Global forest losses accelerated despite the pandemic, threatening world’s climate goals

https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/global-forest-losses-accelerated-despite-the-pandemic-threatening-worlds-climate-goals/?fbclid=IwAR03B4XP81ClwN2-SQVWc_cbGG6g4kXEIUJth-yUUaKUQVwPNIoc1pCA3Y8

March 31, 2021 at 1:47 pm Updated March 31, 2021 at 1:53 pm

A wildfire burns through part of the vast Pantanal wetlands in Mato Grosso state, Brazil, on Aug. 29, 2020. Tropical forests around the world were destroyed at an increasing rate in 2020 compared with the year before, despite a global pandemic which reduced demand for some commodities that have spurred deforestation in the past (Maria Magdalena Arrellaga / The New York Times)
A wildfire burns through part of the vast Pantanal wetlands in Mato Grosso state, Brazil, on Aug. 29, 2020. Tropical forests around the world were destroyed at an increasing rate in… More 

Skip AdBy Chris Mooney Brady Dennis and John MuyskensThe Washington Post

The loss of forests critical to protecting wildlife and slowing climate change accelerated during 2020, despite a worldwide pandemic that otherwise led to a dramatic drop in greenhouse gas emissions, a global survey released Wednesday has found.

The Earth saw nearly 100,000 square miles of lost tree cover last year — an area roughly the size of Colorado — according to the satellite-based survey by Global Forest Watch. The change represents nearly 7% more trees lost than in 2019.

The vital, humid primary forests of the tropics, which store immense amounts of carbon, saw even greater devastation. More than 16,000 square miles of these forests vanished last year, a 12% increase, the survey found.

“It’s shocking to see forest loss increasing despite the COVID crisis and the restrictions in many areas of life,” Simon Lewis, professor of global change science at University College London, said in an interview.

The shrinking of the world’s forests in 2020 had many causes, including massive wildfires in Russia, Australia and the United States, as well as droughts and insect infestation.

In the tropics, meanwhile, the key drivers were uncontrolled fires and the expansion of agriculture.ADVERTISINGSkip AdSkip Adhttps://315bc5519cea865d239a777f30788905.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.htmlSkip Adhttps://315bc5519cea865d239a777f30788905.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Brazil, which is home to much of the sprawling Amazon rainforest, saw the most tropical forest disappear, largely because of wildfires and the clearing of land, much of it illegally. The nation lost a swath of old-growth forest in 2020 larger than the state of Connecticut.

The findings suggest the world is headed in precisely the wrong direction if the goal is to rapidly reduce global carbon emissions and mitigate climate change. All those felled trees in primary tropical forests contributed the equivalent of 2.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, Global Forest Watch estimates.

“Every year, we ring the alarm bell, but we’re still losing forests at a rapid clip,” said Frances Seymour, a distinguished senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, which launched Global Forest Watch, a collaboration with numerous partner organizations.

The new figures do not necessarily represent permanent deforestation, especially outside the tropics. Many of the areas that vanished in 2020, such as those lost to wildfires, are expected to grow back. Forested plots cut down in managed tree plantations are also not permanent losses.

Nevertheless, much of the destruction in the vital forests of the tropics stems from agricultural growth for crops like soy and cattle ranching, which is usually permanent. In Brazil, for instance, the new data details a troubling expansion within the infamous “arc of deforestation” in the southern Amazon.

From the perspective of the atmosphere, the erasure of forests has an immediate climate impact because carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, is released if the wood is burned or left to decompose. But the loss of trees also has longer-term implications, because even if vegetation returns, it may not absorb carbon as before. Some scientists fear that the warming climate, for instance, could transform certain Amazon regions into savanna, permanently lowering their carbon-storing potential.ADVERTISINGSkip Ad

In the Amazon and other parts of Brazil, wildfires don’t generally occur naturally, at least not on a large scale. They often occur when humans light blazes to clear land but then cannot control them. In Brazil’s enormous western wetland region known as the Pantanal, out-of-control fires consumed a staggering 30% of the peat-rich land in 2020, triggering intensive carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

“You don’t get the ignitions without the humans,” Deborah Lawrence, a professor at the University of Virginia who studies the links between tropical deforestation and climate change, said in an interview.

Yet there is also concern that a warming planet is changing forests in a way that worsens blazes, and that might account for some of the extreme fires that have recently ravaged Russia, Australia and parts of the United States.

“The increase in fire and disturbances is the part that’s much harder to control,” said Richard Houghton, an expert on forest losses at the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts. “So if that’s going up, that’s no good.”

Still, there are glimmers of hope in Wednesday’s numbers, at least for some regions of the world.

Indonesia saw shocking emissions in 2015, for instance, as human-lit fires consumed drained peatlands, which store gigantic amounts of carbon. Since then, however, government policies have helped curb emissions and better protect the nation’s forests, and the country has seen a steady decline in tree-cover losses for a fourth straight year.ADVERTISINGSkip AdSkip Adhttps://315bc5519cea865d239a777f30788905.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.htmlSkip Ad

By contrast, Brazil saw high levels of forest loss in the mid-2000s, but an international soy moratorium and other corrective actions by officials there drove forest loss down for almost a decade. Now, the problem has surged back near the levels that caused such concern to begin with.

“What governments do matters,” said Lewis, an expert on tropical forests, adding that deforestation is not inevitable and depends greatly on public policy. “Countries could get hold of deforestation rates and drive them down. It’s possible. It’s within our grasp.”

Congo, which houses the majority of the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest, also showed the second-highest level of forest losses in the tropics during 2020. Losses there have risen steadily for a decade, driven by small-scale local clearing of land for agriculture and firewood. Scientists fear the potential forest losses in the vast Congo basin have only begun.

Most Read Nation & World Stories

This is all happening as the world is supposed to be using its forests as a key weapon in the fight to slow the Earth’s warming. If forests continue to shrink, so does the chance to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to preindustrial levels — that’s the point beyond which scientists warn of increasingly profound environmental damage.

“It’s a critical part of keeping temperatures below 1.5 C,” Lewis said. “Restoring tropical forests is one of the most efficient ways of removing carbon dioxide and slowing climate change.”

In a massive report published in 2019, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underscored the vital role played by forests in helping to combat climate change.

Sponsored

Skip Adhttps://315bc5519cea865d239a777f30788905.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.htmlSkip Adhttps://315bc5519cea865d239a777f30788905.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.htmlSkip Adhttps://315bc5519cea865d239a777f30788905.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.htmlSkip Adhttps://315bc5519cea865d239a777f30788905.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“Reducing deforestation and forest degradation lowers [greenhouse gas] emissions,” the authors wrote, noting that protecting forests could mitigate up to 5.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. “By providing long-term livelihoods for communities, sustainable forest management can reduce the extent of forest conversion to non-forest uses (e.g., cropland or settlements).”

Accomplishing that in a warming world with a growing population will require increasing the efficiency of food production on existing land, Lewis said. “The global footprint of agriculture needs to be limited to the land that’s already under agriculture,” he said, adding that means reducing food waste and shifting human diets to include less meat and dairy products.

The more forest that gets cut down or burned, the more the world loses its ability to have forests pull carbon from the atmosphere — not to mention the loss of old-growth trees that have locked away carbon for generations, Lawrence said.

“We cannot lose that stock,” said Lawrence, who refers to forests as a “carbon sequestering machine.” “If we don’t lose them, we still have to work really, really hard [to cut global emissions]. If we do lose them, I don’t think we can make it.”

Conversations about how to slow and avoid deforestation have been happening for a very long time among world leaders, but the problem persists. “And still, we are losing tropical forest,” she said. “And that is just sad.”

The most obvious solution would be to widely tax greenhouse gas pollution, she said. “A price on carbon is essential,” she said.

Like other experts, Lawrence said it is difficult to overstate how hard it will be for the world to meet its climate targets without a huge assist from forests.

“It gives me a pit in my stomach, because I don’t think we can do it,” she said. That is, unless deforestation is brought under control. “The science says these forests are terribly important. I also love these forests, and I want to see them stay.”This story was originally published at washingtonpost.com

Biden May Approve Logging an Old-Growth Forest, Heightening Climate Risks

President Joe Biden seen in front of trees in Kootenai National Forest
If approved, the Trump-era project would be a reversal of Biden’s stated commitment to preserve federal land and waters.

BYLeanna First-AraiTruthoutPUBLISHEDMarch 2, 2021SHAREShare via FacebookShare via TwitterShare via Email

The Biden administration is a single regulatory leap away from green-lighting the logging of hundreds of acres of old-growth forest in Montana. If approved, the U.S. Forest Service’s “Black Ram Project” would authorize commercial harvesting on 3,904 acres in the Kootenai National Forest, including the clear-cutting of at least 579 acres of trees that are hundreds of years old. On top of potentially violating the National Environmental Policy Act, carrying out the Trump-era project would undermine at least three major Biden administration commitments: tackling the climate crisis, preserving 30 percent of federal land and waters by 2030 and preventing future outbreaks of disease transmitted from animals (or zoonoses) like COVID-19.

The Kootenai National Forest is in the northwestern corner of the state. Swaths of its land are still covered in 600- to 800-year-old subalpine fir, western larch and spruce trees, which ascend from the headwaters of the Yaak River. The ecosystem serves as a vital corridor for species such as wolves, lynx, wolverine, mountain goats and grizzly bears.

“Reefs of clouds drape themselves over its peak, and artesian seeps and springs percolate out of the steep east-facing mountain wall, home to sensitive and threatened plants,” local activist Rick Bass wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2002, describing the Yaak Valley specifically. “Wild ducks nest in the hanging marshes, salamanders wriggle beneath rotting logs and the area is favored by one of only two breeding female grizzly bears known to be left on the entire two-million-acre Kootenai National Forest.”

According to the Forest Service’s environmental assessment, the Black Ram Project was first publicly proposed in 2017, and is intended to “maintain or improve [the forest’s] resilience to disturbances such as drought, insect and disease outbreaks, and wildfires.” But the project doesn’t reduce the potential for high-intensity fires, Aaron Peterson, executive director of the conservation group Yaak Valley Forest Council, told Truthout.

Logging-as-fire-prevention grew popular during the Trump administration. In August 2019, for example, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana) introduced bipartisan logging legislation proposed to speed up the permitting process for cutting down trees in national forests “to protect communities from wildfires.” In contrast with the Indigenous practice of controlled burns, logging can actually make things worse. According to a 2016 study in Ecosphere, in forests where trees have been removed by logging, fires burn hotter and faster since the presence of fewer trees can promote the spread of invasive and highly combustible grasses, thus creating hotter, drier and windier conditions.

“We’re of the mind that we should be cutting more small-diameter trees closer to settlements of humans, not miles and miles and miles into the backcountry,” Peterson said. “These old 600- to 800-year-old trees are doing their job.”Forests pull an estimated one-quarter of all human-generated carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere each year. And the larger the tree, the more carbon it can store.

Forests pull an estimated one-quarter of all human-generated carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere each year. And the larger the tree, the more carbon it can store. A study on six national forests in Oregon suggests trees with trunks 21 inches in diameter or greater make up 3 percent of those forests, but store 42 percent of above-ground carbon. While tree-planting initiatives have become a popular action among environmental groups, “protecting and restoring existing forests rarely attracts the same level of support,” Beverly Law, professor emeritus at Oregon State University, co-wrote in The Conversation.

In comments to the Forest Service submitted in August 2019, the Kootenai Tribe of Iowa — one of the Indigenous groups that in 1855 was granted fishing, hunting and gathering rights within what is now the Kootenai National Forest, but is not currently able to exercise it — noted its support for some elements of the Black Ram Project. But it also pointed out that the Forest Service was overly vague about the project’s potentially negative impacts, such as the possible snowball effect of opening new roads in old growth areas. The tribe’s fish and wildlife director Sue Ireland did not respond to Truthout’s request for comment ahead of press time.

In January, the Forest Service responded to 69 issues raised in public comment objecting to the project, and in doing so, effectively dismissed those comments, said Ted Zukoski, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. Their responses signal that the project will advance following the issuance of a final biological opinion from U.S. Fish and Wildlife on the project’s likely impact, or lack thereof, on endangered grizzlies.

Zukoski said that the project is at odds with two of President Biden’s executive orders: EO 13990 protecting public health and the environment, and EO 14008 tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad. “The science is clear that safeguarding old forests and allowing forests to grow older — as compared with logging and planting tree seedlings — provide significant natural carbon storage benefits,” Zukoski told Truthout.The project is at odds with two of President Biden’s executive orders: EO 13990 protecting public health and the environment, and EO 14008 tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which houses the Forest Service, has a long history of managing trees as commodity crops and promoting clear-cutting and other practices that maximize yield and profit, as Oregon Public Radio’s Aaron Scott has reported on extensively. By the mid-1980s, timber was the highest-valued crop in the U.S. and the Forest Service was tasked with selling it, Scott has reported.

The land that is now known as the Kootenai National Forest has been long impacted by that approach. In 2006, an anonymous female member of the confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes responded to a survey for a dissertation on tribal forest management by Victoria Lynn Yazzie. “The woods are no longer an interest to me,” the anonymous tribal member wrote. “Its sights are devastating. The clear cuts have [left] nothing but thistle, weeds and [it’s] not pleasant to see how machinery tore up vast areas … I don’t enjoy seeing this.”

But conservation groups, working in collaboration with tribes in some cases, have managed to restore and preserve many of these ecosystems, such that the Kootenai region is still what climate activist Bill McKibben describes as “one of the wildest places remaining in the lower forty-eight states.” There are now an estimated 24 grizzly bears in the Yaak Valley, including four or five females, up from the two Bass reported in 2002, though one was brutally killed in November 2020, her paws skinned and partially mutilated, dumped in a driveway.

Heartbreaking in its own right, that’s an additional reason the Black Ram Project undercuts Biden’s public health efforts. In two major reports released in 2020 — one by the World Wildlife Fund and the other by members of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) — researchers warned that 631,000 to 827,000 unknown viruses in nature could still infect people, and that stopping deforestation and minimizing opportunities for the transfer of pathogens between wild animals and people is key to preventing the next major outbreak of disease.

“The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk,” Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance said in a statement accompanying the IPBES report. “Changes in the way we use land; the expansion and intensification of agriculture; and unsustainable trade … disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. This is the path to pandemics.”Stopping deforestation and minimizing opportunities for the transfer of pathogens between wild animals and people is key to preventing the next major outbreak of disease.

To proceed with the Black Ram Project as proposed would require a blatant neglect of those recommendations. In Alaska, zoonotic infections linked to grizzly bear-human interactions include brucellosis and trichinellosis. According to a February 2020 literature review of 90 years of research in the journal Zoonoses and Public Health, other zoonotic diseases linked to grizzly bears include tularaemia — a bacterial disease that can lead to skin ulcers and be fatal — and tapeworm. In spite of shrinking populations, the authors found, many bears continue to be hunted and humans often consume their meat. “The legal and illegal trade of bears and bear products, such as bile harvested from gall bladders … bring humans into close contact with zoonotic pathogens that may be circulating in bear species.”

Peterson says he’s not sure about the zoonotic risks of disease from bears in the Yaak Valley. What he does know from experience is that “an open road is an invitation to human-bear conflict,” which could include more violent incidents of poaching like what happened in November.

According to a representative from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there is no set completion date associated with the final biological opinion. Now that Tom Vilsack has been confirmed as head of the USDA, Zukoski says he remains hopeful the agency might embrace climate and ecological science by blocking the timber sale in the Yaak Valley, which Vilsack has the full authority to do. “Secretary Vilsack’s review of the Black Ram logging project will be a major test of whether the secretary will follow the president’s climate and conservation direction, or will continue liquidating old forest following the Trump blueprint,” he said.
But Vilsack’s record on logging doesn’t inspire total confidence. As secretary of agriculture during the Obama administration, Vilsack signed a directive granting himself sole power to make decisions on harvesting timber in roadless areas, and shortly thereafter allowed the clear-cutting of 381 acres of rainforest in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. “It is the judgment of the U.S. Forest Service that the sale is critical to keep a local timber mill open and to protect jobs associated with that mill,” a USDA spokesperson told E&E News in 2009.

This time around, Vilsack’s USDA might consider creating jobs by establishing a federal forest carbon reserve system that protects remaining mature and old forests across the national forest system, including old growth in the Yaak Valley — which, as Peterson reminds us, is currently classified as inland rainforest.

“If hundreds of acres can be clear cut, it will look like Siberia,” Peterson said.

Also see: https://truthout.org/video/biden-jeopardizes-nuclear-talks-with-iran-by-bombing-militias-in-syria/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=30eb7938-c44f-478d-a80d-5562c3d8b80a

Trump Authorizes Logging In Alaskan National Forest Less Than Two Weeks After Signing Trillion Trees Initiative

https://b03383dbeb9ad7a33f8562d03305bbc5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.htmlBREAKING|35,039 views|Oct 28, 2020,01:29pm EDT

Daniel CassadyForbes StaffBusinessI cover breaking news.

TOPLINE

 Less than two weeks after signing an executive order to have the U.S. join the One Trillion Trees Initiative, President Donald Trump stripped nearly 20-year-old protections from Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, one of the world’s largest intact temperate rainforests, paving the way for new roads and logging in over 9.3 million acres of near-virgin forest.

A forest scene at Takatz Bay on Baranof Island, Tongass...
A forest scene at Takatz Bay on Baranof Island, Tongass National Forest, Alaska, USA. (PHOTO BY WOLFGANG KAEHLER/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES)

KEY FACTS

Starting Thursday it will be legal to pave roads and cut down and remove timber from Tongass National Forest, according to a report by the Washington Post; it has been under federal protection since 2001.

Experts say Tongass is a “massive carbon sink” where the trees, some of which are up to 1,000 years old, absorb at least 8% of carbon emissions from the mainland United States.

Tongass is also home to a multitude of species, including Pacific salmon and trout, Sitka black-tailed deer, and the highest population of brown bears in the nation. 

On October 16, Trump signed an executive order to join the World Economic Forum’s One Trillion Trees Initiative, which aims to protect and restore a trillion trees by 2030.

The new regulation, which was posted Wednesday by the Department of Agriculture and will be in the Federal Register on Thursday, will make “an additional 188,000 forested acres” of mostly “old-growth timber” available for harvest, in addition to the 300 acres that were authorized since 2001.

PROMOTEDGrads of Life BRANDVOICE | Paid Program#WhatsWorking: How To Build A More Just And Equitable Economy, The Ideas Are FlowingCivic Nation BRANDVOICE | Paid ProgramThree Types Of Misinformation In This Election And How We Can Fight ItUNICEF USA BRANDVOICE | Paid ProgramInside Look: How COVID-19 Is Deepening The Migrant Crisis In Honduras

KEY BACKGROUND

Trump has tried to bring the logging industry to protected Alaskan forests before. In September a federal court stuck down the administration’s plan to open parts of Tongass’ Prince of Wales Island to the logging industry. In the decision, Judge Sharon Gleason said the U.S. Forest Service’s analysis of the environmental impacts of logging in the area had “serious shortcomings.” 

FURTHER READING

Trump to strip protections from Tongass National Forest, one of the biggest intact temperate rainforests (Washington Post)

President Trump Signs One Trillion Trees Executive Order, Promoting Conservation and Regeneration of Our Nation’s Forests (The White House)

Alaska judge stalls logging in Tongass National Forest (The Hill)

Europe Drives Destruction of US Forests in the Name of Fighting Climate Change

Europe is often considered to be a global leader on climate action. For over a decade, the European Union (EU) has been actively promoting the need for action on climate change, pushing policies that scale back carbon emissions and support the growth of renewable energy.

On the bright side, this has led to the retirement of a large number of coal-burning power plants and increased adoption of solar and wind power. However, a number of countries have embraced biomass electricity, a short-term fix that is at best a false solution, and at worst is speeding up carbon emissions, pollution and forest destruction. In fact, though many may believe that solar and wind power are the main sources of the EU’s renewable energy, it is actually biomass, which represents nearly 60 percent of the total.

Biomass electricity is generated by burning organic matter. Forests have rapidly become a primary source of biomass fuel in the EU. Flawed carbon accounting assumes burning trees is carbon-neutral if a tree is planted to replace the one that has been chopped down, but biomass imported from the U.S. to the EU is never properly accounted for. This faulty logic has led to massive renewable energy subsidies for biomass under the EU Renewable Energy Directive program. It has further encouraged countries like the U.K., Netherlands and Denmark to subsidize the destruction of forests for fuel at a time when we need to let forests grow to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, protect biodiversity and shore up natural protections against extreme flooding and droughts. For example, thanks to an average £2.1 million in subsidies every day, Drax, the largest carbon emitter in the U.K., is now also the world’s largest burner of wood for power.

To add insult to injury, in the absence of sufficient supplies of wood from its own forests, the EU is heavily reliant on importing wood pellets from forests far away. In fact, biodiverse and carbon-rich forests across the United States’ Southern Coastal Plain — a region that encompasses coastal North and South Carolina, southern Georgia and Alabama, and northern Florida — have become the primary global target for supplying biomass fuel to the EU. The Southern U.S. is now the world’s largest producer and exporter of wood pellets. Under the guise of “renewable energy,” the voracious European demand for wood pellets has put forests and communities in this region at increased risk.

Nearly 800 scientists warned members of the European Parliament that burning trees releases more carbon than coal or gas per unit of energy generated (making climate change worse), and they also pointed out that logging degrades critical ecological services that standing forests provide, such as natural flood control. Standing forests act like sponges, slowing the rate of water flow into streams and rivers, helping to prevent flooding. When a forest is cleared, the volume of water and soil erosion entering streams and rivers is accelerated during periods of heavy rain, causing rivers and streams to overflow. Tropical storms and hurricanes are common in the U.S. Southeast and are becoming more intense in the era of climate change.

In recent years, the communities of the Southern Coastal Plain have experienced some of the most devastating and costly flooding events in the world, with disproportionate impacts to low-income, rural communities of color. Protecting wetland forests, which provide natural flood protections, has become a regional priority among conservation groups and communities across the region.

Despite the industry’s best attempts to greenwash wood pellets as a “sustainable, renewable” fuel, numerous investigations by the media and environmental organizations have provided hard evidence of the industry’s toxic air pollution and destruction of biodiverse forests. Once clear-cut, these forests can take up to a century to fully regenerate and recapture the carbon that was emitted from the logging and burning of biomass. The science is clear that we don’t have the luxury of waiting a century to draw down carbon — we must do it now. Additionally, the process of turning trees into wood pellets releases toxic pollution into the air, further compromising the health of nearby communities, which are already overburdened by other sources of industrial pollution. For example, in one small community in eastern North Carolina, there are other polluting industries besides the Enviva wood pellet plant: a natural gas pipeline, a chicken processing facility and a natural gas-fired power plant, all dumping pollution on a community that is predominantly low-income and Black.

Thankfully, despite the biomass and wood pellet industries spending millions of dollars to lobby and promote this false solution to climate change, more elected officials, environmental organizations and frontline communities are starting to see the light, and the days of burning our forests for electricity may be numbered.

Impacted Communities Fight Back

For years now, the EU’s burning of forests for electricity has flown under the radar, and the EU is often praised for its move away from coal.

Thankfully, more and more organizations working to end the use of fossil fuels have started to see how important our forests are for protecting us from the worst impacts of climate change and how destroying them to make electricity is not the right path forward. For example, leaders in the anti-coal movement, including Mary Anne Hitt, the director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, and 350.org founder Bill McKibben, have recently publicly denounced biomass as a false solution that must be stopped, reinforcing the need to protect forests while staying focused on renewable energy like solar and wind.

In addition to the growing biomass opposition from high-profile organizations leading the charge to phase out fossil fuels, the frontline communities that are facing new wood pellet production facilities in the United States — and communities facing the conversion of dirty coal plants to dirty biomass plants or brand new biomass power plants in Europe — are fighting back. Those who suffer the most from this pollution and destruction are rising up.

In North Carolina, for example, Enviva, the world’s largest wood pellet manufacturer, applied to expand production at three of its facilities. In each of those communities, local leaders and affected residents showed up at public hearings, demanding the state take action to stop Enviva’s expansion. Even in rural Mississippi and Alabama, where local citizens had little warning of proposed new facilities, Enviva was met with opposition.

“We believe that everyone should have a clean, safe place to live, work, and play,” said Belinda Joyner, a Northeastern organizer for Clean Water for North Carolina. “Enviva has come in and detracted the living conditions of the community. This is what the community has to live with and it’s an injustice to them.”

And in Europe, despite the fact that many of the big environmental groups have ignored biomass for fear it would impact their fight against coal, local communities in Irelandthe Netherlands and France have come out strong in their opposition to burning wood for electricity in their backyards — and have even stopped new facilities from being constructed. Collectively, residents in the U.S. and EU are tired of empty rhetoric on climate change and are calling out biomass as a false solution while taking a stand for forests.

As the scientific evidence and public opposition mounts, elected officials on both sides of the pond are starting to express concern and take action. In March, the Virginia legislature passed the Clean Economy Act, which explicitly excludes biomass from the renewable energy list. In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper expressed concern about biomass at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. The state’s newly developed Clean Energy Plan stated that biomass would not be a part of the state’s clean energy future, noting that the EU policy treating biomass as carbon neutral “should be challenged at the national and international level.” In Georgia, there is currently a bipartisan forest resolution before the state House and Senate that criticizes biomass as a climate solution and calls for greater protection for forests.

Additionally, more European leaders at the EU and national levels are expressing concern about biomass. Vice President of the EU Frans Timmermans, who is in charge of the European Green Deal, has noted that the “issue of biofuels needs to be looked at very carefully” to ascertain whether it “does not do more harm than that it does good.”

Most importantly, in May, the EU announced that it will assess its biomass strategy as part of its biodiversity action plan. This could lead to a revision of current biomass policy 10 years ahead of schedule, with the aim of eliminating controversial sources like wood from the mix. Ideally, this would also incorporate more accurate accounting for carbon emissions from burning wood to generate electricity. Currently, carbon emissions from wood are about three times higher than “emissions from a similar-sized natural gas electric power plant,” according to one 2010 study.

Belgium and Ireland have both denied recent applications for new biomass facilities. In the U.K., the Netherlands and Denmark — three of the largest biomass electricity-producing countries — there is growing opposition from all levels of government, which is vital because economically, the subsidies from these countries are all that keeps this industry going. A recent national opinion poll in the Netherlands found that 98 percent of the country’s citizens “agree that biomass subsidies should be stopped.”

As can be expected from any dirty industry that is one policy change away from toppling like a house of cards, biomass advocates are in attack mode on the organizations, elected officials and even the media that are exposing the truth about this deceptive and destructive energy source. Starting astroturfed not-for-profit groups, running expensive greenwashing ad campaigns and attacking the credibility of its critics are just a few of the dirty tricks that the industry has employed in recent months. They have even attacked the credibility of investigative reporters who have written balanced stories on their industry.

It seems the growing movement to stop the destruction and burning of forests for electricity may be winning, but it’s not out of the woods yet. The light at the end of the dark biomass tunnel is a 21st-century energy economy powered by clean, renewable energy and a forest economy that is restorative rather than destructive. There needs to be political will to double down on new climate policies that focus on the right priorities like protecting and restoring our forests, not just planting trees. We need climate policies that stay focused on investing in renewable energy like solar and wind rather than false solutions like biomass and natural gas. And as we transition to a regenerative economy, it must be powered by the people, building opportunity for those who have suffered the most at the hands of the industries that have reaped tremendous profits while creating the climate crisis we find ourselves in today.

Collectively defeating the insidious side of EU renewable energy is essential to avoid utter climate chaos. The sooner governments around the world can unite to move away from all dirty fuels — including coal, fracked gas and biomass — and lean toward actually protecting nature, the better.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Good News: Cameroon cancels logging plan that threatened rare apes

AUGUST 12, 2020 / 9:54 AM / 2 DAYS AGO

FILE PHOTO: The eyes of a dominant male western lowland gorilla stare at a visitor at the primate sanctuary run by the Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund in Mefou National Park, just outside the capital Yaounde, March 21, 2009. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly/File Photo

DAKAR (Reuters) – Cameroon has backtracked on a decision to allow industrial logging in one of the region’s least exploited rainforests, home to rare gorillas, tool-wielding chimpanzees and giant frogs.

The latest government decree overturns one signed in July that would have permitted timber extraction across 68,385 hectares (264 sq miles), or nearly half, of southwestern Cameroon’s Ebo forest, following an outcry from conservation groups and local communities.

Logging would have destroyed the habitat of a small population of gorillas that may be a new subspecies and threatened chimpanzees known for both cracking nuts and fishing for termites, according to Global Wildlife Conservation.

Without giving a reason for the U-turn, the office of Prime Minister Joseph Ngute said in a statement on Tuesday that he had been instructed by President Paul Biya to reverse the earlier decree allowing logging.

It also said Biya had ordered a delay to plans to reclassify a separate 65,000 hectares of Ebo, a move that could have opened it up to loggers.

Conservationists, researchers and local groups have repeatedly urged the Cameroonian government to suspend plans for the two long-term logging concessions in Ebo, which is also the ancestral home of more than 40 local communities.

On Wednesday, Greenpeace Africa greeted the authorities’ apparent change of heart with cautious relief.

“The government of Cameroon seems to have suspended logging plans,” it said in an emailed statement. “The fate of Ebo forest – the communities dependent on it and the wildlife that live in it – still remains unclear.”

Ebo’s mountain slopes and river valleys also host at least 12 plant species that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet as well as the endangered Goliath Frog, a shy, cat-sized amphibian that builds pools for its tadpoles out of rocks.

Could forest loss have triggered the COVID-19 pandemic?

Scientific evidence shows that the felling of tropical forests creates ideal conditions for the spread of diseases

By Ashutosh Senger
Last Updated: Tuesday 16 June 2020

Deforestation can cause wildlife to come into close contact with humans, causing a release of pathogens and new diseases. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Deforestation can cause wildlife to come into close contact with humans, causing a release of pathogens and new diseases. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Deforestation can cause wildlife to come into close contact with humans, causing a release of pathogens and new diseases. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In the middle of this pandemic, we all recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of World Earth Day that symbolises support for environment protection. Although this is perhaps the first time we are not taking nature for granted, this pandemic surely raises questions about how we impact our planet.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020, upgraded the status of the novle coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak from epidemic to pandemic. Calling it as a pandemic is an acknowledgement of its global spread.

The coronavirus, named for the protein protrusions that decorate the outside of the virus like a crown, is actually a zoonotic disease – meaning it is passed from animals to humans. Other zoonotic diseases include the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Ebola and bird flu.

WHO opines that bats could be the most probable carrier of COVID-19 but believes that the virus jumped to humans from another intermediate animal host, either a domestic or a wild animal.

Unprecedented destruction of the environment by human activities has increased the frequency of zoonotic diseases. According to UNEP’s Frontiers 2016 Report on Emerging Issues of Environment Concern, zoonoses are a threat to economic development, animal and human well-being, and ecosystem integrity.

Zoonotic diseases are ranked among the world’s most ill-reputed. For example, HIV, Ebola, and H5N1 influenza, all started in wildlife before close interactions with humans spawned their international outbreaks.

According to Chinese geologists, Wuhan, the capital of central China’s Hubei Province, was a lush tropical forest millions of years ago. This fact raises a serious question: is it possible that deforestation could have triggered this new virus pandemic?

For a zillion ecological reasons, the loss of forests can act as an incubator for serious human health problem.

A research paper published in the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases hypothesised deforestation and associated environmental and population changes as the main drivers of zoonotic malaria species Plasmodium knowlesi becoming the main cause of human malaria in Malaysian Borneo.

Throughout human history, pathogens have emerged from forests. The Zika virus, that was believed to be causing microencephaly in newborns in Latin America, emerged from the Zika forest of Uganda in the 1940s.

It is pertinent to mention that the ecology of the viruses in deforested areas is different. Once forests are cut down, edges get established between deforested areas and forest.

In fact, a mosquito called Aedes africanus that is the host of the yellow fever and Chikungunya viruses, habitually lives on this edge and bites people working or living nearby.

Scientific evidence shows that the felling of tropical forests creates ideal conditions for the spread of diseases. Primates and other animals are also spreading disease from cleared forests to people.

A study published by Nature in 2008 identified 335 diseases that emerged between 1960 and 2004, at least 60 per cent of which came from animals. As such, one may blame bats or fishes for being possible sources of coronavirus, but humans are equally, if not more, to blame for the spread of this disease that is changing daily life across the globe.

Should the wildlife habitat destruction continue, the crowding of species will take place and their frequency of coming in contact with other different animals and humans will only increase.

Therefore, it is time we humans understand that nature poses threats and it is human activities that do the tangible harm by making health risks in a natural environment much worse by interfering with it.

In addition to doing everything we as global citizens can do to contain and extinguish the outbreak of coronavirus; Once the pandemic is contained, we must sit and relook our growth strategies.

Another aspect that needs to be given due respect is that public health research should learn from this pandemic and start considering the link between humans and surrounding natural ecosystems health. We ought to know what viruses the world might be up against in the future as they come out of the forest and how these viruses might spread and to potentially develop vaccines.

Ashutosh Senger is a practicing advocate and a patent agent based in New Delhi. Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

Can Trees Sequester Enough Carbon?

Life isn’t finding shelter in the storm. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.
~ Sherrilyn Kenyon 

I prepared the following report upon request from an organization interested in slowing or stopping the ongoing overheating of Earth by planting trees. Thus the formatting, atypical for this space.

***This document briefly investigates the idea of planting trees to sequester atmospheric carbon. Obviously, the process of photosynthesis insures that trees sequester carbon from the atmosphere. However, there are important questions that arise as we consider whether, how, and how many trees to plant. How fast do trees sequester carbon from the atmosphere? How much carbon do trees sequester? What negative side-effects are associated with planting large numbers of trees? These are the questions I will attempt to answer in this document.

Only by immediately halting all deforestation can we convert forests from a global carbon source into a carbon sink. The assumption that we will immediately halt all deforestation runs contrary to recent societal conduct and global trends. As of July, 2019, the Amazon basin alone was being deforested at the rate of 1 hectare per minute (Shukman 2019).

Evidentiary Overview

There is a nearly perfect match between an organism and its environment. The environment is comprised of everything that influences the life of an organism, including sunlight, climate, geology, and surrounding organisms. As a result of this close correspondence between an organism and its environment, minor environmental changes can produce profound changes in organisms, including loss of habitat for some species. In other words, the organism – any organism – depends upon a wide variety of factors for its continued persistence in a specific location (and therefore, on Earth). Loss of a seemingly minor species can therefore cascade into loss of habitat for a large number of species, thereby leading to co-extinctions.

Strona and Bradshaw (2018) described how co-extinctions result from a change in environmental conditions. In their case, they described how a 5 C or 6 C global-average rise in temperature will result in a loss of all life on Earth. We are clearly headed for that degree of temperature change within the coming few years, as I have described repeatedly at Nature Bats Last (McPherson 2020).

An article from the peer-reviewed journal Landscape and Urban Planning examined efforts to quantify the sequestration capacity of urban flora (Velasco et al. 2016). It was titled, “Does urban vegetation enhance carbon sequestration?” For example, a Vancouver neighborhood sequestered about 1.7 percent as much carbon as human activities produced, while in Mexico City the figure was 1.4 percent. The results were worse in Singapore. Overall, the authors concluded, “The impact of urban vegetation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions directly through carbon sequestration is very limited or null.”

In other words, planting trees in urban areas is not a viable means by which to sequester carbon. What about planting trees in non-urban areas? This question is addressed in a study published in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Nature on 2 April 2019 (Lewis et al. 2019).

As pointed out by Lewis et al. (2019), the most effective place to plant trees with respect to climate change is in the tropics and subtropics. Most forest-restoration commitments are found in these areas. In addition, trees sequester carbon relatively quickly near the equator, and land is inexpensive and available compared to temperate regions. In addition, establishing forests near the equator has little effect on the albedo (reflectivity) of the land surface, in contrast to high latitudes where trees obscure snow that would otherwise reflect incoming sunlight and therefore help keep the planet cool. Well-managed forests in the tropics and subtropics also can help alleviate poverty in low-income regions, conserve biological diversity, and support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

According to Lewis et al. (2019), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests in its October, 2018 report that atmospheric carbon sequestration by 2100 must total about 730 billion tonnes of CO2 (730 petagrams of CO2, or 199 petagrams of carbon, Pg C).In the near term, this means addingup to 24 million hectares (Mha) of forest every year between now and 2030. These 24 Mha of forest would be comprised of plantations. This is equivalent to all the CO2 emitted by the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and China since the Industrial Revolution began in 1750. There is no known means to capture so much CO2.

Fast-growing trees within plantations, such as Eucalyptus and Acacia, sequester up to 5 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year. After such trees are harvested and the land is cleared for replanting — typically once per decade — the carbon is released into the atmosphere through decomposition. In other words, planting trees into plantations is a temporarymeasure. Worse yet, according to an analysis conducted by Bala and colleagues and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scienceson 17 April 2007, “afforestation projects … would be counterproductive if implemented at high latitudes and would offer only marginal benefits in temperate regions.”

Recognizing the inability of tropical and subtropical plantations to rise to the challenge posed by IPCC goals, Lewis et al. (2019) call on the “restoration community, forestry experts, and policymakers to prioritize the regeneration of natural forests over other types of tree planting — by allowing disturbed lands to recover to their previous high-carbon state.” They go on to write that this task “will entail tightening definitions, transparently reporting plans and outcomes and clearly stating the trade-offs between different uses of land.” They conclude that restoration of extant forests, along with reforestation of deforested areas, is the most effective strategy for storing carbon.

Carbon-storage potential is currently being sabotaged by clashing global priorities. The best-case scenario offered by Lewis et al. (2019) has the entire area available to management regenerating to natural forest. However, even under this unlikely scenario, only 42 Pg of carbon would be stored in tropical and subtropical ecosystems by 2100 (vs. the stated goal of 199 Pg).

Other Considerations

In addition to technical obstacles directly related to the task of planting trillions of trees, other issues must be considered. For example, the economic cost of managing forests must be paid. By whom? Under what set of contracts? Who would derive financial benefits under these contracts? In addition to these financial concerns, at least three additional issues must be addressed: ongoing overheating of Earth, the aerosol masking effect, and the environmental consequences of water uptake by trees.

According to an overview published by European Strategy and Policy Analysis System in April 2019 (Gaub et al. 2019), an “increase of 1.5 degrees is the maximum the planet can tolerate; … at worst, [such a rise in temperature above the 1750 baseline will cause] the extinction of humankind altogether.” In other words, according to this major synthesis, we have passed the point beyond which human extinction is likely to occur. After all, Earth is currently at least 1.73 C above the 1750 baseline (Carana 2018).

The aerosol masking effect, sometimes called global dimming, refers to the cooling effect associated with industrial activity. The aerosols produced by industrial activity are temporarily suspended in Earth’s atmosphere, thus serving to cool Earth. These aerosols constantly fall to the surface of Earth, and without sustained industrial activity their impact is lost within a matter of a few weeks. As a result, slowing or stopping civilization serves to heat Earth even faster than the ongoing warming resulting from this set of living arrangements. The impact of the aerosol masking effect has been greatly underestimated, as pointed out in an 8 February 2019 article in Science(Rosenfeld et al. 2019). As indicated by the lead author of this paper on 25 January 2019 (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 2019): “Global efforts to improve air quality by developing cleaner fuels and burning less coal could end up harming our planet by reducing the number of aerosols in the atmosphere, and by doing so, diminishing aerosols’ cooling ability to offset global warming.” The cooling effect is “nearly twice what scientists previously thought” (Fagan 2019). This paper cites the conclusion by Levy et al. (2013) indicating as little as 35% reduction in industrial activity drives a 1 C global-average rise in temperature, which suggests that as little as a 20% reduction in industrial activity is sufficient to warm the planet 1 C within a few days or weeks. This Catch-22 of abrupt climate change takes us down the wrong path regardless of the direction of industrial activity, assuming we are interested in maintaining habitat for vertebrates and mammals on Earth. A decline in the aerosol masking effect means loss of habitat for human animals, with human extinction soon to follow. Such an event will solve all our problems, albeit in a manner that eliminates most or all life on Earth (McPherson 2019).

Finally, planting trees reduces surface water. Several peer-reviewed studies have linked increased forest cover with reduced river flow and potentially detrimental effects downstream (Bentley and Coomes 2020). A peer-reviewed meta-analysis of 43 published studies published in the peer-reviewed journal Global Change Biologyby Bentley and Coomes (2020) found that forests reduced annual river flow by 23% after 5 years and 38% after 25 years. These adverse effects persisted for five decades after forests became established.

Conclusion

I am not proposing “giving up,” whatever that means in the midst of a Mass Extinction Event and abrupt, irreversible climate change. Rather, my ongoing scholarly efforts are focused on minimizing suffering. How do we minimize suffering? Is such a quest restricted to humans, or are other organisms included? What is the temporal frame of the quest? Does it extend beyond the moment, perhaps to months or years? Does it extend beyond the personal to include other individuals? These are the questions on which I have chosen to focus.

Perhaps others will join me in my quest to understand suffering and its causes. Perhaps doing so will alleviate further suffering. I can imagine worse pursuits.

Literature Cited

Bala, G., K. Caldeira, M. Wickett, T.J. Phillips, D.B. Lobell, C. Delire, and A. Mirin, 2007, Combined climate and carbon-cycle effects of large-scale deforestation, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences104:6550-6555, pnas.org/content/104/16/6550

Bentley, L.B. and D.A. Coomes, 2020, Partial river flow recovery with forest age is rare in the decades following establishment, Global Change Biology, doi.org/10.1111/gcb.14954

Carana, S., 2018, How much warmer is it now? Arctic News, 2 April 2018,arctic-news.blogspot.com/2018/04/how-much-warmer-is-it-now.html

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2018, Global Warming of 1.5 ºC, ipcc.ch/sr15/

Fagan, L. 2019, Cooling from atmospheric particles may mask greater warming, Sustainability Times, 25 January 2019, https://www.sustainability-times.com/environmental-protection/research-cooling-from-atmospheric-particles-may-mask-greater-warming/

Gaub, L. et al., 2019, Global Trends to 2030: Challenges and Choices for Europe, European Strategy and Policy Analysis System, April 2019,espas.secure.europarl.europa.eu/orbis/sites/default/files/generated/document/en/ESPAS_Report2019.pdf

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2019, We need to rethink everything we know about global warming: New calculations show scientists have grossly underestimated the effects of air pollution, ScienceDaily22 January 2019, sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190122104611.htm

Levy II, L.W. Horowitz, M.D. Schwarzkopf, Y. Ming, and J.-C. Golaz 2013, The roles of aerosol direct and indirect effects on past and future climate change,JGR: Atmospheres118:4521-4532, https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jgrd.50192

Lewis, S.L., C.E. Wheeler, E.T.A. Mitchard, and A. Kock 2019, Restoring natural forests is the best way to remove atmospheric carbon.Nature568: 25–28, nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01026-8

McPherson, G.R. 2019, Becoming hope-free: Parallels between death of individuals and extinction of Homo sapiensClinical Psychology Forum317:8-11.

McPherson, G.R. 2020, Nature Bats Last, guymcpherson.com

Rosenfeld, D., Y. Zhu, M. Want, Y. Zheng, T. Goren, and S. Yu 2019, Aerosol-driven droplet concentrations dominate coverage and water of oceanic low-level clouds. Science363(6427) doi.org/10.1126/science/aav0566

Shukman, D. 2019, ‘Football pitch’ of Amazon forest lost every minute. BBC News2 July 2019, bbc.com/news/science-environment-48827490

Strona and Bradshaw 2018, Scientific Reports8, Article 16724, doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-35068-1

Velasco, E., M. Roth, L. Norford, and L.T. Molina. 2016. Does urban vegetation enhance carbon sequestration? Landscape and Urban Planning148:99-107, doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.12.003

The African Congo Is Quietly Being Deforested As The Amazon Rainforest Burns

Dead Trees in the African Congo

While the world is paying a lot of attention to the Amazon rainforest burning, deforestation is quietly gutting another major forest in the African Congo, thus compounding the threat to our planet.

The nation of Brazil under the anti-environmental policies of President Jair Bolsonaro has seen a devastating rise in forest fires this year as wannabe farmers try to clear land for cattle ranches to take advantage of the worldwide demand for beef.

The world has been outraged by deforestation, which threatens the global oxygen supply and is dealing with a major setback to the fight against climate change.

That’s why Norway is telling companies based there not to fund deforestation and a major shoe company in the United States is no longer buying leather produced in Brazil.

And the deforestation in the Amazon comes as President Donald Trump is set to open up the largest temperate rainforest in Alaska, Tongass National Forest, to logging and corporate development. It’s a move that will only perpetuate the climate crisis.

But while everyone is paying attention to the fires in the Amazon, another major forest region is being clear cut in Africa.

The African Congo is rich in timber resources. Demand for these timber resources are rising, resulting in a direct threat to the thick jungles that support an entire ecosystem teeming with plants and wildlife that must be protected at all costs.

Among the endangered species threatened by deforestation include gorillas, elephants, and the white rhino, which scientists are desperately trying to save right now.

Alas, deforestation is increasing here, according to Climate Focus co-founder Charlotte Streck.

“Deforestation has increased rapidly in Africa, coming from a relatively low level, to begin with, but it is rising very quickly but very quietly,” Streck told The Guardian, which reported on the dire situation that is unfolding there.

According to a report on the New York Declaration on Forests, signed in 2014 with the aim of halting deforestation globally by 2030, the new hotspots of increasing forest loss are in west Africa and the Congo basin.

While the greatest losses of forests by area in the years 2014-18 occurred in tropical Latin America, the greatest rate of increase was in Africa, where deforestation rates leapt from less than 2m hectares a year on average from 2001 to 2013, to more than 4m a year from 2014 to 2018. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo rates of deforestation have doubled in the past five years.

Of course, China could play a large role in reducing deforestation in the African Congo by issuing tighter regulations on timber imports.

“African timber is exported to China, and this is one of the three dominant causes of deforestation,” Streck said. “China could act on illegal timber and be very effective, for instance, if the Chinese government put in a requirement on tracing [timber and forest goods].”

2019 could very well be the single worst year of deforestation the world has ever witnessed, and we will all be negatively impacted as species die-off, medicinal plants are destroyed, and the Earth’s primary defense against climate change is ruthlessly cut down to make way for agricultural and fossil fuel industry pursuits. If we are to deal with this problem before it’s too late, nations must take action now.

EPA Moves to Loosen Methane Rules as Trump Opens Alaskan Rainforest

Stop signs — perhaps the most ubiquitous form of taxpayer-funded socialism found in the U.S. today — exist for a reason. People who barge through them are putting others in active danger, and anyone doing it deliberately would be considered a fool and a menace by pretty much everyone else.

The Amazon rainforest is on fire. The Arctic is on fire. Swaths of Indonesiaand central Africa are on fire. The Greenland ice sheet melted virtually overnight and caused the ocean to visibly and measurably rise. Iceland is holding funerals for melting glaciers. These are stop signs, huge ones that can be seen from space.

Climate disruption is not lurking in some faraway land of maybe; it was here yesterday and the day before, and last week, and last year. It is here today, and will be here tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives. It will never get better, and is going to get worse, but if we heed the stop signs, we have the chance to, perhaps, keep it from driving us into extinction.

Clearly, the president of the United States doesn’t see it that way. “I’m an environmentalist,” said Donald Trump after blowing off a G7 meeting on the climate crisis. “A lot of people don’t understand that. I think I know more about the environment than most people.” In his mind, nuking hurricanes and buying Greenland to plunder its newly ice-free resourcesis what environmentalists do.

Now, Trump the “environmentalist” has also reportedly orderedAgriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to open Alaska’s 16.7 million-acre Tongass National Forest — the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world — to logging, energy and mining projects.

Not satisfied with his quest to erase Barack Obama from the history books, Trump has begun erasing Clinton-era environmental protections like the one that has defended Tongass for 20 years. “Trump has taken a personal interest in ‘forest management,’” reports The Washington Post, “a term he told a group of lawmakers last year he has ‘redefined’ since taking office.”

Trump did not stop with Tsongass. On Thursday, his administration announced it intends to roll back regulations on the release of methane by the oil and gas industry. Methane is a highly dangerous greenhouse gas that has “80 times the heating-trapping power of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years in the atmosphere,” according to The New York Times. There is near-universal fear among environmental scientists that melting Arctic permafrost — exacerbated by the ongoing fires — will release a methane bomb into the atmosphere, creating a feedback loop that will drastically worsen climate disruption. Loosening methane restrictions on the fossil fuel industry for profit is exactly, precisely the wrong thing to do.

This, as right-wing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro spurns G7 money to help fight Amazon wildfires caused by cattle and soybean farmers who are deliberately torching the land with Bolsonaro’s direct approval. The Brazilian president has ostensibly turned down the fire-fighting funding because French president Emmanuel Macron said mean things about him, but in truth, Bolsonaro sees the Amazon as nothing more than a cash machine. He wants these fires to burn.

Trump and Bolsonaro: “environmentalist forest managers” at the vanguard of the end of everything.

“How can they do this?” people will exclaim.

“Because someone asked them to,” is the proper reply.

Trump and Bolsonaro are undeniably dangerous leaders whose oppressive policies must be resisted. The origins of the plunder we are witnessing, however, do not lie with them. Plunder is the reason the United States exists, and has been the reason since the first European ships cracked the horizon on their way to the North and South American continents. Plunder has been the point of the exercise for more than 400 years. Trump and Bolsonaro are not aberrations. They are the fulfillment of ultimate purpose, the triumph of U.S.-style capitalist practices.

Here in the U.S., we use red-white-and-blue bunting to cover up the scars, and the well-manicured lawns preside over stolen lands as they hide the mass graves. The big bank accounts are all offshore, and soot from the burning chokes the poor neighborhoods and what’s left of nature.

There is a lot of talk about “saving the environment” and “stopping climate change,” which is good, because awareness must come before action. That awareness, however, must encompass the fact that we will not save even the smallest fraction of the environment unless and until we derail the ravenous juggernaut of capitalism.

U.S.-style capitalism heeds no stop signs. It exists to feed, to plunder, and to despoil for profit. Trump and Bolsonaro are energetic avatars of the practice, one which is older than the country that birthed it. It is the capitalism of slavery, the cotton field and the lash, of the burned forest and the poisoned well. It knows only hunger, and is never sated. If we are going to save ourselves from the apocalypse of climate collapse, saving ourselves from the capitalism causing it is where we have to start.

The Amazon Is Dying and Bolsonaro Is Fanning the Flames

The Amazon rainforest is the largest rainforest on planet Earth. Generating half its own rainfall and holding 20 percent of all the world’s rivers within its borders, it covers an area two-thirds the size of the contiguous 48 United States, and produces 20 percent of the oxygen in the world’s atmosphere.

There are more than 1,100 tributaries of the Amazon River alone, with seventeen of them longer than one thousand miles. The rainforest also creates “flying rivers,” — massive streams of airborne moisture that develop above the canopy and move with the clouds and rainfall patterns across the entire continent of South America.

Many scientists believe the Amazon is the most important source of biodiversity on the planet, and statistics back that up. It contains thousands of species of birds and trees, an estimated 2.5 million species of insects, and at least 3,000 species of fish in the Rio Negro alone, with new species being discovered all the time. A new species is discovered, on average, every other day.

Smoke from the burning rainforest has blotted out the sky over Sao Paulo, a city more than 1,700 miles from the fires, while satellite imagery showssmoke from the fires having spread all the way to the Atlantic coast, covering half of Brazil, and even covering parts of Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru.

Crossing Thresholds

Thomas Lovejoy has worked in Brazil’s Amazon since 1965, but he is the first to say that “we’ve barely scratched the surface” in terms of our understanding of that rainforest, as he told Truthout during an interview in 2017. He was director of the World Wildlife Fund in the U.S. for 14 years, and has been given the nickname “the godfather of biodiversity,” having coined the term “biodiversity” himself. One of his reports, alone, led to more than half of the Amazon rainforest being put under protection.

During our interview, Lovejoy gave dire warnings of things to come, including the heartbreaking wildfires we are seeing now.

He noted that emissions limits that have been agreed to internationally will not prevent catastrophe. In a 2013 op-ed for The New York Times entitled “The Climate Change Endgame,” he wrote, “It is abundantly clear that the target of a 2-degree Celsius limit to climate change was mostly derived from what seemed convenient and doable without any reference to what it really means environmentally. Two degrees is actually too much for ecosystems.”

That is exactly what the current Amazon wildfires indicate, as the planet has warmed 1.2 degrees Celsius (1.2°C) since the industrial revolution began, and will clearly continue warming.

“Think about what it means overall,” Lovejoy said of what the planet will look and feel like when it reaches 2°C (a benchmark it is now guaranteed to far exceed). “It means a world that will have sea levels four to six meters higher. It means a world without tropical coral reefs — as we can already see those impacts now — and probably a whole bunch of thresholds will be crossed that we can’t predict.”

When a tropical rainforest is healthy, it sequesters CO2 from the atmosphere, but when rainforests are degraded by drought, wildfires, human-caused fires, clear-cutting and human development, they release most or all of their stored carbon back into the atmosphere. The 2010 Amazon drought released as much carbon dioxide as the annual emissions of Russia and China combined, Oxford University scientists observed.

Given increasing drought and wildfire patterns, we can most likely expect to see the demise of the Amazon, possibly even before 2100.

Bolsonaro: The Tropical Trump

According to INPE, deforestation across the Amazon had already accelerated by 60 percent in June, compared to the same time period last year, as radical right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s horrific environmental policies began to take effect.

Last month, Greenpeace labeled Bolsonaro and his right-wing government a “threat to climate equilibrium,” while the World Wildlife Fund, like many scientists, has warned that if the Amazon reaches a tipping point, it could become a dry savannah and will no longer be capable of supporting much of the wildlife that exists there today.

Instead of sequestering carbon and generating water and rainfall, the Amazon will instead become a net emitter of carbon, and the planet will lose most of its oxygen-producing function. Meanwhile, the loss of the Amazon’s biodiversity will be beyond devastating for the planet.

Bolsonaro, like Trump in the U.S., has worked at breakneck speed to eliminate environmental regulations. He has opened up the Amazon for logging, agribusiness and mining since he took power this January.

In a particularly Trumpian moment, Bolsonaro recently made the baseless claim that environmental NGOs were responsible for the wildfires. Speaking to a steel industry congress in the capital city of Brasilia, The Guardian reported that Bolsonaro said, “On the question of burning in the Amazon, which in my opinion may have been initiated by NGOs because they lost money, what is the intention? To bring problems to Brazil.”

Bolsonaro was likely using this speech as a deflection and diversion from his real plans for the Amazon. Recently leaked documents show that Bolsonaro intends to use hate speech to further isolate and marginalize minority groups living in the Amazon, in order to move forward with predatory projects like dams that would have devastating environmental impacts.

“Development projects must be implemented on the Amazon basin to integrate it into the rest of the national territory in order to fight off international pressure for the implementation of the so-called ‘Triple A’ project,” read one of the slides from the leaked Powerpoint. “To do this, it is necessary to build the Trombetas River hydroelectric plant, the Óbidos bridge over the Amazon River, and the implementation of the BR-163 highway to the border with Suriname.”

Hence, Bolsonaro’s attacks directed at NGOs are likely part of the extreme right-wing leader’s development plans for the Amazon.