A cost benefit analysis of trees vs logs
Lester Brown on the Ways to Reforest the Planet
Nature and people suffer from deforestation. The world's indigenous and poor, who inhabit many of the planet's remaining intact ecosystems, suffer the most. To correct that, we need geonomics everywhere -- an end to subsidies for logging while establishing charges on logging and all land uses, in lieu of taxes, with much of the proceeds going to the citizenry, poor included. This 2009 article is via OneWorld of Jan 6. The writer founded WorldWatch then the Earth Policy Institute.
by Lester R. BrownThree countries -- Thailand, the Philippines, and China -- have banned logging completely or partially. After losing forest cover and being devastated by floods and mudslides, all three imposed bans. Beijing consciously viewed forests not through the eyes of the individual logger but through those of society. The flood control service of trees standing, they said, was three times as valuable as the timber from trees cut. So Beijing paid foresters to plant instead of chop.
For consuming forests, people have their reasons. Asians log for timber, Latin Americans clear-cut to plant soy and raise cattle, and Africans chop trees for firewood and planting food crops as old cropland is degraded and abandoned. Two countries, Indonesia and Brazil, account for more than half of all deforestation.
As of 2007, the shrinking forests in the tropical regions were releasing 2.2 billion tons of carbon per year. Meanwhile, expanding forests in the temperate regions were absorbing 0.7 billion tons of carbon annually. Thatís a net of 1.5 billion tons of released carbon.
If Brazil lets the Amazon rainforest continue to shrink, the region could continue to dry out, becoming vulnerable to fire, which would release billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. If the jungle disappears, it would be replaced largely by desert and scrub forestland. The capacity of the rainforest to cycle water to the interior, including to the agricultural areas to the south, would be lost.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, also high on the list, is a failing state, unable to defend forests.
Deforestation is no longer just a matter of local flooding, but also rising seas worldwide. Just as national concerns about the effects of continuing deforestation eventually eclipsed local interests, now global interests are beginning to eclipse national ones.
Many tree planting initiatives are under way. In late 2006, the U.N. Environment Programme, inspired by Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, announced plans for a worldwide effort to plant 1 billion trees in one year to fight climate change. This initial target was easily exceeded and by mid-2008, more than 2 billion trees had been planted in more than 150 countries. The new goal is to have 7 billion trees planted by the end of 2009 -- just over one tree for every person on the planet.
A Swedish energy firm, Vattenfall, has examined the large-scale potential for foresting wasteland to sequester carbon dioxide. They note there are 1.86 billion hectares of degraded land in the world -- land that was once forestland, cropland, or grassland; half of this, or 930 million hectares, has a decent chance of being profitably reclaimed. Some 840 million hectares of this total are in the tropical regions, where reclamation would mean much higher rates of carbon sequestration.
Vattenfall estimates these 930 million hectares could absorb 21.6 billion tons of CO2 per year. If, as part of a global climate stabilization strategy, carbon sequestration were valued at $210 per ton of carbon, the company figures 171 million hectares of that land could be planted profitably. This area -- larger than that planted to grain in India -- would sequester 3.5 billion tons of CO2 per year, or over 950 million tons of carbon. The total cost of sequestering carbon at $210 per ton would be $200 billion. Spread over a decade, this would mean investing $20 billion a year to give climate stabilization a large and potentially decisive boost.
This global forestation plan to remove atmospheric CO2, most of it put there by industrial countries, would be funded by them. An independent body would be set up to administer, fund, and monitor the vast tree planting initiative.
Reaching a goal of zero net deforestation will require reducing the pressures to deforest that come from population growth, rising affluence, newly built refineries, and the fast-growing use of paper. It means humans breeding less and moving down the food chain. It may require a ban on the construction of additional biodiesel refineries and ethanol distilleries.
A number of farming practices that reduce soil erosion and raise cropland productivity also lead to higher carbon content in the soil, such as: minimum-till and no-till, planting cover crops, returning manure to the land, expansion of irrigated area, a return to more mixed crop-livestock farming, and the forestation of marginal farmlands. Rattan Lal at Ohio State University calculated such practices can sequester 400 to 1.2 million tons of carbon each year.
Ending net deforestation and adopting these carbon-sensitive farming and land management practices will sequester carbon and put us on the path to the Plan B climate stabilization goal of cutting net carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020.
Same old story -- less habitat, more pollution
What is Earth-friendly Chocolate?
Elephants' numbers grows; is more progress forthcoming?
Email this article Sign up for free Progress Report updates via email
What are your views? Share your opinions with The Progress Report:
Page One Page Two Archive Discussion Room Letters What's Geoism?