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 , ,

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 Forests, Local OrganizationsTags , Leave a comment on Forest Unlimited’s volunteer tree planting projects seek to heal woodland properties

Forest Unlimited’s volunteer tree planting projects seek to heal woodland properties

Jamie Hansen, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
More info at: http://forestunlimited.org/events/
Nature lovers looking to kick off 2015 with a good deed might consider volunteering next weekend to plant redwood seedlings for Forest Unlimited’s annual reforestation project.
The Forestville-based nonprofit organization is dedicated to protecting and enhancing forests and watersheds in Sonoma County. In addition to acting as a sort of watchdog for local logging operations, its members have been organizing tree plantings at select locations around Sonoma County for the past 17 years.
This year, the group will plant about 1,150 redwood seedlings Saturday and next Sunday — Jan. 9 and 10 — at Wildwood Retreat Center in the hills above Guerneville.
“It’s really a community effort,” said Carl Wahl, a volunteer with Forest Unlimited who has co-managed the project since 2001.
Wahl said Forest Unlimited tries to choose areas that are protected from development and logging by conservation easements, so that volunteers aren’t planting trees that “could be cut down in 40 years.” They also look for places where the redwoods and oaks they plant will thrive.
“We don’t just plant pell mell,” Wahl said. “We make sure the seedlings are planted in a location where they can basically survive unattended by humans.”
Read more via Forest Unlimited’s volunteer tree planting projects seek to | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , Leave a comment on A Model Forest? | Eco Watch | The Bay Area Environment Column

A Model Forest? | Eco Watch | The Bay Area Environment Column

Madeleine Thomas, EAST BAY EXPRESS

In May, The Conservation Fund announced that it had bought nearly 20,000 acres of coastal redwood, Douglas fir, and oak woodlands, known as Preservation Ranch, in Sonoma County, in order to prevent the area from being turned into vineyards. The plan by the national environmental nonprofit is one the largest conservation efforts of its scale in the state. The Conservation Fund also intends to implement sustainable forestry practices at Preservation Ranch and use carbon credits from the state’s cap-and-trade program to help pay for the restoration of the forest, which was heavily damaged by decades of logging. If successful, the project could serve as model for sustainable forestry practices in California and throughout the nation. But it’s an ambitious project, and not without it’s share of challenges.

via A Model Forest? | Eco Watch | The Bay Area Environment Column.