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September 19 2013


The Vital Role of Forests: Carbon, Rain and Food

Forests provide ecosystem services vital to all lifeWe are coming to a better understanding of the vital role that forests play in the general health of planetary ecosystems.  However, alongside our burgeoning awareness, we are also destroying forests in our quest for more land and lumber.

Deforestation is eliminating the Earth’s forests on a massive scale. Each day at least 80,000 acres (32,300 ha) of forest disappear and another 80,000 acres (32,300 ha) of forest are degraded. Overall, FAO estimates that 10.4 million hectares of tropical forest were permanently destroyed each year in the period from 2000 to 2005. About an acre of tropical rainforests are lost every second. If the current trend continues, the world’s rainforests could completely vanish in a hundred years

Forests are being destroyed largely for agricultural purposes and logging. Forests are also cut down as a result of growing urban sprawl. Deforestation results in habitat loss for millions of species that depend on them for their survival. Deforestation undermines the water cycle which can lead to desertification.

Deforestation also drives climate change as trees play a critical role in absorbing or sequestering the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming. The clearing and burning of rainforests are responsible for approximately 15 percent of global carbon emissions. In the U.S., forests absorb 13 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions each year. Based on the most recent satellite data, emissions from deforestation account for 10 percent of global carbon emissions. However, a January 2013 study just out of Dartmouth College shows that deforestation impacts on soil and may release even more carbon than previously thought.

Forest management policy

Wealthy countries have promised to help poorer nations to protect their forests through programs like The Natural Capital Project, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) and The Partnership for Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem services (WAVES). While the developed world has pledged more than 5 billion dollars for this purpose, the money promised has not lived up to these promises.

One recent example involves the country of Ecuador, which has started cutting down its forests for oil drilling operations after the international community failed to provide necessary funding. Conversely, Costa Rica is one of the best examples of successful forest management. The country has managed to double the size of its tropical forests in the last 20 years through national conservation policies. As reported in the journal Environmental Research Letters, Costa Rica’s ban on clearing of mature forests appears to be a key success factor in encouraging agricultural expansion on non-forest lands.

Success in managing forests requires a sound economic plan in support of conservation. There are a number of steps governments can take to help with reduce deforestation including tax breaks, direct payments, and subsidies.

Water and hydro-electric companies can also charge customers through fees embedded in utility bills in order to generate income to pay forest managers. Governments can also legislate financial mechanisms that value natural resources like trees. Under such a scheme, companies are forced to pay for the pollution they generate.

Setting a mandatory carbon price may be the best way to protect forests as market driven programs seem to offer the best approach. Another approach involves projects like the Forest Footprint Disclosure (FFD) which is working with companies on their impact on forests. Initiated in 2008, this is a not-for-profit project of the Global Canopy Foundation that is backed by investors.

A more workable solution is to carefully manage forest resources by eliminating clear-cutting to make sure that forest environments remain intact. The cutting that does occur should be balanced by the planting of enough young trees to replace the older ones felled in any given forest. The number of new tree plantations is growing each year, but their total still equals a tiny fraction of the Earth’s forested land.


International efforts to curb deforestation are centered on a United Nations-backed scheme called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). REDD+, emerged from the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen, was developed to provide financial incentives to countries and landowners to protect and better manage forests.

Forests are not a renewable source of electricity

One of the most troubling trends involves the use of forests as fodder for energy production. To meet this growing demand, U.S. companies have become the world’s largest exporter of wood pellets in 2012. What makes this even worse is that this is being sold as a renewable form of energy production.

As explored by the NRDC, burning our forests is bad for our climate, bad for local ecosystems, and bad for our communities.  In response to this troubling trend, the NRDC and Dogwood Alliance launched a program to protect Southern trees called Our Forests Aren’t Fuel. This campaign is designed to raise awareness about the alarming and rapidly-growing practice of logging forests and burning the trees as fuel to generate electricity.

Carbon forestry

Supporting reforestration to offset carbon emissions is increasingly popular. This is done through the purchase of carbon credits that are linked with the forestry sector with the idea that these new trees will sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

As reviewed in Ecologist, a report by the monitoring and analysis agency Ecosystem Marketplace indicates that over 30 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) was contracted across forest markets in 2010.

Carbon forests can offer a variety of benefits for the environment, however, there is considerable doubt as to whether these planted forests enhance biodiversity. There is also growing support for research that suggests that planted forests may not be as effective as natural forests in inducing rainfall.

Forests are essential to rain

While the relationship between forests and carbon has received a lot of attention, research suggests that forests may also be the driving force behind precipitation which is so vital to overall ecosystem health. As explored in an article in Mongabay, forests may be the key to rainfall and as a consequence, global ecological restoration.

On September 12, 2013, the U.S. Forest Service published a final rule that is expected to improve the agency’s ability to restore land. “This rule will help us improve the resiliency, health and diversity of our forests and grasslands,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “We will now be able to move forward with our partners to focus more energy on action, and less on paperwork, to restore more acres in less time.”

The final rule includes reference to a paper titled “Where do winds come from?” This paper outlines a new meteorological hypothesis in which condensation, not temperature, drives winds. This paper highlights the importance of the world’s forests as the salient driver of precipitation from the coast into a continent’s interior. The theory, known as the biotic pump, was first developed in 2006 by two Russian scientists

This research explains why deforestation also brings a drop in precipitation. The condensation produced by forests creates zones of low pressure that suck in the air from the surrounding regions. Forests create persistent low pressure zones on land and this causes moist winds to blow from the ocean to land.

The theory put forth in this paper explains why there is so little rain in deserts and further posits that if we were to plant enough trees in these zones we could induce rainfall.

The paper’s authors, Victor orshkov and Anastassia Makarieva, explain that, “Preserving and recovering forest cover may prove to be the cheapest and most reliable means of ensuring regional environmental sustainability.” They also indicate that their research on biotic pumps suggests that industrial plantations do not move rain as effectively as natural forests.

One of the chief findings in this research involves the relationship between forests and agriculture. Put simply, the more forests we lose, the less rain will reach continental interiors.

Forests and agriculture

The relationship between forests and agriculture was also addressed in May at the International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition. At this conference, scientists and leaders from around the world largely agreed that forests are essenatial to sustainable food supplies. They concluded that forests contribute to food security including the provision of ecosystem services like the regulation of water flow, and the protection of soils against erosion.

The relationship between forests and agriculture is a tragically ironic vicious cycle. We destroy forests to make more room for agriculture, while deforestation appears to undermine agricultural productivity.  We then need more land to produce crops to make up for the reduced productivity.

The issues associated with food supplies will become even more important as we strive to meet the challenge of feeding an ever expanding population. A growing body of research indicates that forests are essential to agricultural productivity.

Forests are far more than an important source of carbon sequestration, they are essential to the water and food on which all life depends.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: CIFOR, courtesy flickr

The post The Vital Role of Forests: Carbon, Rain and Food appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

February 02 2012


Evidence for Jellyfish Invasion Is Lacking, Study Says

There is insufficient data to support the common wisdom that jellyfish populations are exploding, researchers say.
Sponsored post

January 12 2012


No-Fishing Rule Roils Southern California

Environmentalists hail a ban on fishing in 350 square miles of state waters as a boon to fish populations and ecosystems. But fishermen are smarting over steep economic losses.

January 04 2012


Amid Dark Vents in the Depths, Something Stirs

Fathoms below the freezing waters off Antarctica, unique communities clustered around hydrothermal vents teem with life.

January 03 2012


December 22 2011


Biodiversity in Turkey, at Risk Yet Largely Ignored

Turkey's unusually rich trove of unique wildlife is little studied and seriously imperiled by development, biologists warn in a new paper.

December 14 2011


Inevitable, or in Limbo? A Dam for the Mekong

Still absent is a clear commitment from Laos to halt all construction activity related to the proposed dam, which conservationists view as a major environmental threat.

July 28 2011


Q. and A.: 'The Rambunctious Garden'

Emma Marris, an environmental journalist, suggests that it is no longer feasible to focus so much attention on dwindling pockets of wilderness while ignoring the many other spaces that could still be reclaimed as nature.

July 03 2011


Preserving Land for Northward Migration

A new report warns that as climate change unfolds, there will be a great need to free up new lands for species seeking habitat conditions that they are now used to in wildlands surrounding Glacier National Park in Montana and Canada.

June 21 2011


Oceans at Dire Risk, Team of Scientists Warns

The cumulative impact of global warming, acidification, overfishing and other threats is "greater than the sum of its parts," the scientists say, and the speed of the decline is far greater than had been thought.

February 11 2011


The environment: what our children have to look forward to, and how we can make it better

What do our children have to look forward to, and how can we make it better? Our planet’s future often reads like an obituary. Yet our youngest generation will grow up better educated on the challenges facing the environment than have any other group in modern history. With foresight and personal action, we can give [...]

February 02 2011


Mapping 10 Forested 'Hot Spots'

During the International Year of Forests, conservation groups are trying to educate the public on the risks inherent in losing vital habitat and sinks for carbon dioxide.

January 26 2011


Q&A: Imperiled Birds on a Warming Planet

The disappearance of birds that evolved with an ecosystem over thousands of years could have a cascade of consequences, a scientist warns.

January 09 2011


December 03 2010


November 06 2010


Coral Cataclysm Took Scientist by Surprise

Charles Fisher, the chief scientist on an expedition studying coral colonies in the Gulf of Mexico, expected to see some subtle effects from the oil spill. Instead, he found an ecosystem in collapse.

November 05 2010


October 18 2010


COP10: We can remember it for you wholesale

Press Release.

The COP10 Convention on Biological Diversity starts today.

And the opening shots are appealing. One of the things the environmentalist movement (plus society at large, politicians and decision-makers, for that matter) have to come to terms with is that the various environmental problems we face are connected. You can’t decide to tackle Climate Change now, species loss tomorrow and river pollution the next week. No, most of the issues feed on each other.

One of the first press releases from Nagoya, from the Ecosystems and Climate Change Pavilion, mentions this very fact.

Climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation and land degradation addressed challenge at the Aichi Nagoya Biodiversity Summit


As the challenges—and solutions—to climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation and the degradation of the world’s drylands, are interlinked and cannot be addressed in a compartmentalized approach.

Wait, it gets better:

An ecosystem-based approach recognizes that nature provides for free many of the necessities for
life, such as clean air, fresh water, and a wide array of species that serve as food for people.
Disruption of these essential ecosystems, however, threatens the services that nature provides at
little or no cost.

That “no cost” is pointed out means the economics of market failure is taken as read. Punchline:

“Climate change and biodiversity loss are major drivers of the degradation of the world’s drylands, which in turn drives biodiversity loss and exacerbates climate change,” said Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. “We must address these three challenges in a coherent and comprehensive manner if we are to address the plight of the people and ecosystems most vulnerable to their effects,” (…)

More information on the Ecosystems and Climate Change Pavillon here.

September 27 2010


Groundwater Depletion Rate Accelerating Worldwide

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100923142503.htm ScienceDaily (Sep. 23, 2010) — In recent decades, the rate at which humans worldwide are pumping dry the vast underground stores of water that billions depend on has more than doubled, say scientists who have conducted an unusual, global assessment of groundwater use. These fast-shrinking subterranean reservoirs are essential to daily life and agriculture [...]
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