, they didn't get the memo about the heat wave. It was cool and none of the leaves drooped.

Awful that land defenders are disappeared there. One of my frustrations with environmentalism in America is how little attention is paid to environmental repression in other parts of the world, such as the Philippines, but also Latin America. It looks like things are going to get even worse in Indonesia too.

How delightful your daughter's wisdom. All we can do is fight for her world.

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Mar 24Liked by Rob Lewis

As I begin to understand the implications of this and be moved by both the beauty, the clarity and poetry to look up and around, I ardently want to mind my natural manners.

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Yes. Manners. Respect. Thanks, Deanna!

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Barry Lopez referred to it as the need to practice restraint. I've always loved that phrasing.

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Thanks, Jason. Lopez is my pole star. Keats had his concept of negative capability, which I think has an ecological meaning. Somehow we need to be capable of less.

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Mar 24·edited Mar 24Liked by Rob Lewis

Great article. Cool you got to converse with Pielke. Wondering if you could clarify a bit more how the land use change in the Florida peninsula affected precipitation. As it gets deforested and paved over, more of it will heat up, causing convection to rise. How does that affect the water evapotranspiring from the marshes, and then flowing to the altered land?

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Great question. That was what I thought at first. It has do with the geography. Pielke theorizes that under original, wet conditions, the middle part was often under water, with the deepest water in the center, which heats up more slowly than the margins, causing air flow from center of the peninsula outward, where it converges with the incoming sea breeze. When drained and developed, the heat simply rises and doesn't flow outward to converge with the breeze. Does that make sense?

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Mar 24·edited Mar 24Liked by Rob Lewis

Heres my way of intrepreting what Pielke is saying : if you develop the land it will also have less water, and so there is less water to evapotranspire, which means less water to converge to form rain. In addition if there is more developed land, there is a much bigger heated region, which means a much bigger convergence zone. So the air moisture when it converges to that region is then spread out much more, and so less likely to reach a humidity point that can create rain.

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I'm glad that you ended with a shout out to Lynn Margulis. I was thinking about her during your exposition. You don't need to get spiritual to understand the simple beauty of Gaia as developed by her and James Lovelock. Life is intimately involved in creating gases that have massively altered the composition of life itself. CO2 gets shortchanged as "plant food." It is the necessary chemical precursor to building out all the complexities of animal and vegetable life. It is the original and best solar power converter. Water to fill out the carbohydrate membranes that themselves are vast factories of cell growth which, weirdly enough, we can just rip into and nourish ourselves: flesh, blood, fruit, grains. Some clearly more potent than others, and some tastier, but nonetheless a miracle that the energy of life is transferable. And although oxygen get a lot of press, it is mostly just a combustable aid, as delicious as it feels atop a mountain or by the sea to fill our lungs. The real power is the simple sugars that keep us breathing.

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Thank you, Beautifully put. Life literally is sweet.

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Mar 28Liked by Rob Lewis

Fantastic essay that makes it clear, particularly in the Florida example, that land use is a major driver of climatic change relative to CO2. I notice you seem to view the altering of natural landscapes by man as inherently negative which I interpreted from your use of the word "distruction." Have I read you correctly? The value of the work you're doing, in my view, comes from a better understanding of the impacts of land use change so mitigation of any negative effects can be part of the planning and approval process.

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Thanks, Clayton. Yes, most of what we call "land change" registers to me as destruction, though as I point out, not always. For instance, when we restore land, that is also a "land change." But a good one.

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Mar 28Liked by Rob Lewis

Really interesting article. I guess I have a hidden belief similar to your position. I well remember reading many articles by Roger P snr about landscape change and such related matters, when he had a blog many years ago. I have often thought how little attention there seems to have been to such things in more recent times.

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Thank you, Mike. Yes. It really is odd how little attention has been given to the link between climate and land, something I'm trying to address.

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Excellent work, Rob. I'll put this in my links next week and hopefully send some folks over to get a deeper understanding of the unity between climate and ecology. It's an elegant way to describe the reality. Thank you.

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Mar 24Liked by Rob Lewis

Rob, excellent pulling together of information to solidify my belief that the ecology and the climate are interconnected. It makes sense and affirms the route to keeping the Climate Crisis from totally destroying our planet. But, humans are not great at making changes to the status quo - so I am not very optimistic about my grand and great grand children having a livable planet. Thanks for sharing, Rob!❤️

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Hi Kathy. I know. We humans seem hopeless, especially at the moment.

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Mar 24Liked by Rob Lewis

Well said! There's an organisation called Perspectiva whose people are working with heart and head and right relationship to bring about global change. See Perspectiva's substack.

And thank you, Rob. Your work is profound.

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Thanks, Kathryn. I will check them out.

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Thanks for a great article Rob. The paper of Pielke sits on my desk because I plan to write someting about it. But now you did it in an elegant way! I restacked your article, not that I really understand what that means!

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Thanks, Gunnar. I think restacking means it gets sent out again to the Substack network. Though I am as mystified as you by how it all works!

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Fantastic Rob, thank you so much!

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Apr 16Liked by Rob Lewis

This is an essential insight. Thank you.

"Every locale has it’s own climatic situation and it’s own land-change reality. It’s critical that people assess their particular, placed-based vulnerabilities, along with what resources they have in their landscapes to improve their situation. Switching to renewables may eventually help the carbon balance in the atmosphere, but it will do little in the short term for people where they live in ways they can feel... If we continue to treat climate-change as purely the result of globalized average warming from CO2 emissions, we deprive millions of people the understanding they need to improve their own lived conditions."

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Apr 10Liked by Rob Lewis

Much of what you've written echoes my own thoughts on environmental damage and climate change. The whole idea of man made climate change due to CO2 emissions is a great distractor. Environmental groups are ignoring the enormous harm caused by many human actions as they just look at CO2 emissions. Industry can do what it likes, destroy as much of the environment as they want as long as they can talk about 'net zero carbon'. Destroying the opposition by capturing them as collaboratorS.

A couple of thoughts: Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis describes how life changes its environment to improve its chances of survival. So the idea that the biosphere is actively involved in changing the physical environment isn't new. Also, the effects of wind and sediment transfer also happens in the sea. I dive the coasts around the UK and the water movement over seaweed covered rocks differs from that over sand. So sediment gets trapped over the rocky, seaweed areas. Life on the oceans changes the physical environment around it. In the oceans the water is also part of the biosphere. Is that also the case with air?

In other words it's a complex system of which we have little understanding, and which we fiddle with at our peril.

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