.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Monday, March 26, 2007

Not so fast with biofuels

Via IPS News Agency, Stephen Leahy warns of some unintended consequences that can occur with the rush to biofuels:

Biofuels Boom Spurring Deforestation

BROOKLIN, Canada, Mar 21 (IPS/IFEJ) - Nearly 40,000 hectares of forest vanish every day, driven by the world's growing hunger for timber, pulp and paper, and ironically, new biofuels and carbon credits designed to protect the environment.

The irony here is that the growing eagerness to slow climate change by using biofuels and planting millions of trees for carbon credits has resulted in new major causes of deforestation, say activists. And that is making climate change worse because deforestation puts far more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the entire world's fleet of cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships combined.

The problem is that the demand is resulting in unsustainable practices, such as monoculture (tree plantations):
Plantation forests are nothing like natural or native forests. More akin to a field of maize, plantation forests are hostile environments to nearly every animal, bird and even insects. Such forests have been shown to have a negative impact on the water cycle because non-native, fast-growing trees use high volumes of water. Pesticides are also commonly used to suppress competing growth from other plants and to prevent disease outbreaks, also impacting water quality.

Plantation forests also offer very few employment opportunities, resulting in a net loss of jobs.

"Plantation forests are a tremendous disaster for biodiversity and local people," Lovera said.

Even if farmland or savanna are only used for oil palm or other plantations, it often forces the local people off the land and into nearby forests, including national parks, which they clear to grow crops, pasture animals and collect firewood. That has been the pattern with pulp and timber plantation forests in much of the world, says Lovera.

Thinking of buying carbon credits to offset your heavy footprint? Consider this:

"Europe's carbon credit market could be disastrous," Lovera said.

The multi-billion-euro European carbon market does not permit the use of reforestation projects for carbon credits. But there has been a tremendous surge in private companies offering such credits for tree planting projects. Very little of this money goes to small land holders, she says.

Plantation forests also contain much less carbon, notes Palo, citing a recent study that showed carbon content of plantation forests in some Asian tropical countries was only 45 percent of that in the respective natural forests.

So, as with everything else, the buyer must beware. At least as the market is currently operating, according to this IPS article - and IPS is hardly a right wing source - just casually buying carbon credits won't get it done.

I think it just goes to show again, that the simplest and surest way to lessen your impact on the earth is simply to consume less.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, March 25, 2007

"This Moment on Earth"

That's the name of the new book by John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry, which is officially "released" as of tomorrow, but has already been out on bookstore shelves in some places. I was lucky and was able to pick up my copy on March 19th. So I am almost done reading it. Well, the first time through, that is - this is the kind of book I'll be reading at least once more pretty quickly.

The subtitle is Today's New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future, but instead of being about big-shot ivory tower types and grand visions, it's mostly about everyday people who were faced with serious environmental issues in their own neighborhoods, and the work they did to improve their situations. Well, there is at least one "ivory tower type" who has "grand visions" in the book, namely architect William McDonough, famous among other things as a co-author of the Hannover Principles and Cradle-to-Cradle design; but as it happens, McDonough has a record of turning grand visions into reality. He designed the first green building in New York City, the Environmental Defense Fund offices, all the way back in 1984; in 1993 he led the way in the greening of Pittsburgh with the redesign of the Heinz Family Foundation offices.

While it's reassuring to read about leaders like McDonough who are positioned to make a difference in a big way, the power of the Kerrys' book is that it doesn't just talk about the professionals like McDonough, but also people who step up in response to a problem that desperately needs them to take action - not because they are experts or trained activists, but because it is their neighborhood. And the book rounds out the stories of individuals' actions with a grounding in the context of each situation from a policy standpoint.

In sum, the book is an engaging mix of "short stories" of real-life, mixed with just enough wonk to be a serious study of the issues. It's the kind of book you don't need to read from cover to cover - open it up just about anywhere, and you will find a good starting point to read just a little bit. That's a great way to make it more accessible to those of us who rarely spend much time sitting down with a book anymore.

In fact, I've found it the perfect book for a 20-minute commute on the train. And that's the only reason I haven't finished it yet...I'm saving it just for reading on the train, so I can get as many pleasant commutes out of it as possible.

Iraq on the Record: The Bush Administration's public statements on Iraq
The Bush Administration's
public statements on Iraq
This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?