Plant trees, but not to stop climate change

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Top view of the forest of trees that form the map of Australia. Top view. Environment, ecology and sustainability concept.

There are many good reasons to plant trees, but stopping climate change isn’t the only reason. Krill – Abundant, but not for long unless you change your ways. Fossil fuels cause conflict and always have.

plantation problems

Whether it’s a child, a politician, an investor, a carbon emitter, a fraudster, and whether it’s just one or two people in your backyard, hundreds of people across the city are working together to reduce the heat island effect. Whether it be millions in a straight line for the benefit and easy maintenance of plantations, or billions anywhere. It is common to plant trees to fight climate change, just to make Polly look beautiful.

There’s a logic to it. Trees absorb and store carbon over long periods of time in their trunks, branches, and roots, creating a localized cooling effect. Who can object to planting trees? The more important question, which I don’t think many people have, is how much land is needed to have any effect on global warming. Are there any disadvantages to planting trees? And are the touted benefits actually realized? The answers, suggested in recent articles, are “a lot,” “yes,” and “no.”

If we’re talking about actually reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere, we’re talking about commercial afforestation (to produce oil, fruit, nuts, timber, etc.) in tropical forests and grasslands. Become. But it’s not just a few plantations scattered throughout the tropics. No, we’re talking about an area the size of five Australia that could sequester a year’s worth of his world’s CO2 emissions. In fact, covering the entire landmass between the Tropic of Capricorn and Capricorn would only sequester 1.7 years of emissions. That’s not to say trees don’t have a role to play in addressing climate change, but commercial plantations don’t. of If so, they may not even be a significant contributor.

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Indonesian palm tree plantation

In addition to the completely unrealistic amount of land required, commercial plantations also have other problems, with little consideration given to the costs and benefits of investment proposals, especially carbon offset projects.

In short, a given ecosystem maintains a delicate balance between three factors:

  • Its biodiversity – the more heterogeneous it is, the wider its range of functions that benefit humans and the more resilient it is in the face of environmental challenges such as fire, pathogens, insects, and drought. Most commercial plantations contain only one species, or a mix of only five species: teak, mahogany, cedar, silky oak, and black wattle.
  • Functions of ecosystems that provide benefits to humans (often referred to as “ecosystem services”). This includes not only carbon storage, but also river flow and groundwater protection, freshwater filtration, feeding communities and their livestock, nutrient recycling, pollination, and seeds, for example. dispersion).
  • Ability to store carbon.

These relationships are illustrated conceptually in the diagram below, where old-growth tropical forests maximize levels of biodiversity, ecosystem function, and carbon storage, all of which worsen as ecosystem destruction increases. It shows that.

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Moreover, the carbon markets that underpin the creation of many plantations in forests and grasslands are poorly regulated, and most offset projects do not achieve anything close to their pre-establishment claims of carbon removal.

The authors offer several recommendations for plantation proponents.

  • Shifting focus to preserving and restoring degraded natural ecosystems, rather than replacing them with plantations.
  • If you are proposing a plantation on land that is already degraded, be sure to demonstrate that the carbon capture will be greater than what would be gained by restoring the ecosystem.
  • Explain the negative effects of carbon-centric plantations.
  • When assessing the financial viability of proposals, go beyond the single metric of carbon capture to include broader ecosystem functions and services.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot…the authors also want to reduce fossil fuel emissions. That’s pretty radical!

kill the krill

Krill eat phytoplankton and zooplankton, so they’re not at the bottom of the ocean food chain, but they’re pretty close to the bottom. They may be small (mostly 1-2 cm long), but they are one of Earth’s species with the highest total biomass, with hundreds of millions of tons living in the world’s oceans. Nevertheless, krill is “fished” even though it is not a fish but a crustacean.

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The problem is particularly acute in Antarctica, where nearly all animals rely on them for nutrition, including whales, seals, squid, penguins, and seabirds. In fact, krill provides 96% of the calories for Antarctic seabirds and mammals.

Twelve industrial-scale super-trawlers are harvesting krill (led by Norwegian company Aaker Biomarine). They profit from the production of two completely unnecessary products: farm feed and omega-3 nutritional supplements (which can be sourced from plants). ).

Although Australia is not involved in fishing, it provides a major market for the product. Woolies sells krill oil supplements and krill-fed farmed salmon, while Coles only sells the latter. All pharmacies and health food stores surveyed sell krill oil supplements. Tasmania’s Huon and Tassal aquaculture companies both feed their caged salmon with krill products (supplied by Australian aquafeed producers).

Krill fishing is unsustainable and threatens Antarctica’s fragile ecosystems, which are already under pressure from climate change. Still, Aker Biomarine managed to be certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

The Bob Brown Foundation recommends:

  1. Immediate suspension, followed by complete ban on krill fishing
  2. Aquafeed and aquaculture companies switch to more sustainable foods
  3. Retailers stopped selling them and consumers stopped buying krill-based products, i.e. farmed fish and nutritional supplements (and pet food).
  4. Marine management certification schemes raise the bar.

This 7-minute video tells the story in more detail.

principles of sustainable development

As far back as 1990, economist Herman Daly, then working in the World Bank’s Environment Department, distinguished between “sustainable development” and “sustainable growth” and proposed three operational principles for the former.

Daly argued that growth is a quantitative phenomenon that involves an increase in physical size through the addition of matter. On the other hand, development “Qualitative improvement or blossoming of potential” Towards a more fulfilling or better state. Economics can be done alone, or both at the same time, or neither.

as “The human economy is a subsystem of a finite global ecosystem.”, Development is possible but growth is not possible, and economic growth is not sustainable over the long term. What is sustainable growth? “Terrible contradiction”Daly declared. But sustainable development is achievable.

To formulate three operating principles for sustainable development, Daly categorized natural resources into renewable and non-renewable resources.

Two principles are involved in the management of renewable resources.

  1. The harvest rate should be the same as the reproduction rate (perhaps he should have said “not exceed”).
  2. The rate of waste discharge must be equal to (again “not exceed”) the natural assimilation capacity of the ecosystem in which the waste is discharged.

Daly proposed that nature’s regenerative and assimilative capacities should be considered natural capital, and that failure to maintain them should be treated as unsustainable capital consumption.

Once consumed, non-renewable resources are lost forever, but they can be maintained in a semi-sustainable manner if the third principle is applied:

  1. The rate of depletion of non-renewable resources must not exceed the rate of production of man-made resources. renewable resource This requires that investments in harnessing non-renewable resources be matched with compensatory investments in suitable renewable alternatives.

Mr Daly recognized that without growth it will be difficult to fight poverty. surely, “Serious poverty reduction will require population control and redistribution aimed at limiting wealth inequality.”two propositions: “Too radical” (i.e. too career-threatening for politicians to publicly affirm), etc. “For politicians, some self-contradiction must seem like a small price to pay for staying in power.”.

Daley, who passed away a year ago, was an environmental economist who advocated the idea of ​​a steady-state economy in the 1970s, which is associated with current ideas such as “degrowth,” “doughnut economics,” and “welfare.” It is still widely cited. ‘.

World electricity sources in 1973 and now

The diagram below was created by the International Energy Agency in conjunction with the latest World Energy Outlook.

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For those who weren’t there at the time, 1973 was the time of the world’s first oil crisis, caused by events in the Middle East that were a direct precursor to today’s front-page stories. I remember it well. I recently bought my first car – I was still a student in London – and the price of petrol, if you could find it, rose almost overnight from around 33p per gallon to around £1 per gallon. Did.

The oil crisis of early 1974 was followed by a miners’ strike, and Britain experienced a “winter of discontent” for several weeks, with households without electricity until the cold and dark hours of the day.

In other words, it is not an increase in living standards that is closely associated with fossil fuels. It’s conflict, war, and death.

As a side note, “This is the winter of our discontent.” When Gloucester says his lines at the beginning of “Richard III,” it’s no longer winter.Winter is gone and winter is on “A Glorious Summer by the Sons of York”.

If Sainsbury had written Richard III, the opening sentence would have been more ordinary, less interesting, and less poetic. “Richard deposed our wicked predecessor and transformed our miserable oppression into the joyous rule of today.” Thankfully, Shakespeare got there first.

pale blue dot

“Look at that point again. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.’ Carl Sagan wrote this in 1994, four years after the photo below was taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it headed out of our solar system. The image was taken from about 6 billion kilometers from the Sun (approximately where Pluto orbits, about 40 times the distance between the Sun and Earth).

Also in 1990, the Galileo spacecraft took pictures of Australia 960 kilometers away to see if it could discern evidence of life (yes) and civilization (no), but received no comments. However, radio signals detected by Galileo suggested that: “A strong case can be made that the signal is being generated by intelligent life on Earth.”. Hmm, I think the jury is still out on that one.

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