September 24, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

Clean-Air Laws and Tree-Planting Cause Increased Air Pollution?

A major source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), precursors of ozone pollution, is tree leaves, says a report in EurekAlert.  Surprisingly, the increase in trees due to abandoned farms has worsened the pollution.  Industry-caused nitrogen-oxygen (NOx) compounds also lead to ozone, and it is not clear how these sources interact.  Nevertheless, it appears that reductions in man-made pollutants in the area from Alabama to Virginia, thanks to cleaner fuels and clean-air laws, may have been outweighed by VOC emissions from increasing density of forests reclaiming abandoned farms.  It seems ironic that plantation foresting, a bio-friendly industry, could be contributing to air pollution.  Researchers from Princeton investigating these cause-effect relationships could not help recalling President Ronald Reagan’s 1980 remark about hydrocarbons from trees accounting for about 80% of our air pollution, but they reasoned that the evidence does not prove that responsibility for pollution can be or should be shifted from humans to trees.  The authors state that the distinction between what is natural and what is human-caused is disappearing.  (See also 03/17/2003 headline.)

This story goes to show that even observable, measurable, present-day processes can be complex and can give rise to counterintuitive interpretations.  How, then, can Darwinists write so glibly about prehistoric events and processes?  Conventional wisdom would say the more trees the better.  Maybe not; maybe it depends on the tree.  The article states that certain species, like sweet gum and fast-growing pines, give off more VOCs than others, and suggest that old-growth forests are not as polluting.  Many other factors could be involved: temperature, parasites, ground cover, sunlight, geography, fire history, or even the presence or absence of animals and fungi or other ecological relationships.  Los Angeles was described as hazy long before the automobile arrived.  No one can say for sure at this point how much humans are to blame for influencing the complex factors that contribute to VOCs, Nox, ozone production and air pollution.  Beware the either-or fallacy: i.e., trees are all good, humans are all bad.  Recall the proverb that complex problems can have easy-to-understand, common-sense, simple, wrong answers.  We still have much to learn.  Maybe VOCs are not all that bad for health.  There must be a reason why the sweet smell of a forest makes us want to breathe in slow and deep, close our eyes, and say “Aahhhhh.”

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Categories: Politics and Ethics

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