Thursday, June 18, 2015

In which Judith Curry reads an article

. . . which turns out to be wrong.

Apparently, while visiting the UK, Curry read an article about how greedy biomass-burning greens are destroying everything, leaving the virgin forests of Britain an apocolyptic hellscape. Skeptic that she is, she swallows this premise whole and reguritates for her readers, despite the fact that literally ten seconds of Googling shows it to be pure fiction.

But first, the heart-wrenching tale of a rabid biomass industry run amok [Trigger warning: graphic scene of 50 trees being cut down]:
But what ex-teacher Pountney and Wilson saw looked to them like utter desolation. They came across a stand where about 50 mature oaks, some 300 years old, had been felled the previous winter. Their trunks lay in ragged piles, some sawn into roundels.
The oaks’ fate, the Trust has confirmed, was to be burnt: as ‘sustainable’ heating fuel in log-burning stoves – a market which is expanding rapidly. According to trade group HETUS, almost 200,000 such stoves are installed every year – a five-fold increase since 2007.
 Those fifty trees become the core evidence for the claim that biomass fanatics have sent England into a downward spiral of desertification set to cumulate in a "Mad Max" style countryside.

[And then we spend the aforementioned ten seconds fact-checking.]

Surprisingly, not so:

England's forests and woods had dwindled to just 5.2% by 1905.

The first world war was the low point, and in 1916 Herbert Asquith's government established the Acland committee to study the problem. They said England desperately needed to replenish and maintain "strategic reserves of timber", and within a few years the Forestry Act would lead to the establishment of the Forestry Commission to carry this out.

In the years since, a steady programme of afforestation has increased England's forest cover back to 13% – not far off the levels of 1,000 years ago. To put that in context, many other European countries average about 37% coverage, so England still has one of the continent's lowest levels. But the commitment to afforestation is clear, with modern English foresters using a wide variety of native broadleaf, conifers and species that could thrive in our changing climate.
How is that Britain's forest cover continues to expand, having more than doubled in the course of the 20th century? Private owners making use of generous tax breaks:

The new Forestry Commission report, conducted for the UN’s food and agriculture department, disclosed that the amount of woodland owned by individuals now accounts for almost half of all our tree cover, having grown by 22 per cent in 15 years, the Sunday Times reported.

Those buying woodland as an investment have found that it has outperformed shares and commercial property in recent years, with an annual return of 5 per cent. Once owned for two years, it is except from inheritance tax.

Proceeds from the sale of timber are also exempt from income tax and corporation tax and there is no capital gains tax on the growth of value in tree crops.
So the United Kingdom uses tax policy to make forests an attractive investment, with the result that private landowners turn over more of said land to forest, with the result that there is more forest. But, wait! Somewhere in this country of 64 million people, someone cut down 50 trees. Teh horror.

Weak sauce, former scientist/professional fake skeptic Judith Curry.