Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, ForestsTags , ,

Can planting trees solve climate change?

Jesse Reynolds, LEGAL PLANET

Unfortunately, a new scientific paper overstates forests’ potential

Today, The Guardian reports:

Tree planting ‘has mind-blowing potential’ to tackle climate crisis

Planting billions of trees across the world is by far the biggest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis, according to scientists…

As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating. New research estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities, a figure the scientists describe as “mind-blowing”.

global tree restoration potential

Global tree restoration potential

And the underlying scientific paper, published in Science, makes an unambiguous claim:

ecosystem restoration [is] the most effective solution at our disposal to mitigate climate change.

[See also the press release from ETH Zurich.]

That is, the authors claim that reforestation is more effective than reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, this is misleading, if not false, as well as potentially dangerous. It is misleading for several reasons.

– The authors do not define “effective.” Many policies and actions that could achieve a single given objective are impossible or undesirable.

– They do not consider cost. Planting trees requires arable land, physical and natural resources, and labor, all of which could be used for other valuable purposes. The most recent assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gave a range of $20 to $100 per ton of removed carbon dioxide (CO2), [PDF, p. 851]; which is roughly the same costs as many means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are presently under discussion.

– The authors do not consider how such reforestation might come about. This land — roughly the size of the US, including Alaska — is owned and managed by many private persons, companies, nongovernmental organizations, and governments. How these numerous diverse actors could be incentivized or somehow forced to undertake expensive reforestation efforts is important unclear.
They do not consider the rate of carbon removal. The IPCC gives a high-end estimate of 14 billion tons CO2 per year [PDF, p. 851], whereas humans’ emissions are about 40 billion tons per year. Thus, at this generous rate, reforestation could only compensate for a third of current emissions, with not impact on accumulated atmospheric carbon dioxide. Furthermore, the amount of removal suggested by the new paper would require about 55 years.

– The authors simply assume that all potentially forested land “outside cropland and urban
regions” would be “restored to the status of existing forests.” People use land for purposes other than crops and cities. For example, humans’ largest use of land — agricultural or otherwise — is rangeland for livestock. Thus, the paper implicitly assumes a dramatic reduction in meat consumption or intensification of meat production.

– They reach a remarkably high estimate of carbon removal per area. This paper indirectly says that 835 tons CO2 could be removed per hectare (that is, 10,000 square meters), whereas the IPCC report on Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry reaches values from 1.5 to 30 tons per hectare.

– In a critique, Pros. Mark Maslin and Simon Lewis say “The authors have forgotten the carbon that’s already stored in the vegetation and soil of degraded land that their new forests would replace. The amount of carbon that reforestation could lock up is the difference between the two.”

– The paper does not address the (im)permanence of trees, which could later be cut down.

A recent investigation by a reporter at Propublica concluded:

In case after case, I found that carbon credits [for reforestation] hadn’t offset the amount of pollution they were supposed to, or they had brought gains that were quickly reversed or that couldn’t be accurately measured to begin with. Ultimately, the polluters got a guilt-free pass to keep emitting CO₂, but the forest preservation that was supposed to balance the ledger either never came or didn’t last.

Ultimately, if cost, feasibility, and speed were no matter, then one simply could claim that permanently ending the use of fossil fuels tomorrow is the most effective. This statement would be true, but largely irrelevant.

Read more at https://legal-planet.org/2019/07/05/can-planting-trees-solve-climate-change/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Land UseTags , , , ,

Tree planting ‘has mind-blowing potential’ to tackle climate crisis

Damian Carrington, THE GUARDIAN

Planting billions of trees across the world is by far the biggest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis, according to scientists, who have made the first calculation of how many more trees could be planted without encroaching on crop land or urban areas.

As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating. New research estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities, a figure the scientists describe as “mind-blowing”.

The analysis found there are 1.7bn hectares of treeless land on which 1.2tn native tree saplings would naturally grow. That area is about 11% of all land and equivalent to the size of the US and China combined. Tropical areas could have 100% tree cover, while others would be more sparsely covered, meaning that on average about half the area would be under tree canopy.

The scientists specifically excluded all fields used to grow crops and urban areas from their analysis. But they did include grazing land, on which the researchers say a few trees can also benefit sheep and cattle.
Let nature heal climate and biodiversity crises, say campaigners
Read more

“This new quantitative evaluation shows [forest] restoration isn’t just one of our climate change solutions, it is overwhelmingly the top one,” said Prof Tom Crowther at the Swiss university ETH Zürich, who led the research. “What blows my mind is the scale. I thought restoration would be in the top 10, but it is overwhelmingly more powerful than all of the other climate change solutions proposed.”

Crowther emphasised that it remains vital to reverse the current trends of rising greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and forest destruction, and bring them down to zero. He said this is needed to stop the climate crisis becoming even worse and because the forest restoration envisaged would take 50-100 years to have its full effect of removing 200bn tonnes of carbon.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/04/planting-billions-trees-best-tackle-climate-crisis-scientists-canopy-emissions

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , ,

Oceans are warming even faster than previously thought

Kendra Pierre-Louis, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Scientists say the world’s oceans are warming far more quickly than previously thought, a finding with dire implications for climate change because almost all the excess heat absorbed by the planet ends up stored in their waters.

A new analysis, published Thursday in the journal Science, found that the oceans are heating up 40 percent faster on average than a United Nations panel estimated five years ago. The researchers also concluded that ocean temperatures have broken records for several straight years.

“2018 is going to be the warmest year on record for the Earth’s oceans,” said Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the independent climate research group Berkeley Earth and an author of the study. “As 2017 was the warmest year, and 2016 was the warmest year.”

As the planet has warmed, the oceans have provided a critical buffer. They have slowed the effects of climate change by absorbing 93 percent of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases humans pump into the atmosphere.

“If the ocean wasn’t absorbing as much heat, the surface of the land would heat up much faster than it is right now,” said Malin L. Pinsky, an associate professor in the department of ecology, evolution and natural resources at Rutgers University. “In fact, the ocean is saving us from massive warming right now.”

But the surging water temperatures are already killing off marine ecosystems, raising sea levels and making hurricanes more destructive.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/10/climate/ocean-warming-climate-change.html

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Gov. Brown’s wildfire plan will only make things worse

Chad Hanson and Char Miller, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

Responding to the tragic losses of homes and lives in wildland fires in California over the past year, Gov. Jerry Brown announced a “major offensive” against fire, in the form of a “Forest Carbon Plan.” The governor proposes to use $254 million of taxpayer money to double logging levels in California’s forests — to “at least” 500,000 acres a year — and to achieve it, he wants to reduce environmental protections.

Although the governor’s May 10 proposal is ostensibly designed to protect human communities from forest fires and to mitigate climate change, it ignores and misrepresents current science. The Forest Carbon Plan will exacerbate climate change while doing little to protect communities from fire.

Most of the devastating impacts to communities from recent California wildland fires have occurred in grasslands, chaparral and oak woodlands — not in forests. This includes the October 2017 fires in northern California, and the December 2017 Thomas fire and Creek fire in southern California. Claiming to protect towns from fire by increasing logging in remote forests is a bit like proposing the construction of a sea wall in the Mojave Desert to protect coastal populations from rising oceans.

Moreover, reducing environmental protections in forests, and increasing logging, as Brown proposes, does not tend to curb fire behavior — in fact, it typically does the opposite. This is because logging reduces the cooling shade of the forest canopy, creating hotter and drier conditions, and removes tree trunks, which don’t burn readily, while leaving behind “slash debris” — kindling-like branches and treetops

Read more at http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-hanson-miller-governor-fire-orders-20180525-story.html

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Land UseTags , , , ,

The amazing ability of pasture grass to sequester carbon

Jean Yamamura, THE SANTA BARBARA INDEPENDENT

A buzz has been generating in California agriculture circles over the possibilities of carbon ranching.

It’s not about producing carbon, as it might sound, but about putting more carbon back into the ground, naturally, through grasses. The theory goes like this: Native grasses send roots as deep as six feet underground, breathing in carbon dioxide as they breathe out oxygen. At a number of test acres across California, including at the Ted Chamberlin Ranch near Los Olivos, adding a thin layer of compost has created more topsoil, which feeds the microbes below ground, which enrich the grasses, which draw more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and hold it in their roots deep in the soil. Add cattle to the mix, and voilà! Carbon ranching.

What really got people excited about this simple layer of compost is that it sequesters carbon now. “We don’t have to wait for Elon Musk to geo-engineer something from space,” laughed Sigrid Wright, who heads Santa Barbara’s Community Environmental Council (CEC). Wright and an alphabet soup of agencies have been working together with the Chamberlin Ranch on a 60-acre demonstration project through California’s Healthy Soils Initiative.

Read more at https://www.independent.com/news/2018/apr/19/amazing-ability-pasture-grass-sequester-carbon/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Land UseTags , , , , , ,

Can dirt save the Earth?

Moises Velazquez-Manoff, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE

The soil-improving practices that Wick, Silver and Creque stumbled into have much in common with another movement known as regenerative agriculture. Its guiding principle is not just to farm sustainably — that implies mere maintenance of what might, after all, be a degraded status quo — but to farm in such a way as to improve the land. The movement emphasizes soil health and, specifically, the buildup of soil carbon.

When John Wick and his wife, Peggy Rathmann, bought their ranch in Marin County, Calif., in 1998, it was mostly because they needed more space. Rathmann is an acclaimed children’s book author — “Officer Buckle and Gloria” won a Caldecott Medal in 1996 — and their apartment in San Francisco had become cluttered with her illustrations. They picked out the 540-acre ranch in Nicasio mostly for its large barn, which they planned to remake into a spacious studio. Wick, a former construction foreman — they met when he oversaw a renovation of her bathroom — was eager to tackle the project. He knew the area well, having grown up one town away, in Woodacre, where he had what he describes as a “free-range” childhood: little supervision and lots of biking, rope-swinging and playing in the area’s fields and glens.

The couple quickly settled into their bucolic new surroundings. Wick began fixing leaks in the barn. Rathmann loved watching the many animals, including ravens, deer and the occasional gopher, from the large porch. She even trained the resident towhees, small brown birds, to eat seed from her hand. So smitten were they with the wildlife, in fact, that they decided to return their ranch to a wilder state. For nearly a century, this had been dairy country, and the rounded, coastal hills were terraced from decades of grazing. Wick and Rathmann would often come home and find, to their annoyance, cows standing on their porch. The first step they took toward what they imagined would be a more pristine state was to revoke the access enjoyed by the rancher whose cows wandered their property.

Within months of the herd’s departure, the landscape began to change. Brush encroached on meadow. Dried-out, uneaten grass hindered new growth. A mysterious disease struck their oak trees. The land seemed to be losing its vitality. “Our vision of wilderness was failing,” Wick told me recently. “Our naïve idea was not working out so well.”

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/18/magazine/dirt-save-earth-carbon-farming-climate-change.html

Posted on Categories Air, Climate Change & Energy, HabitatsTags , , , ,

Carbon in atmosphere is rising, even as emissions stabilize 

Justin Gillis, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Scientists say their inability to know for certain is a reflection not just of the scientific difficulty of the problem, but also of society’s failure to invest in an adequate monitoring system to keep up with the profound changes humans are wreaking on the planet.

CAPE GRIM, Tasmania — On the best days, the wind howling across this rugged promontory has not touched land for thousands of miles, and the arriving air seems as if it should be the cleanest in the world.

But on a cliff above the sea, inside a low-slung government building, a bank of sophisticated machines sniffs that air day and night, revealing telltale indicators of the way human activity is altering the planet on a major scale.

For more than two years, the monitoring station here, along with its counterparts across the world, has been flashing a warning: The excess carbon dioxide scorching the planet rose at the highest rate on record in 2015 and 2016. A slightly slower but still unusual rate of increase has continued into 2017.

Scientists are concerned about the cause of the rapid rises because, in one of the most hopeful signs since the global climate crisis became widely understood in the 1980s, the amount of carbon dioxide that people are pumping into the air seems to have stabilized in recent years, at least judging from the data that countries compile on their own emissions.

That raises a conundrum: If the amount of the gas that people are putting out has stopped rising, how can the amount that stays in the air be going up faster than ever? Does it mean the natural sponges that have been absorbing carbon dioxide are now changing?

“To me, it’s a warning,” said Josep G. Canadell, an Australian climate scientist who runs the Global Carbon Project, a collaboration among several countries to monitor emissions trends.

Read more at: Carbon in Atmosphere Is Rising, Even as Emissions Stabilize – The New York Times

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, ForestsTags , , ,

Logging plays bigger climate change role than U.S. acknowledges, report says

Georgina Gustin, INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS
The U.S. has consistently underestimated the impact that logging has on accelerating climate change and the role that preserving its forests can play in sucking carbon out of the atmosphere. That’s the conclusion of a new report that also seeks to rebut the notion that burning wood is a “carbon neutral” alternative to burning coal and oil for electricity.
Published by the Dogwood Alliance, a North Carolina-based forest conservation group, the report argues that the U.S. has placed too much emphasis on protecting the world’s tropical forests, while ignoring the logging industry’s impact on greenhouse gases released from cutting its own natural woodlands, especially older forests.
“The U.S. has just failed to acknowledge the role that the logging industry has played in the climate crisis, and has failed to embrace the need to restore old growth, intact forests across the U.S. as a critical piece of the puzzle in solving the climate crisis,” said Danna Smith, a co-author of the report.
The report comes as the issue of burning wood for energy is getting fresh attention in Washington. This week, Congress, backed by the logging industry, included language in its budget deal that would declare the burning of woody biomass for electricity “carbon neutral,” sparking the latest controversy in a long-running debate.
“We can’t log our way out of climate change,” said Kirin Kennedy, associate legislative director for lands at wildlife at the Sierra Club. “Burning wood products actually contributes more toward the increase of emissions into the atmosphere.”
Read more at: Logging Plays Bigger Climate Change Role Than U.S. Acknowledges, Report Says | InsideClimate News

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Sonoma County weighs how to bring back composting

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Black soldier flies eat decomposing food scraps, turning it into natural fertilizer. Anaerobic digestion converts yard debris into organic compost in an oxygen-starved environment while making natural gas out of the methane produced. Compost facilities incorporate worm farms to break down food and yard waste into high-quality compost for backyard gardeners and large-scale farmers.
Sonoma County waste officials are considering such technologies as part of a plan to bring locally produced compost back to the county, roughly a year after a high-profile Clean Water Act lawsuit forced the shutdown of Sonoma Compost Co., a private operation at the Central Landfill west of Cotati that since 1993 served as the largest local producer of compost.
Between now and Nov. 14, the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency is seeking input and assessing interest from businesses with experience in composting, as well as entrepreneurs who may be interested in launching new local composting operations. Requests for specific proposals are expected to open early next year.
Hauling the 88,000 tons of yard waste and food scraps produced in the county to four outside sites in Novato, Ukiah, Napa and Vacaville costs ratepayers $4.5 million per year, according to waste agency officials, up from $2.5 million when it was handled locally. Garbage bill rates have ticked up slightly, compost has become more expensive and transporting organic material to neighboring sites ratchets up emissions of greenhouse gases associated with producing compost, county waste officials said.
Supervisors expressed support this week for the idea of multiple sites run by the private sector, a reversal from previous plans to have the waste management agency operate a central site. Private composting business could halt the practice of trucking away compostable materials, reduce waste management agency costs and eliminate future risks of legal action.
Read more at: Sonoma County weighs how to bring back composting | The Press Democrat

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Can California redwoods help solve global warming? 

Paul Rogers, EAST BAY TIMES
California’s ancient redwood forests aren’t just majestic and among the oldest living things on Earth — a new study finds they are a particularly potent weapon against global warming.
The towering trees remove and store more carbon from the atmosphere per acre than any other forests on the planet, including tropical rain forests, researchers found in a discovery that could influence everything from logging rules to how parks are preserved as the state grapples with climate change.
“The story of the carbon is huge,” said Robert Van Pelt, a scientist at Humboldt State University who helped lead the research. “The carbon part of a redwood may be more important than the lumber part in the coming decades.”
Scientists have long known that redwood trees, because they can live more than 1,000 years and grow to immense heights, are able to capture significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They do it with photosynthesis, the natural process in which plants use energy from sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water to sugars that help them grow, while also releasing oxygen.
But a team of researchers from Humboldt State and the University of Washington painstakingly set out to measure exactly how much carbon the massive trees, some of which tower more than 300 feet high and were growing during the Roman Empire, are sucking out of the atmosphere.
Starting in 2009, the team, working with researchers from UC Berkeley and Save the Redwoods League, chose 11 forested areas between Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park near the Oregon border, and UC’s Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve in Big Sur, about 500 miles away.
Forests in the northern part of Jedediah Smith Redwoods park stored 2,600 metric tons of carbon per hectare, an area of about 2.5 acres, the study found. That’s more than twice the 1,000 metric tons estimated for ancient conifer forests in the Pacific Northwest and the towering eucalyptus forests in Australia and Tasmania.
Read more at: Can California redwoods help solve global warming? – EastBayTimes.com