Tuesday, January 30, 2007

New IPCC Report - 2,500 Scientists Say Climate Change Worse Than We Thought

Just as a note, in the new IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report, to be released in a couple of days, over 2,000 scientists will say that climate change is much worse than we thought.

As a scientist who has been following global warming for over 15 years now, this comes as no surprise.

Things that we learned and read as predictions for 50 or 100 years into the future, we're seeing happening now - in just 15 years. The pace of change is, honestly, shocking. But that just drives my determination to do my absolute best to affect positive change (while keeping a balanced lifestyle - having the fun I need to maintain the good fight).

For the solutions to climate change are also solutions to Peak Oil - solutions such as clean, efficient technologies that will create a safer, healthier, more secure society. That will leave more money in our pockets to spend on things other then energy as more efficient vehicles, for example, require us to pay less to fuel them - while also generating much less in the way of climate changing, acidifying, and otherwise polluting emissions.

For those of you who've been reading this blog since its inception, you got a preview - nearly a year ago - of what this IPCC report is now saying. For example, following WWF's Global Climate Camp, where I was an instructor/facilitator, I posted about the mindblowing reports of climate-related changes that I heard from people from all corners of the world. (You can read these posts here: Part I and Part II)

So how is CV going to help? Right now we are doing a lot of research on the quantitative benefits of green products, services and practices - on how many emissions, pounds of solid waste, etc. they each help you reduce. And we are shaping this research into tools for our users - to help you understand how you can help the climate and help yourself by reducing your climate "footprint", as many refer to it.

Stay tuned for a lot of new, useful, and even fun tools, bells and whistles to be released by CV in 2007...

Friday, January 26, 2007

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Importance of Getting Tree-Based Carbon Offsets Right

In my previous couple of posts, I cited recent findings that when planting trees to offset climate change, location is key. As described by the good folks over at CarbonClear:
Climate scientists Ken Caldeira and Govindasamy Bala showed that planting trees near the equator provides greater climate benefit than planting in northern countries, because the leaves of new trees planted in the north trap relatively more of the sun's heat.
"Our study shows that tropical forests are very beneficial to the climate because they take up carbon and increase cloudiness, which in turn helps cool the planet," explained Dr Bala

On the other hand, says Bala, "...in the so-called mid-latitude region where the United States is located and majority of European countries are located, the climate benefits of planting will be nearly zero...In fact, planting more trees in high latitudes could be counterproductive from a climate perspective."

This has left me thinking about how important it is that this kind of study not confuse decisionmakers and the public about the important role that forests play in absorbing CO2, and that deforestation plays in increasing levels of CO2. For example, deforestation accounts for 20% of annual human-caused carbon emissions! Protecting forests is therefore a key component of any strategy to reduce carbon emissions (though issuance of carbon credits for protecting forests or planting trees should be carefully calculated based on such ecological factors as a local forest's CO2 uptake, and funds should be used to protect that forest for at least the amount of time required to insure that CO2 uptake).
We also need to remember that protecting forests in mid and northern latitudes provides many valuable ecosystem services in addition to carbon storage, for which people are working on ways to compensate landowners. Right now, owners of forested lands have few options for generating income from trees on their lands other than by cutting them down. Society needs to provide them with more ways to feed their families from income generated by their forests.

If a landowner's, municipality's, or even country's forests are providing valuable ecosystem services (in addition to timber, carbon storage, wildlife habitat, and shade) such as:
  • mitigation of floods by trees, which uptake rain water that would otherwise flow into flooding streams and rivers
  • filtration of drinking water
  • soil stabilization that protects homes and roads from landslides and mudslides
  • providing important habitat for pollinators of our crops (studies have shown the yields of some crops are greater when grown near intact forests, due to greater presence of pollinators)
  • precipitation (forests help generate it - especially tropical forests, but also temperate ones)
  • provision of natural medicines (key treatments for ailments from cancer to a common headache come from forests!)
  • provision of fishing jobs by maintaining healthy fish and spawning habitat
then we need to devise new and innovative ways to provide landowners with payments for these ecosystem services to compensate them for keeping their forests intact.

Carbon offsets are one means of generating funds to pay landowners to keep their forests intact to protect and maintain ecosystem services. In my opionion, they remain an important, even if imperfect, tool, in spite of this new study (which should certainly be used to guide improvements to forest-based carbon offset schemes in temperate and northern latitudes).

However, carbon offsets should also be just the beginning of compensating landowners for the valuable ecosystem services that their forests provide to society.