Archive for the ‘Forestry’ Category
From today’s Guardian:
US researchers calculated that converting natural ecosystems to grow corn or sugarcane to produce ethanol, or palms or soybeans for biodiesel, could release between 17 and 420 times more carbon than the annual savings from replacing fossil fuels.
This is due to the carbon contained in the original plants and soils which is released as CO2 when the vegetation rots after it is cleared. The researchers said this carbon debt must be paid before biofuels produced on the land could count towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In Indonesia the researchers found that converting land for palm oil production ran up the worst carbon debts, requiring 423 years to pay off. Producing soybeans in the Amazon would take 319 years of soy biodiesel to offset the carbon debt.
Honestly, I wouldn’t have thought people needed this explained to them. Carbon is emitted anyway – our problem is emitting it so bloody quickly, burning things. It’s still emitted as nature dies and breaks down. Burning out or otherwise clearing land for biofuels is most certainly going to convert living matter to dead matter – releasing all its stored carbon in the process.
Getting back to the article, we see that markets are at the heart of the problem – and the solution:
Stephen Polasky of the University of Minnesota, one of the authors of the study, published today in the journal Science, said: “We don’t have proper incentives in place because landowners are rewarded for producing palm oil and other products but not rewarded for carbon management. This creates incentives for excessive land clearing and can result in large increases in carbon emissions.”
So what happened? Basically, the pressure to establish a market to counteract the non-market externalities of energy-generation (including the use of oil, but we’ll lump all fossil fuels together – why not?) has given us a market that itself has non-market externalities. The solution? Austrian Economists, where are you when we need you? There are two arguments:
First, this would seem to indicate that the pressure to establish “solutions” is, potentially, doing more harm than good. Perhaps we need to back the hell up. Does a bull ever have good luck in a china shop? We need to ease off, sit down and realise that accuracy over speed will be what saves the planet in the long run.
We need to give more consideration to the sorts of market mechanisms we would like to use to overcome the tragedy of the commons (the depletion of fossil fuels: it is the intensity of this depletion that is both leading to things like Peal Oil as well as creating the condition for so-called Catastrophic Climate Change (I say “so-called” because it is a term of art, not because I dis-believe the sentiment)).
Second, or alternatively, we need to plow ahead, tacking markets onto markets onto markets. I’ve no doubt that throwing market incentives into this market to deal with the follow-on environmental costs will probably generate another set of unintended outcomes – it always does. This argument would base its urgency upon the urgency of the problem, and the absence of time to wait.
I favour the first, personally – or a variation thereof. When we make certain crops highly valued, that incentive will overcome most others – how do you think these problems arose in the first place? Farmers in middle-income countries don’t consider their contribution to the global problem (anymore than first-world agriculturalists): they respond to the enormous difference the market will make to their household income. Once those trees are gone, however, they’re gone – land cannot be un-burnt (trust me: I’m Australian). Reclaiming and de-pastorialising land takes a bloody long time.
Mostly, I take this as more evidence that biofuels are shit. We aren’t trying to ‘fix’ our energy problem: we’re trying to stay behind the wheels of our cars as long as possible. The reason I think we need to step back and reconsider is because the problem we’re trying to solve is such a narrow and self-interested one.
This is almost becoming a theme. The commodification and market-formation of carbon-trading has been discussed previously (here and here). So, too, the idea that the environment provides a service that should be supported (given that resource depletion depletes also the ability of the environment to provide that service).
Reduced Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries, or REDD, did well at the climate talks in Bali, a short while back. REDD is a deforestation-reduction trading scheme – paying local landowners not to cut down their trees (or not to sell their land to those who will cut down their trees). This follows, say, regulation that prevented the same (hence all the burning of the land – no trees, no trees to cut down, no law broken. The Asian “Brown Cloud”, of course, somebody else’s problem).
Deforestation of this type, one way or the other, accounts for an estimated 18 percent of global human-induced greenhouse (GHG) emissions – the second largest source of anthropogenic emissions, behind energy consumption. So the need to do something is acknowledged (more or less).
China Dialogue has an article running through criticism of the REDD model:
REDD and its closely allied “Payments for Ecosystem Services” hope to put a price on standing forest by tying forest protection to market mechanisms. The logic is that if the price is set high enough, there will be more interest in protecting forests than in logging or selling plantation rights. However, there are several problems with this logic.
First, the scheme depends primarily upon carbon trading to generate its funds; a system which has proved to be so inherently dysfunctional that after eight years of the World Bank Prototype Carbon Fund and two-and-a-half years of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Joint Implementation (JI) and European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) the global rate of emissions increases from fossil fuels has doubled and emissions are rising in virtually all developed countries. Using markets does not deal with the drivers of destruction or put in place adequate safeguards to ensure ecosystem protection.
The Kyoto Protocol left rainforests out of carbon trading for well-founded reasons that have still not been addressed. These include the illegitimate transfer of land rights and the displacement (or “leakage”) of logging into new, often pristine regions.
Needless to say, they are not fans. The authors are from Biofuel Watch – a UK-based campaign “against the use of bioenergy from unsustainable sources, i.e. biofuels linked to accelerated climate change, deforestation, bio-diversity losses, human rights abuses, including the impoverishment and dispossession of local populations, water and soil degradation, loss of food sovereignty and food security.”
So – there is a bias here. The signal is not the message, and the message is not the information that would have been to hand. A couple of things about the complaint. First:
There is evidence that deforestation bans and moratoria can work: China, Thailand, Costa Rica and Paraguay have all implemented at least partially successful bans or moratoria. Paraguay achieved an 85% success record in its eastern territory within a single year. Logging companies and some governments are even now calling for payments for non-deforestation. One reporter writing for the Jakarta Post in Bali responded by describing REDD as a set-up for “blackmail”.
Deforestation bans, however, will only work comprehensively if the underlying causes of deforestation are addressed at the same time. The over-consumption of agricultural and forest products, the current rush to biofuels, the corruption and the lack of guarantees for protection of land rights of indigenous and other forest peoples all need to be addressed.
The first part is fine, as far as it goes – which isn’t far. I can police my backyard, sure – but that hardly means me and a cricket bat, or a dozen people so armed, can handle a few blocks. Or the alley full of pimps and dealers. Expansion of the system into meaningfull levels of reduction is the key.
The second is also fine, as far as it goes – again, though, we cannot wish away the tendency of people (in worlds 1st to 3rd) to want more than resources can sustainably supply. The external costs are too far from home. We need to figure out a solution, given that people are, on aggregate, trying to kill their own planet.
Bali saw a strong call for a systemic approach to stabilising climate and protecting forests by Friends of the Earth International, the Global Forest Coalition, the World Rainforest Movement, Via Campesina and nearly 60 other organisations who signed the Forest Declaration. The declaration calls for a genuine solution, which combines the twin needs of verifiable fossil-fuel emissions cuts and the total protection of old growth forest ecosystems.
This is also fine, as far as it goes – but you’re not impressing me by telling me that Friends of the Earth International signed such a declaration. White supremacy doesn’t work because KKK-freaks sign a declaration – it fails because the rest of us, with the power, refuse. For a system to work the biggest, worst polluters/emitters have to be on-board. It just won’t work without them.
We don’t like hearing this. We don’t like knowing that the best system for global emission reduction is held hostage to the favour of the people least-inclined to acknowledge or address the problem. Sometimes, though, that’s the way it goes.
There is another flaw in these arguments, which – although I criticise such models, often – is worth pointing out. This is new technology; these markets are young and quite small, relatively speaking. We weren’t killing children born in 1941 because they could fight the war, were we?
This is a similar problem with the Copenhagen Consensus (and that is a link worth following, even though I disagree with some of the outcome): its assumptions. First, that the solutions to climate change are the one’s listed: we know, now of newer and better solutions. Why? New technology, new information.
Similarly, the assumption that a technology will do a certain amount of good, for so long, is flawed. Technological change is endogenous. Reward it, and you promote technological innovation. Increase innovation, and you will most likely get a technological change that increases the effectiveness of achieving the solution. Keep pursing renewables, and you’re likely to hit upon an energy harvesting/storing method (see the latest in batteries) that lets us base-load a grid. Keep trying markets and, through information and synergy, one that works the most efficiently (since all markets are inefficient) will, eventually, emerge.
As Bjorn Lomborg explains in the afore-linked TED talk, the problem at the moment is that we persist in doing nothing, or doing nothing very well.
These authors are correct: such schemes as these are designed to foster economic growth, and economic growth leads to greater resource use. However (a) it doesn’t need, necessarily, to lead to greater resource depletion, and (b) any scheme designed to foster economic decay, decline or atrophy has zero chance of success. So.
Satellite imaging has revealed that hurricanes Katrina and Rita produced the largest single forestry disaster on record in the US – an essentially unreported ecological catastrophe that killed or damaged about 320 million trees in Mississippi and Louisiana.The die-off, caused initially by wind and later by weeks of pooling of stagnant water, was so massive that researchers say it will add significantly to the global greenhouse gas build-up. Ultimately it will put as much carbon from dying vegetation into the air as the rest of the nation’s forest takes out in a year of photosynthesis.
I had been wondering about this. Trees are basically waiting to exhale: yout cut one down, it dies, it releases the carbon dioxide that it had held as a living plant. Then, sure, you burn it and matter become worse. The logging, though, generates its own CO2 problem (I believe George Monbiot taught me that). I didn’t think it would come to 320 million trees, though.
To make matters worse:
… the drowning of so many trees has opened vast and often fragile tracts to several aggressive and fast-growing exotic species that are already squeezing out environmentally productive native species.
Efforts to limit the damage have been hindered by the ineffectiveness of a $US504 million ($569 million) federal program to help Gulf Coast landowners replant and fight the invasive species. Congress appropriated the money in 2005 and added to it this year, but officials concede it got off to a slow start and only $US70 million has been promised or dispensed so far. Local advocates blame bureaucratic hurdles and low compensation rates.
“This is the worst environmental disaster in the United States since the Exxon Valdez accident … and the greatest forest destruction in modern times,” said James Cummins, the executive director of the conservation group Wildlife Mississippi.
“It needs a really broad and aggressive response, and so far that just hasn’t happened.”
The lead author on the study (forthcoming in Science) is Jeffrey Chambers. His website contains some discussion of the work:
Dramatic variability in Katrina-induced mortality in the Pearl River basin. Cypress-tupelo swamp forests in swales and other low-lying sites experienced little damage whereas adjacent bottomland hardwood forest suffered extremely high mortality (high resolution aerial imagery from LSU’s GIS Information Clearinghouse). Initial results from this project will be published in the 16 Nov 2007 issue of Science.
The Louisiana State University’s GIS site is pretty bloody impressive. With a 20Tb database, I imagine it’d want to be.
One wonders whether, with more information on the ecological consequences of the hurricanes still occurring (rather than the trees being considered a write-off), more/better attention/financial support will be given to the problem.
Giant pandas living in the wild in the misty mountains of southwest China are facing a possible food shortage as bamboo plants, their staple diet, near the end of their lifespan, state media said on Monday.
The mountainous region witnessed extensive blossoming of the arrow bamboo, the pandas’ favorite, in 1984 and 1987, when the plants flowered, seeded and died. Hundreds of the endangered animals died of starvation.
One gets the impression that this is a somewhat predictable, possibly even manageable, phenomenon. One would therefore think that steps really ought to have been taken before we started seeing the bamboo flowering, suddenly remembering the Pandas’ food is about to die off.
Two articles on management – fisheries, land and wildlife – in the Guardian:
Cod levels in the North Sea are showing signs of recovery, but limits must be enforced to ensure it continues, experts warned today.
For the first time in six years, the annual report on fish stocks in the north east Atlantic by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices) has not called for a complete ban on North Sea fishing.
To continue this recovery, Ices, which advises governments on fishing quotas and coordinates marine research in the North Atlantic, has recommended that catches be limited to less than 50% of the 2006 catches in the North Sea, Eastern channel and Skagerrak, an area off the coasts of Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
Cod fishing in Kattegat, the Irish Sea and the west of Scotland, should be reduced to zero as the stocks are at dangerously low levels, Ices warned.
The committee of scientists said overall removals – including fish landings, discards and unaccounted-for removals – of less than 22,000 tonnes would allow the fish stock to recover to the minimum target of 70,000 tonnes by 2009.
Being neither a catcher nor an eater of fish, I wouldn’t say I’m directly invested in this sort of thing. Being a human being, I’m at least indirectly dependent upon life in the sea to sustain life on land (not least through the oxygen it makes for me). As an econometrician, I find the pursuit of the metrics of fish wonderful:
Ices calculates whether a stock is considered to be within safe biological limits by looking at its spawning stock biomass, estimates of fishing mortality and catch estimates. Ices classifies cod as being “at risk of being harvested unsustainably and suffering reduced reproductive capacity”.
That sounds like so much fun.
On to birds!
The decision this summer by the EU to reduce “set-aside” land across Europe in a bid to increase next year’s wheat crop by 10m tonnes will have a direct impact on populations of specialist farmland birds like the yellowhammer, grey partridge and skylark, the RSPB said.
The claim comes as new government figures show that populations of specialist farmland birds – birds that breed or feed mainly on farmland – have declined to a record low.
The RSPB called on the government to make more funding available for “agri-environment” schemes. These allow farmers to farm in a “wildlife friendly way,” Mr Madge said. “Maintaining hedgerows, ditches, building beetle banks and skylark plots all help.”
Honestly, it’s less interesting than the fish, econometrically. Economically, moreso: declining-to-extinction cod stocks will prompt a response, even from the vector of extinction. Fishing businesses will lay off overfishing, if/as/when they realise that they’re truly putting all future fishing yields at risk.
Farmland birds, not so much. We don’t hunt them, we don’t eat them. Their value is (almost purely) in terms of species’ diversity. Which is not to be under-estimated, but bloody easy to under-value, because there’s hardly any market. Ornithologists won’t muster the resources to save set-aside lands from being farmed for highly profitable (in the short-term) food crops.
‘We’, meanwhile, will remain fairly non-responsive. We see ‘birds’, so we figure ‘birds’ can more or less take care of themselves. Even if we acknowledge that the birds we see are not the species dying out, we don’t much respond – there are still ‘birds’, right? Isn’t ‘birds’ all we need? Good luck selling the argument that every species depends upon a minimum level of diversity in every other species to a mother of 3 in the cereal aisle of her local supermarket.
Eco 1 students: this is the scarcity problem. We need the land; the birds need the land. The land can’t serve both our needs, and we need to decide whether the food that the land can yield serves our needs better/more than the ‘service’ provided by the contribution of farmland birds to species diversity.
It’s the new “if you can’t the sucker in the room …” joke. If you spot the external market for your survival in the room, you won’t.
This summer the cardinals at the Vatican accepted an unusual donation from a Hungarian start-up called Klimafa: The company said it would plant trees to restore an ancient forest on a denuded island by the Tisza River to offset the Vatican’s carbon emissions.
The young trees, on a 15-hectare, or 37-acre, tract of land that will be renamed the Vatican Climate Forest, will in theory absorb as much carbon dioxide as the Vatican makes through its various activities in 2007: driving cars, heating offices, lighting St. Peter’s Basilica at night.
In so doing, the Vatican announced, it would become the world’s first carbon-neutral state.
Neat. Except we’ve been through this: it doesn’t work like that (and now I have the pleasant memory of a screaming Jamie Foreman in Layer Cake. What a cool film). Fortunately the involvement of someone/thing with the profile enjoyed by the Vatican gives the debate rather more air, I should think.
The article mentions a lot of the criticism surrounding the uncertainty of exactly how much carbon is neutralised by a new planting, etc. I think this misses the point. This writer (not me, the IHT’s writer) caught the key part of the problem:
Finally, man increases his polluting activities faster than he can offset them.
Forgiving, for the moment, the writer’s strangely-constructed gender bias. These voluntary markets aren’t like formal cap-and-trade, because the emissions aren’t capped. There is no limit, nor a limit that is steadily reduced to force trade while emission decline. If we’re free to continue pumping shit into the atmosphere, those little trees aren’t really going to have contributed appreciably to solving the problem. Particularly for the Vatican, I mean what if they need a new Pope next year? They leave that weird fire going for days. Who knows what’s in that smoke? Oh, wait. I do. Chemicals.
The remainder of the article, which is quite worth your time, details some aspects of cap-and-trade, and some less-than-stellar examples of voluntary carbon-neutralising start-ups. I’ll leave you with this double-standard (from the Vatican?):
After the Vatican agreement was announced, Monsignor Melchor Sánchez de Toca Alameda, an official at the Vatican’s Council for Culture, told the Catholic News Service that buying credits was like doing penance. “One can emit less CO2 by not using heating and not driving a car, or one can do penance by intervening to offset emissions, in this case by planting trees,” he said.
But some critics derided the Vatican for planting trees rather than trying to rein in energy use in Rome. The Vatican did not have to pay anything for the Klimafa program, although the donation is only for 2007, and does not cover air travel.
Just last week, the Vatican began sponsoring low-cost flights for pilgrims from Rome to holy sites like Lourdes. Plane travel is hugely polluting.
I also really like that last sentence. Plane travel is hugely polluting (if any of my students are reading this: I will give you a C if write like that).
From this morning’s BBC news (and while I struggle to type on a JVC baby-sized laptop):
The EU target of ensuring 10% of petrol and diesel comes from renewable sources by 2020 is not an effective way to curb carbon emissions, researchers say.
A team of UK-based scientists suggested that reforestation and habitat protection was a better option.
Cumulative avoided emissions per hectare over 30 years for a range of biofuels compared with the carbon sequestered over 30 years by changing cropland to forest and the loss of carbon to the atmosphere by conversion of forest to cropland. Error bars indicate the ranges of values in the literature cited. Photo: World Land Trust.
A 10% substitution of petrol and diesel fuel is estimated to require 43% and 38% of current cropland area in the United States and Europe, respectively (5). As even this low substitution level cannot be met from existing arable land, forests and grasslands would need to be cleared to enable production of the energy crops. Clearance results in the rapid oxidation of carbon stores in the vegetation and soil, creating a large up-front emissions cost (6) that would, in all cases examined here, outweigh the avoided emissions.
Of the biofuel sources shown, only conversion of woody biomass (1, 2, 4, 7) may be compatible with retention of forest carbon stocks. Woody biomass can be used directly for fuel or converted to liquid fuels. Although still in a development stage, avoided emissions in temperate zones appear similar to assimilation by forest restoration. Moreover, it may be possible to avoid environmental problems associated with extensive monoculture (8) by harvesting from standing forests. In this case, soil and above-ground carbon stocks may be built up in parallel with sustainable harvesting for fuel production.
If the prime object of policy on biofuels is mitigation of carbon dioxide-driven global warming, policy-makers may be better advised in the short term (30 years or so) to focus on increasing the efficiency of fossil fuel use, to conserve the existing forests and savannahs, and to restore natural forest and grassland habitats on cropland that is not needed for food. In addition to reducing net carbon dioxide flux to the atmosphere, conversion of large areas of land back to secondary forest provides other environmental services (such as prevention of desertification, provision of forest products, maintenance of biological diversity, and regional climate regulation), whereas conversion of large areas of land to biofuel crops may place additional strains on the environment. For the longer term, carbon-free transport fuel technologies are needed to replace fossil hydrocarbons.
The supporting online material – i.e. the work – is here.
…meaning Rudd has a new policy for hippies, greenies and Tasmania (the primary source of Australian’s hippies, greenies, ferals and treehuggers, generally, Bless ‘Em All).
This is always interesting. In Australia, “Legislation”, “Environment” and “Tasmania” come together to voltron the word (you heard me) “Cool”, ever since the Franklin River Dam, and a certain constitutional crisis (kids, ask your teachers). This was the famous time in the 1980s when the Tasmanian government took the Australian Federal government to the High Court, over who got to decide whether or not a hydro-electric dam would be built in Tasmania. It began with a planned dam, a discovery of Indigenous caves in danger, a state referendum, a premier replaced, a blockade, finally culminating in an election. And that’s when it got interesting:
On March 5, 1983, the Australian Labor Party won the federal election with a large swing. However, in Tasmania, the vote went against the national trend and the Liberals held all five seats. The new prime minister, Bob Hawke, had vowed to stop the dam from being constructed, and it has been suggested that the controversy over the dam helped to bring down the Liberal government of Malcolm Fraser. Hawke’s government passed the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act, which overrode the state legislation.
However, the Tasmanian government appealed the decision to the High Court, claiming that the federal government had no powers under the Constitution to pass the legislation. They claimed that as the right to legislate for the environment was not named in the Constitution, and was thus a residual power, that the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act was unconstitutional. The federal government, however, claimed that they had the right to do so, under the ‘external affairs’ provision of the Constitution as, by blocking the dam’s construction, they were fulfilling their responsibilities under an international treaty.
Americans, just think New York takes Congress to the Supreme Court, saying the EPA is unconstitutional. Bear in mind that blockade was pulling in 20,000-odd people. In the 1980s. In Tasmania (current population only 484,700). Like I said.
So, we come to this. Ringleader Senator Bob Brown is now, and has ever been, leader of the Australian Greens (for whom I vote). He was also the first openly gay parliamentarian. This all means that environmental legislation is news, and makes a difference not only in Tasmania but elsewhere, with our system of preferential voting (this is according to the electoral model, not like Florida’s approach in the US, or anything).
Prior to the previous election, former Labor leader Mark Latham announced a terribly unpopular policy: his government would protect enormous areas of forests from logging, and offer the industry AUD800m or so in compensation. It did not fly, but his election chances sure sank (another minor point – Tasmania is home to all of the workers in the logging industry. And their families. And the small economies that run on their salaries). Howard responded at the time with his more popular Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement.
Rudd is walking a fine line with this one. Latham blew the votes of industry last time, but any ground returned to them this time risks blowing the votes (and the preferences, potentially) of the Australian Greens. With near-50%-returns on primary polling, he may simply not mind the risk. Currently, Rudd has offered:
- Support for the principles underpinning the Regional Forest Agreements and work with the Tasmanian Government to implement the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement
- Labor will boost the export of forest products through the establishment of a $20 million Forest Industries Development Fund, Mr Rudd said today.
- Extra money and support for the joint industry and Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union training company to help improve the skill-base and capacity of the current and future forest industries workforce.
- AUD8m for examining the impacts of climate change on forests. While increased carbon encourages tree growth, changes in extremes of wet and dry may harm both native forests and plantations.
Not bad. For context, the ‘relevance’, for want of a better word, of the foresty industry can be summarised thus (this is government information, meaning industry information):
- Turnover: AUD18bn per year (1% of GDP; 2% if one includes printing, publishing, etc.)
- Employs 83,000 people (directly)
- The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates some 5% of Australian statistical local areas are dependent upon foresty and logging in Tasmania
There are far more connections, indirectly, of industry and manufacturing to logging, but not directly enough that I’d consider them voting links. One can see how they’d be courted by politicians, though. Taking Tasmania just might give a party control over both houses.
Even with the money for the CFMEU, though, Rudd is potentially re-exposing targets only recently hit. His support for the Regional Forest Agreements and the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement are the best move, rather than trying to start from scratch. It means he’s copying Liberal policy (to which they have already alluded), but assures industry that he is ‘for’ the status quo, while potentially, depending upon the language employed by the Honourable Member of Parliament for Kingsford Smith (NSW) and the Labor party’s Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Environment, Heritage and the Arts Peter Garrett. Given his own tendency to be seen as an easy target, he’ll probably keep whatever he says – promise-or other-wise – off newspaper pages, where he can.
The key (for me) is this: the language of Rudd’s support for the Regional Forest Agreements and the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement suggest both industry and environmentalist sides of the fight might see room for each of them to maneuvre. Here is the industry’s response:
Tasmanian Forest Industries Association chief executive Terry Edwards said the policy rightly recognised that the Labor position taken to the last election was “inappropriate”.
“I believe the policy tells us they have been careful to listen to what we have told them since the last election,” he said.
Labor cannot take Green votes for granted, but they can probably take them enough-for-granted-for-government work, if you follow. Much like the union vote. These are parties that have little reason to swing for the Liberal party, come the election. Now, Industry might see Labor coming around a bit to their way of thinking – at the very least displaying an awareness that getting on their wrong side at the last election hurt, badly. They are like any other group or individual.
In the textbooks, we vote for who best represents us. In practice we vote for who we see more sympathetic to, and influenced by, our view. Of course, one hopes Australia’s Labor does not go completely batty like England’s did.