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How green a planet will Earth become?

British scientist and journalist Matt Ridley noted in a column titled "How Fossil Fuels Have Greened the Planet," that scientists have observed something unexpected.

Comparisons of contemporary satellite pictures of the Earth to those taken 30  years ago show the globe is getting greener.

"In the 1980s forest biologists started to report striking increases in the growth rates of trees and the density of forests: in Douglas firs in British Columbia, Scots pines in Finland, bristlecone pines in Colorado and even tropical rain forests," Ridley wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

There are benefits to burning fossil fuels. Carbon-based fuels are contributing to a greener planet.

"The latest and most detailed satellite data, which  is yet to be published but was summarized in an online lecture last July by Ranga Myneni of Boston University, confirms that the greening of the Earth has now been going on for 30 years," Ridley wrote.

"Between 1982 and 2011, 20.5 percent of the world's vegetated area got greener, while just 3 percent grew browner; the rest showed no change."

Undoubtedly some of this reflects the reduction of the more toxic air pollutants that the world faced a half-century ago. The catalytic converter has greatly reduced production of smog, for example.

Scientists have long known that carbon dioxide production peaks in the winter in the Northern Hemisphere and drop considerably in the summer as plants consume the scarce gas to use in photosynthesis.

Ridley observes that the world is getting greener thanks to burning of fossil fuels.

"The inescapable if unfashionable conclusion is that the human use of fossil fuels has been causing the greening of the planet in three separate ways: first, by displacing firewood as a fuel; second, by warming the climate; and third, by raising carbon dioxide levels, which raise plant growth rates," he wrote.

Just another question for today's policymakers:

What long-term effects will that have?


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