Deforestation and you

I just had a really interesting lecture in my “Global Warming Debate” class about deforestation.

My studies have always been much more closely aligned with the social aspects of environmentalism, but I have enjoyed the scientific perspective presented in this class and others this semester. As I have said many times before, I am continually surprised when I learn yet ANOTHER way to be involved with climate change mitigation efforts, so I thought I’d share this one with you. If food or sustainable agriculture isn’t your thing, maybe deforestation prevention will be.

Today, we had a guest lecturer, Lisa Naughton, who spoke to us about the underestimated impacts of deforestation, programs that are being implemented to combat it, and the surrounding debate. I wanted to present some of her ideas that were presented today because I think they’re important and were well-articulated.

We learned that deforestation accounts for 20-25% of annual Greenhouse Gas Emissions (more than natural gas…!!!) and that the deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia alone (two big tropical forest nations) roughly equals the amount of greenhouse gasses as ALL transportation emissions from one year. WOW. (More stats can be learned here, or a simple google search will help as well.)

Forest clearing has a big impact on greenhouse gas emissions due to the forests’ ability to absorb and store carbon (depending on the type of forest). So, when these natural carbon stores are eliminated, all this carbon is released into the atmosphere. Because of this, keeping these forests around has large implications for climate change prevention, not to mention that by keeping them we will also maintain biodiversity, prevent increased land use for industrial agriculture, maintain many cultural sites and artifacts, regulate regional rainfall, and improve water quality (and more).

Currently reforestation and restoration projects are the only methods that are approved by Kyoto to try to combat this issue. While this is helpful, efforts to reduce deforestation are not currently approved because it is harder to quantify and create tangible evidence on the results, despite the obvious benefits of such efforts (remember, the carbon storage).

Anyway, we were introduced to the concept of REDD: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, which is an initiative gaining support in the name of deforestation prevention. In the upcoming Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, various advocates will support “REDD Readiness” and adding deforestation prevention to become a main focus of our environmental efforts as a “simple” way to reduce overall global emissions. For example, Norway, in it’s efforts to become the first carbon neutral country, has paid $1 BILLION to keep some rain forests around (I forget where). Effectively, we’re paying these nations not to utilize these natural resources for economic gain (or, for companies like Coca Cola to come in to grow citrus for Minute Maid juice as it proposed to do in Brazil).

BUT of course keeping the forests doesn’t fix everything.

Some critiques of this line of thought are:

1. It enables Americans to continue their polluting lifestyles and uses forests in faraway lands to further remove their concerns for combating climate change because something is “being done.” In other words, it reduces incentives to lower fossil fuel use.

2. Prevents potential economic stimulus of rain forest nations who may gain jobs from companies that come in to old forest lands, not to mention the rights of pre-standing local resource users.

3. The deforestation could just be displaced elsewhere, and it’s hard to track if that does happen.

4. What if a hurricane comes and wipes out the forest? Then the wood breaks down and all the carbon is released anyway.

5. Also, although the carbon storage is substantial, when compared to the emissions of industrial countries, it’s negligible.

So, while there are downsides to REDD, there are also many benefits, as long as the initiatives are well-planned with local residents and, importantly, as long as it is not viewed as a fix for climate change.

Anyway, I thought I’d share this because I never understood the basics and implications of deforestation and now I feel that I have a better handle on it thanks to Naughton.

Any campers/hikers/biodiversity lovers out there? Maybe deforestation is the “issue” for you!

-Jenny

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