trees and forests

Zoologist Bernd Heinrich  today focuses on biofuels, but his words apply equally to Joseph Heath’s call for “a simple, cogent line of reasoning that defends the practice [of paper recycling] against the ‘economic’ objection”.

Trees are often called a “carbon sink” — implying that they will sop up carbon from the atmosphere for all eternity. This is not true: the carbon they take up when they are alive is released after they die, whether from natural causes or by the hand of man. The only true solution to achieving global “carbon balance” is to leave the fossil carbon where it is — underground.

[snip]

[The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 does not provide] carbon-reduction credits for saving existing forests. Since planting new trees does get one credits, Kyoto actually created a rationale for clear-cutting old growth.

This is horrifying. The world’s forests are a key to our survival, and that of millions of other species. Not only are they critical to providing us with building material, paper, food, recreation and oxygen, they also ground us spiritually and connect us to our primal past. Never before in earth’s history have our forests been under such attack. And the global-warming folks at Copenhagen seem oblivious, buying into the corporate view of forests as an exploitable resource.

Bernd Heinrich, “Clear-Cutting the Truth About Trees”, New York Times, 20 December 2009.

Ewald Rametsteiner’s comments on my 20 August 2009 recycling post make more sense to me now that I have read this column.

Professor Heinrich lives in a 300-acre (120 hectare) Vermont forest. He is author of numerous books, including The Trees in My Forest (Harper, 1997) and Summer World: A Season of Bounty (Ecco, 2009).

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