Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, ForestsTags ,

The benefits of headwater forest management

Lori Pottinger, PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE OF CALIFORNIA

The health of California’s headwater forests is in decline, leaving them increasingly vulnerable to major wildfires and droughts that threaten the many benefits they provide. Even in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, California must plan for the upcoming fire season, and continue work to reduce its risks. At a virtual event last week, PPIC researcher Henry McCann described how improved management can make Sierra forests more resilient and avoid major wildfire-related disasters, and summarized the findings of a new report that identifies the benefits and beneficiaries of such management practices.

“Expanding on the pace and scale of long-term forest stewardship is going to be a heavy lift for private and public entities,” said McCann. “Developing a clear sense of the benefits and beneficiaries of improving forest health is key to motivating long-term stewardship and identifying the partners to support it.”

An expert panel moderated by study coauthor and UC cooperative extension specialist Van Butsic discussed how this translates into practice.

Watch the video here.

What does the science tell us about managing California’s wildfire- and drought-prone forests? “It tells us there are opportunities for win-win scenarios, where a forest treatment designed to reduce fire risk will likely also have other benefits—for carbon storage, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, water output,” said panelist Carmen Tubbesing, a PhD candidate in forest ecosystems and fire sciences at UC Berkeley.

Read more at https://www.ppic.org/blog/video-the-benefits-of-headwater-forest-management/?utm_source=ppic&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=bulletin

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

Natural and working lands most cost-effective among our climate solutions

Grace Perry, CALIFORNIA CLIMATE & AGRICULTURE NETWORK (CALCAN)

The natural and working lands recommended carbon sink actions were selected by scientists from more than 50 carbon storage pathways because of their low cost and productivity estimates. In total, the study estimates that natural and working lands can sequester an estimated 25.5 million tons of carbon annually. Other studies suggest that natural and working lands climate strategies can sequester even greater amounts of carbon, but not without scaling up and accelerating better management of natural and working lands.

Natural and working lands solutions

Aligning with the variety of natural and working landscapes present throughout California, the LLNL report recommends a suite of natural and working lands interventions to achieve emission reductions—including forest, wetland and grassland restoration, and healthy soils practices. Additionally, the report acknowledges the importance of reducing the likelihood of natural and working lands to act as a carbon emitter through land preservation and wildfire management.

Forest, wetland and grassland practices

Forest, wetland and grassland interventions consist of scaling up restoration practices that enhance carbon sequestration capacity. Reforestation and changes to forest management are among the recommended practices.

Soil practices

The potential for increasing carbon sinks in soils is well documented. As such, the LLNL researchers focused heavily on the potential of soil emission reduction drawing on their own extensive research. They propose California adopt a broad range of healthy soils practices—including cover cropping and composting—to meet the carbon sequestration potential of natural and working lands. They also acknowledge the importance of reducing the rate of carbon emission from soils, which can be achieved by limiting physical disturbance through reduced or no-till farming. In total, the near-term potential for carbon sequestration in California soils is estimated to be around 3.9 million tons of CO2 per year. This yields a total of 25.5 million tons of CO2 per year of sequestration potential by 2045 when combined with other natural and working lands solutions.

Read more at http://calclimateag.org/natural-and-working-lands-most-cost-effective-among-our-climate-solutions-from-lawrence-livermore-national-laboratory/

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

Op-Ed: Don’t burn trees to fight climate change—let them grow

Bill McKibben, THE NEW YORKER

f all the solutions to climate change, ones that involve trees make people the happiest. Earlier this year, when a Swiss study announced that planting 1.2 trillion trees might cancel out a decade’s worth of carbon emissions, people swooned (at least on Twitter). And last month, when Ethiopian officials announced that twenty-three million of their citizens had planted three hundred and fifty million trees in a single day, the swooning intensified. Someone tweeted, “This should be like the ice bucket challenge thing.”

So it may surprise you to learn that, at the moment, the main way in which the world employs trees to fight climate change is by cutting them down and burning them. Across much of Europe, countries and utilities are meeting their carbon-reduction targets by importing wood pellets from the southeastern United States and burning them in place of coal: giant ships keep up a steady flow of wood across the Atlantic. “Biomass makes up fifty per cent of the renewables mix in the E.U.,” Rita Frost, a campaigner for the Dogwood Alliance, a nonprofit organization based in Asheville, North Carolina, told me. And the practice could be on the rise in the United States, where new renewable-energy targets proposed by some Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as by the E.P.A., treat “biomass”—fuels derived from plants—as “carbon-neutral,” much to the pleasure of the forestry industry. “Big logging groups are up on Capitol Hill working hard,” Alexandra Wisner, the associate director of the Rachel Carson Council, told me, when I spoke with her recently.

The story of how this happened begins with good intentions. As concern about climate change rose during the nineteen-nineties, back when solar power, for instance, cost ten times what it does now, people casting about for alternatives to fossil fuels looked to trees. Trees, of course, are carbon—when you burn them you release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But the logic went like this: if you cut down a tree, another will grow in its place. And, as that tree grows, it will suck up carbon from the atmosphere—so, in carbon terms, it should be a wash. In 2009, Middlebury College, where I teach, was lauded for replacing its oil-fired boilers with a small biomass plant; I remember how proud the students who first presented the idea to the board of trustees were.

Read more at https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/dont-burn-trees-to-fight-climate-changelet-them-grow

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

Chopping down and burning our forests for electricity is not a climate solution

Mary Anne Hitt and Danna Smith, THE HILL

Addressing the climate crisis has finally become a major national priority for the public this election season, but that’s also prompted troubling discussions in the energy sector and on Capitol Hill about increasing the use of biomass energy, or burning plant materials like wood, to produce electricity.

We need to set the record straight on this: chopping down our forests and burning them for electricity will not reduce carbon pollution and will actually exacerbate the climate crisis. The best course of action is to dramatically build out our clean energy resources, like solar, wind, and energy efficiency, and retire all biomass and fossil fuel plants. Period.

Forests should never be used to serve our electricity needs, they are too valuable as “carbon sinks” – sucking carbon out of the atmosphere as opposed to putting carbon into it. Additionally, biomass energy inevitably leads to deforestation. For example, the EU’s use of biomass in place of coal is already accelerating logging in wetlands and coastal hardwood forests across the Southeastern U.S. After being ripped out of these historic forests, trees designated for biomass are reduced to wood pellets and shipped to power plants where they are burned, releasing large amounts of carbon pollution in the process.

The reality is that utility companies and the biomass industry are attempting to paint burning trees as “renewable, green, climate friendly energy” so that they and their allies can exploit government subsidies and continue raking in big profits at the expense of public health and technologies that are actually sustainable. The biomass industry’s argument depends on claims that the forests they cut grow back, thereby reabsorbing any carbon that was emitted. But, this is not the case.

The truth is that when forests are clear-cut and the trees burned for fuel, carbon that was otherwise stored in the forest is emitted to the atmosphere. It can take a forest anywhere from 40 to 100 years of regrowth to reabsorb that same amount of carbon, and the science shows that our climate can’t wait that long. To have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate impacts, we must reduce emissions rapidly over the next decade and start restoring degraded forests across the world, including here in the U.S.

Read more at https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/energy-environment/456977-chopping-down-and-burning-our-forests-for-electricity

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

We must transform food production to save the world, says leaked report

Robin KcKie, THE GUARDIAN

Attempts to solve the climate crisis by cutting carbon emissions from only cars, factories and power plants are doomed to failure, scientists will warn this week.

A leaked draft of a report on climate change and land use, which is now being debated in Geneva by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states that it will be impossible to keep global temperatures at safe levels unless there is also a transformation in the way the world produces food and manages land.

Humans now exploit 72% of the planet’s ice-free surface to feed, clothe and support Earth’s growing population, the report warns. At the same time, agriculture, forestry and other land use produces almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, about half of all emissions of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, come from cattle and rice fields, while deforestation and the removal of peat lands cause further significant levels of carbon emissions. The impact of intensive agriculture – which has helped the world’s population soar from 1.9 billion a century ago to 7.7 billion – has also increased soil erosion and reduced amounts of organic material in the ground.

In future these problems are likely to get worse. “Climate change exacerbates land degradation through increases in rainfall intensity, flooding, drought frequency and severity, heat stress, wind, sea-level rise and wave action,” the report states.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/03/ipcc-land-use-food-production-key-to-climate-crisis-leaked-report

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/