(Ode to a Tree)
Putting aside for the moment the question of actual AGW and
whether or not it is a crisis, one of the “solutions” for CO2 overabundance
is trees. Or more precisely,
equatorial rainforest trees, carbon credit exchanges and farmers doing a poor
job of farming.
Why tropical trees, you ask?
IN 2006, Bala and Caldeira did a study on trees used slow climate change.
The study concluded that trees planted in the tropics were useful, but
trees planted in the mid-latitude regions may even make warming worse.
How can that be? Trees do
three things for the planet--absorb CO2, evaporate water and absorb sunlight.
That last function, absorbing sunlight , can actually make the earth
warmer which is apparently what happens in temperate zones.
The authors warn we should not cut down regular forests just because they
warm the planet. Trees do things
other than regulate CO2 and have value on their own.
It's an interesting statement in that if climate change is a crisis,
should we not be doing all we can to stop it including cutting problematic
Deforestation appears to be very serious.
One source states: “Loss of trees accounts for 20 to 25 percent of
greenhouse gas emission world wide—more than oil fueled transportation”.1
So cutting trees is more damaging than driving an SUV?
Trying to understand the “fixes” for climate change reminds one of
the Peanuts comic strip where Lucy always moved the football before Charley
Brown could kick it. Lucy was very
convincing and Charley kept on hoping this was the time the football didn't get
pulled away. First, SUV's are bad,
oil is bad, fossil fuels are evil in general and now cutting trees is
even more serious. Every time
cuts are made in fossil fuel usage, etc. another claim arises and the whole
scheme starts over again. (It is
interesting to note that in some articles, carbon credits via reforesting is
referred to as a scheme. It's clear
if that's a Freudian slip or a confession of the true intent.)2
Objections are often raised over the rights of indigenous
peoples having their land “repurposed”.
Governments take land and reap the money from the sale of carbon credits.
The farmer may be lost in this—he is left with nothing.
All of this harks back to early America, where a foreigner arrived,
bought up land dirt cheap, made questionable trades with the indigenous peoples
and reaped the benefits of the “new world”.
A foreign nation takes control of farms for 25 years and plants trees on
them. The foreign nation needs land
for carbon offsets and why wouldn't farmers want to plant trees and watch them
grow for 25 years. It's obvious the
farmers will prefer trees to food crops, isn't it?
Besides, developed nations know best when it comes to how to save the
planet (and what is best is usually what applies to the poor and
underrepresented). Will countries be
paying reparations in the future for obtaining land and wealth by exploiting the
natives? The USA already pays
millions for past transgressions—are we heaping on future payments by looking
for cheap ways to offset carbon? Probably.
There exists a large probability of reforesting for carbon
credits being abused by governments and companies.
In 2009, it was reported that 16,666 hectares of cultivated land in Tibet
were converted to forest over a seven year period.
The forests were planted by China to offset their carbon pollution.
Households displaced by this reforesting received a subsidy of 4,448 yuan
per year. The article noted there
was nothing said about what the displaced farmers were doing.
Perhaps just living on the subsidy?
Uganda, the New York Times reported 22,000 poor Ugandans were driven off their
land in the last few years. This
report was dated September 11, 2011. An
investigation is reportedly underway. Meantime,
homes were reportedly burned to the ground and farmers left homeless and
jobless. With literally millions of
dollars at stake, it is very likely abuses are occurring. Contrary
to popular belief, being an “environmentalist” can be just as lucrative as
“big oil”. Articles on investing
in reforesting land and projects quoted returns as high as 15%.
There's more to this than love of nature.
RTT is a
firm that provides CO2 carbon reforesting in Costa Rica for 26 American
companies. It was started in 2002 by
a dermatologist to offset the CO2 produced in his practice.
Note that this was before it was shown that the tropics are the place to
plant trees to reduce carbon. So why
the tropics? Because the cost of
putting in trees and buying land is much cheaper in the tropics.
RTT has a $5000 buy-in for rights to a 2 ½ acre forest.
The sequestration rate is estimated at 25 tonnes/acre per year.
The used-to-be-farmer gets $2000 for the land (average income in Costa
Rica is around $10,000), $500/hectare/year and intensive forest management
training and cedes all claim to carbon credits and the associated earnings to
RTT. The used-to-be farmer signs a
25 year contract with RTT and cannot harvest trees or use the property except
with RTT's permission. Some timber
is harvested and the farmer gets the proceeds.
This is to keep the farmer making as much as cattle farming, hopefully.
The farmer does tend to the trees, though it is unclear if that is a
One hopes that contracts with the used-to-be farmers have
some provision for what is to be done if there is a fire that wipes out the
trees. It is unclear if a fire would
then necessitate more reforestation to compensate for the CO2 from the fire.
Also, judging from this photo, it is okay to cut trees to make really big
signs declaring one's environmental correctness and letting all know how
wonderful you are (even though rainforests originally did not come with such
So what could be wrong with such a noble pursuit?
Aside from the probable abuses, no “real” product is produced, other
than occasional tree harvesting (after a wait of several years) and it is very
probable that farmers in other nations will clear cut forests and start raising
the cattle and other food stuffs no longer raised in Costa Rica.
One supposes this could be considered “job security” in that there
will be a new clear cut taking the place of the reforested one and polluters
will pay to reforest the new areas to offset their emissions.
Recently, a “wall-to-wall” carbon storage map has been
created based on satellite images. One
takes the satellite image, applies a lot of algorithms, corrections, etc but no
tangible measurement of “carbon storage”.
The images and data are then used to guide investors where to buy/take
“spent” farmland and reforest it. This
is a hallmark of the environmental movement—no data, just pretty graphics.
PBS had a special on fractals a few years back where a group cut down one
tree in the rainforest and using fractal math and that one tree, calculated how
much carbon the forest was holding. Using
one point and extrapolating to thousands is a very dangerous measurement method.
Without thousands of previous measurements of thousand of trees, there is
no way to know if the method is actually accurate.
Of course, if accuracy is not the goal, the method is quite useful to
appear scientific and reach your desired conclusion.
The term “carbon farming” is being used to describe
reforestation. This is right in line
with “wind farm” and “solar farm” .
This is a complete juxtaposition of language (double speak?).
Land actually used for agriculture is removed from food production and
used for unproven solutions to questionable threats.
One cannot farm wind, solar, or carbon.
Those things are part of nature. The
nature environmentalists claim to care so much about while demonstrating little
understanding of how nature functions. The
outcome of farming wind, solar and carbon will be a reduction in food
production. That's already been seen clearly with ethanol made from corn.
Reduce the food production enough and you get famine.
Famine will reduce human impacts—dead people don't use valuable,
“limited” resources. A rather
harsh outcome, however.
Worshipping trees has negative consequences for the
environment. Treeless land, such as
sagebrush prairie, the open savannah, and deserts are considered “trash”
land to be covered by solar panels and wind turbines.
The animal life is also considered expendable in many cases.
People rally around cute critters in the forest and fuzzy polar bears,
but often find reptiles and birds of the desert no so likeable.
By focusing on forests, the environmentalists ignore biodiversity in
favor of schemes to save the planet. If
you can't save the planet with some sacrifice, save the trees at all costs and
trash the rest. Which does not sound
like a rational, useful solution but more of an emotional, frantic one.
Reforestation and “carbon farming” are quite in tune
with the environmental movement: take
away people's livelihood, land and food based on shaky (if any) science and
create a welfare class dependent on subsidies and contracts a generation in
length all in order to eradicate the human parasites from Gaia and return the
planet to it's original, pristine state..
and additional reading list
(New York Times Sept 21, 2011 carried story on Uganda also)