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RUSH: ‘Nitrogen pumped into the environment by human activities such as driving cars and farming is fertilising tree growth and boosting the amount of carbon being stored in forests outside the tropics, say researchers. Their study provides a surprising example of how one type of human pollution is helping to counter another. But the researchers caution that they do not yet know what proportion of carbon dioxide emissions are being offset by the anthropogenic release of nitrogen. Nitrogen is an important plant nutrient, widely used as an agricultural fertiliser, and two studies in 2006 suggested that its availability in nature will ultimately limit the capacity of forests to soak up human CO2,’ but it turns out they were wrong.

Now, the point of all this is not really the detail here. What this article does is bears out a couple of truths that I have tried to pound into people’s head for years: Nature will always find a way to survive. We cannot destroy it. We don’t have the means. We don’t have the intelligence, nor do we have the desire. It’s pretty arrogant of mankind to think that we can destroy the world. Now, I do. I actually think of God looking down as people watch ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and buy into it and believe it — I’m sure he has to laugh. God is laughing at liberals. If he’s not crying, God is laughing at some of these people. He’s saying, ‘You think you can mess up what I made? Go ahead and try.’ So whatever damage we do the world, nature finds a way to accommodate it, correct it, so forth and so on.

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RUSH: One more thing about this ‘Nitrogen Pollution Drives Trees to Soak Up More CO2.’ There’s a quote at the end of this story by — who is this guy? Magnani. He’s one of the researchers here. Federico Magnani of the University of Bologna in Italy. ‘Finally, in excess, nitrogen can be toxic to plants causing them to suffer more from drought. ‘When you try and manipulate nature you have to be careful,’ says Magnani. ‘Just as I would not put dust into space to shelter air from incoming solar radiation, in the same way I would not pour nitrogen onto ecosystems to soak up carbon.” Well, you don’t have to, sir. Nature is doing it for you! ‘When you try and manipulate nature…’ It gives you an idea some of the arrogance and the conceit that these people have.

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RUSH: Here’s Mark in Williamsburg, Virginia. Thank you for waiting, sir. You’ve been up there a long time, and I appreciate it.

CALLER: Oh, my pleasure. Colonial and 400th Jamestown anniversary dittoes to you.

RUSH: I appreciate that, sir.

CALLER: My y point was something you said earlier, and it was early on in the show when you said that we can’t damage our environment, and it was right after —

RUSH: I did not say that.

CALLER: Well, alright. The exact words I don’t know, but —

RUSH: Well, words mean things, and I said we can’t destroy it.

CALLER: All right, and I will agree with that. But would you acknowledge that we can do some serious localized damage to it?

CALLER: Well, of course! We can dump gasoline in the town water system and screw things up for a while. Of course we can. But we can’t change the climate. The story was that our cars and things that we do, fertilize the crops and so forth, and puts nitrogen in the air. Nitrogen goes in and helps neutralize some of the CO2. So even when we think we’re doing bad things like driving the cars, we’re actually helping the planet. The point is the planet — the ecosystem, the climate — is so much more complex and powerful than we will ever understand.

CALLER: Oh, no doubt.

RUSH: I remember having a story back in the early nineties, late eighties. Everybody at the time was worried about the Amazon rain forest, the jungle being cut down via clear cutting because the natives down here wanted to build houses and so forth, and the wackos said, ‘You couldn’t do that! You’re going to destroy the whole climate pattern,’ and they discovered that coinciding with that there was some forestation in Europe. Foliage in Europe was springing up all over the place. See, it’s a global system here. The Earth takes care. Nature is going to take care of itself, and nature is going to survive, and we are not going to be able to destroy nature. If you think that we can destroy the environment, you’re telling me we can destroy nature, and I want to know how you’re going to do it.

CALLER: I don’t believe we’re going to destroy nature. We can alter it.

RUSH: Here we go. How can we alter nature?

CALLER: Well…

RUSH: We can take like tilapia fish and we can genetically alter them so that there are more females laying more eggs because we want to eat the fish. We can alter that. We can play around with the genome. We can play around with DNA strings and that sort of thing. We’re starting to, and that’s going to be a big medical ethics issue. But in terms of the overall organism, this complex organism that’s the climate, we live in folly if we think that we can damage it. Do you believe in the ozone hole?

CALLER: Well, probably, I guess there is one, but I don’t think it affects anything.

RUSH: Well, you’re right. Well, except some people might get cancer who live where the hole is. The hole, by the way, is over Antarctica. Imagine that.

CALLER: Right.

RUSH: At the time the hole was growing, panic and fearmongering was at a fever pitch. ‘We’re all going to get UV rays! We’re not going to get skin cancer! We gotta be very, very careful. You gotta stay inside,’ blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. The point was that we were destroying the ozone and it was getting bigger and bigger and bigger. How are we doing it? Aerosol spray cans and all these things. I looked into this, and I found out, do you know what makes ozone, atmospheric ozone? Do you know what makes it?

CALLER: No, I don’t.

RUSH: The sun. So imagine in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan says to his defense secretary Cap Weinberger, ‘Cap, come in here. I want every Democrat to get cancer, and there’s only one way to do this, and that’s destroy the ozone layer,’ and Cap would say, ‘Well, Mr. President, we can’t do it. We’d have to get a big fire truck to put the sun out.’ The point is, we would have to stop the sun somehow, and if we did that, of course (which we can’t do, but if we did that), we’d all die in 24 hours.

CALLER: Well…

RUSH: I’m sure I’ve thoroughly confused you here with facts.

CALLER: No, no, no, no, no. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a charter member of the Pave the Planet Foundation. I’m trying to put as much asphalt and concrete on this world as possible.

RUSH: Well, then what are you complaining about here?

CALLER: No, I’m not complaining.

RUSH: You’re my kind of guy!

CALLER: No, I’m just trying to point out that, you know, living near the Chesapeake Bay and back in the seventies, there was a chemical plant that —

RUSH: No question. No question we polluted rivers, but we clean ’em up. We clean up our messes in this country better than any society ever has. By the way, I’ve never heard of the Pave the Planet Foundation, but I might donate.

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Nitrogen Pollution Drives Trees to Soak Up More CO2


Date:13 June 2007
Source: New Scientist
Byline: Catherine Brahic

Nitrogen pumped into the environment by human activities such as driving cars and farming is fertilising tree growth and boosting the amount of carbon being stored in forests outside the tropics, say researchers.

Their study provides a surprising example of how one type of human pollution is helping to counter another. But the researchers caution that they do not yet know what proportion of carbon dioxide emissions are being offset by the anthropogenic release of nitrogen.

Nitrogen is an important plant nutrient, widely used as an agricultural fertiliser, and two studies in 2006 suggested that its availability in nature will ultimately limit the capacity of forests to soak up human CO2 (Nature, p 440, vol 922 and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0509038103). But until now, no one had quantified the effect that human deposits of nitrogen were having on forests.


Federico Magnani of the University of Bologna in Italy and his colleagues have now done just that for temperate and sub-Arctic (boreal) forests. They looked at 20 clusters of forests, from Alaska to Italy, and Siberia to New Zealand, to see how much carbon they are storing and what is driving the growth.
Imbalanced cycle

Young, rapidly growing trees take more carbon from the atmosphere than old trees, so the researchers accounted for this in their calculations.

‘If you take away age effects, then despite the large variability between the forests in tree type and climate, you find a surprising correspondence between carbon storage and nitrogen deposition,’ says Magnani.

The researchers found that on average for every kilogram of nitrogen that is deposited on the forest floor (by rainfall, for example), an extra 400 kg of CO2 is absorbed.

If forests were an isolated system, the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere as the trees grow would be balanced over time by the release of the same gas as dead trees decompose.


‘But if you have an input from outside you break the cycle and increase one side,’ explains Magnani. In this case, the outside input comes from human nitrogen deposits, which are making plants grow faster than they decompose, and the resulting imbalance leads to net carbon storage.
Good pollution?

‘Even bad things can have a positive side effect,’ Magnani told New Scientist, ‘If we want to manage our environment in the right way for the next decades we must acknowledge both positive and negative effects.’

But he is not yet arguing that the solution to climate change is to spray forests with nitrogen. The researchers do not yet know how much CO2 is being removed by the nitrogen effect on forests, and Magnani is reluctant to make a back-of-the-envelope estimate.


He points out that the relationship they have come to – 400 kg of CO2 for every 1 kg of nitrogen – is an average, and accurate global calculations would have to take into account the age distribution of trees.
Toxic effect

European plants are thought to absorb a significant amount of CO2 – between 7% and 12% of European emissions according to a 2003 estimate.

However the new results do not apply to tropical forests, which remain one of the world’s most important land-based carbon sinks. Magnani says other nutrients, phosphorus for instance, could play more critical roles than nitrogen in the tropics.

Finally, in excess, nitrogen can be toxic to plants causing them to suffer more from drought. ‘When you try and manipulate nature you have to be careful,’ says Magnani. ‘Just as I would not put dust into space to shelter air from incoming solar radiation, in the same way I would not pour nitrogen onto ecosystems to soak up carbon.’

Journal reference: Nature (vol 447 p 848)

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