Saturday, August 13, 2005

Down with The Economist

In one of my earlier posts, I had talked about Future Forests. Surya of Silent Eloquence was kind enough to point me to an article titled, Down with the trees in The Economist. The article basically cited two studies to draw a dramatic conclusion, "Planting trees can exacerbate drought and fail to tackle climate change"

The first study was from university of New Castle, UK. This study was about forests and water. The second was from an article published in Nature by a team of American and Brazilian scientists. This was about forests and carbon absorption

At first read, I knew there was something seriously wrong about the Economist article. I was right, the article was just cheap sensationalism.

The Economist apologized for its misleading conclusion on carbon absorption. It printed a correction. So trees do help tackle climate change. Now what about the trees "exacerbating drought" jingle. I did a little searching...

The study by University of New Castle can be found here

The aim of the study is clearly outlined in its introduction, "The ecological importance of forested lands is not being questioned and underestimated, but the need to be better informed while designing land and water management programs such as watershed development, is being emphasized"

In other words, governmental agencies should make informed policies and decisions when it comes to designing and implementing land and water management projects. Not just drumbeat that planting trees will solve every water problem and bring more rainfall. As the study points out, one needs to be aware of complex issues like local climate, average annual rainfall, native vegetation, soil properties, downstream ecology and more. Planting eucalyptus trees in an arid region or planting date palms in a tropical region is nothing but foolishness.

The study makes it very clear...Destroying an ecosystem is very easy. Recreating it takes research and a lot of effort. One thing is for sure, amateur journalism doesn't help the situation at all. Here is my letter to the editor of The Economist

This is in regards to your article titled Down with trees, dated July 28th 2005.

I have to say your article is nothing but knee jerk journalism. You have conveniently and incorrectly used two studies to draw a dramatic conclusion. I am aware of the fact that you have printed a correction. The correction still doesn't address your inaccurate conclusions about forests and droughts. You have quoted the study out of context. The study by the University of New Castle UK is clearly trying to emphasize the importance of informed and scientific decisions when it comes to water management projects. We all understand the harm of introducing non native vegetation. Such activities can only the exacerbate an already stressed ecology. So can articles like yours.

One More Reason


Jennifer said...

Great letter! I agree, the thing about trees distributing their carbon into the air didn't make sense to me, either. That is really irresponsible journalism. Great job fereting out the truth and kudos for the letter!

One More Reason said...

Thank you.

I doubt if the folks at Economist will make amends.