Monday, November 2, 2009

Can’t See the Forest for the Trees

The head of the international group leading the fight against climate change has accused countries of pushing science aside in favor of self-serving "political myopia" ahead of the vital Copenhagen summit.

Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was quoted in the Guardian as saying: science has been moved aside and the space has been filled up with political myopia with every country now trying to protect its own narrow short-term interests. They are afraid to have negotiations go any further because they would have to compromise on those interests.

Political myopia pretty well sums the Canadian Government’s response to a landmark study published last week that details how Canada can reduce its green house gas emissions by 20% of the 1990 levels by 2020.

Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice said there is no way Western Canadians could absorb the deep economic hit projected by the report's environmentalist authors – the David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute. Mr. Prentice, in an interview with The Globe and Mail from Kingston, said Canadians will not accept the report's advocacy of emission targets for 2020 that would reduce Canada's gross domestic product by 3 per cent nationally and 12 per cent in Alberta from business-as-usual estimates.

Well Minister Prentice have you calculated the potential economic cost of dust bowl conditions in Alberta and Saskatchewan that would result as the planet continues to heat up? Look at what’s happening in Australia and the American Southwest, never mind equatorial east Africa. What’s the projected loss of GDP in a worst case scenario where there are successive years of massive crop failures? Why would Western Canadians accept a return to the dirty thirties landscape on the prairies?

Moreover, slowing the rate of extraction of fossil fuels in the West actually makes a lot of sense from a long-term intergenerational economic perspective. The oil and gas locked in the ground will not suddenly evaporate. In fact, once the extraction of conventional oil and gas supplies begins to wane as we move downward from peak oil production, the market value of the reserves in Western Canada will increase substantially. It’s as if you would have us believe that all Western Canadians are intent to piss away their natural inheritance in one generation.

Other than the loony fringe of the Christian fundamentalist movement, where the apocalypse cannot arrive soon enough, and the shareholders of the major corporations racing to extract as much as they can as quickly as they can – they have cornered the market on asbestos suitcases – most Western Canadians have the common sense to realize that extracting non-renewable resources at full throttle is not in their long-term self-interest.

One thing that is most striking in the political myopia of our political class is that almost no serious thought has been given to the economic potential of extracting financial wealth from the real and speculative economy to preserve the carbon sequestration capabilities of Canada’s boreal forest.

A report by the International Boreal Conservation Campaign said the forests, with their rich mix of trees, wetlands, peat and tundra, were a far bigger carbon store than scientists had realized, soaking up 22% of the total carbon stored on the earth's land surface.

If you look across Canada one of [the boreal forest's] great values to us globally is its carbon storage value, said Steve Kallick, director of the Pew Environment Group's International Boreal Conservation Campaign. There is so much carbon sequestered in it already that if it escaped it would pose a whole new, very grave threat.

Canada's cold temperatures slow decomposition, allowing the build-up of organic soil and peat. The forest floors beneath its evergreens hold twice as much carbon per acre as tropical forests, such as the Amazon.

Canada has approximately 1.3 billion acres of boreal forest. Each acre can absorb on average between one and two metric tons of CO2 per year. Do the math at $30 a ton and then at $100 a ton. Evidently, the forests are worth much more as carbon reservoirs than for their lumber.

Unfortunately, the Canadian political class doesn’t seem to have a clue that we should be negotiating hard to have carbon credits for old growth forests included in the post-Kyoto accord. Talk about a missed opportunity. If we can pay Canadians for not growing wheat, we should be paying those in the forestry sector for managing the forests in an ecological manner.

1 comment:

  1. A global warming pact to be agreed next month in Copenhagen must take into account the carbon dioxide absorption potential of Russia's sprawling forests, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Monday,November 2, 2009.

    I guess Putin's advisors are reading this
    blog :-)


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