Mitigating Climate Change through Forest Planning

Jagdish Poudel, M.Sc., relaxes in an Oregon forest, a huge carbon sink. Photo: Courtesy Jagdish Poudel

Until recently, my research, work, and activities have been based in the Himalayas. I previously wrote three articles for Blue Planet Green Living, in which I discussed the impacts of climate change in my homeland, Nepal. My interest in climate change has grown deeper and deeper as I’ve started to look at mitigation measures rather than merely impacts.

It’s been two months since I arrived in Portland, Oregon, a beautiful place for forests and nature. At World Forestry Institute, I am investigating the role of the forest in climate-change mitigation by examining one community forest in Nepal and a small, private woodland in Oregon. My goal is to learn about the issues and find possible solutions that different countries can adapt for climate-change mitigation.

This Nepalese gentleman is explaining how thinning forests is beneficial. Photo: Courtesy Jagdish Poudel

Forests are the second-largest source of carbon emission (17.4%) due to deforestation and degradation in developing countries like Nepal. So, it’s critically important that sustainable forest management practices should not add sources of emission and must strike a balance between maintaining carbon stock and earning a livelihood.

Avoiding deforestation has great potential to reduce carbon emissions. Since deforestation is currently external to carbon compliance requirements, it could be a substantial source of forest carbon offsets.

At the project level, preventing deforestation is a relatively simple, straightforward action. Contracts, easements, and other legal instruments can be created to assure that a site is not cleared of its timber and firewood. However, avoiding deforestation in one site is particularly prone to causing “leakage” — deforestation of another site — to provide the desired products or outcomes. Forest sequestration is competitive with other abatement measures and may play a significant role in national and global climate-mitigation strategies.

At the stand level, disturbances causes several things to occur: First, they redistribute the existing carbon stock by transferring carbon from living materials, both above- and below-ground, to the dead, organic-matter pools. As the carbon uptake by living trees is interrupted and the emissions from decomposition increase, a disturbed forest stand shifts from carbon sink to carbon source relative to the atmosphere. And it remains in the source phase until carbon uptake by the new generation of trees exceeds emissions from decomposing, dead, organic materials.

The forest-based carbon offset program requires having land capable of supporting a forest, but currently lacking a manageable stand of trees or seedlings. These lands are likely to remain in a non-forested condition unless financial assistance is provided to plant and establish trees on a particular site. The need for financial assistance is important because carbon programs must create new forested land in order to claim credit for carbon offsets.

On the other hand, carbon trading will only be attractive when the benefits from carbon management exceed the benefits from existing management. Community forest management (CFM) already provides incentives for forest management and has been successful in Nepal.

Land-use planning must include consideration of livelihoods; for example, these people are using forest resources (fodder) for their livestock. Photo: Courtesy Jagdish Poudel

In Nepal, CFM is practiced on slopes that are non-arable and have no alternative possible use. There is a high opportunity cost on these slopes, as the forest provides numerous inputs for subsistence livelihood (e.g., fuel wood, fodder, timber, and non-timber forest products or NTFP), which might be forgone under a carbon-management regimen. It is for these products that local people are conserving their forest now, without carbon revenue. Maintaining existing forests may be one of the least costly options for offsetting carbon and an inexpensive way to mitigate climate change in countries like Nepal.

Some of the leakage problem can be addressed by determining offsets for avoided deforestation at the national or regional level. Proponents of including an aggregate national total for avoided deforestation argue that it lowers compliance costs, since avoiding deforestation can be substantially less expensive than active forestry or other emission-reduction or sequestration efforts. It also provides compensation to developing, tropical nations.

Opponents argue that carbon trading would be a disincentive to, and would raise eventual costs for, developing countries to participate in global carbon-emission reduction efforts. They say it would benefit the political elite of developing nations, while their indigenous peoples would be further disenfranchised. And it would delay technological development and implementation to reduce emissions in the industries that cause the emissions.

With 57% private forest-land ownership in Oregon, these forests have great opportunity to go into the carbon market. Only a few farmers are managing their forests for carbon credits in this voluntary market. They seem happy to be involved and encourage others to get involved in the forest carbon project.

A recent EPA report (2005) assessed the current growth of carbon stores on land in the U.S. at 0.225 Pg*C/yr (offsetting 12% of U.S. fossil fuel emissions) with forests responsible for 90% of the estimated carbon sink. Incentives for additional carbon sequestration on land at $55/ton of carbon are projected to generate an additional carbon sink in the U.S. of 0.18 PgC/yr on average by 2025.

Poudel teaches students about sequestering carbon in forests. Photo: Courtesy Jagdish Poudel

Similarly, scientists from the Pacific Northwest Research Station and the Oregon Department of Forestry quantified the carbon storage maintained by the land-use planning program in Western Oregon. They found these gains were equivalent to avoiding 1.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually — the amount of carbon that would have been emitted by 395,000 cars in a year. Had the 1.7 million metric tons of stored carbon been released through development, Oregon’s annual increase in CO2 emissions between 1990 and 2000 would have been three times what it actually was. As policymakers look for ways to mitigate climate change, land-use planning is a proven tool with measurable results.

Experts, environmentalists, foresters, forest landowners, and policymakers alike have entered into this debate to analyze the voluntary carbon market and its future. Forest carbon is one of the fastest-growing bodies of research in the field today. I am hopeful, after completion of my research, that I will be able to find a new model and design to involve forest farmers in the carbon market and take some positive steps toward global climate-change mitigation. I’ll keep you posted.

*A picogram (Pg) is 0ne-trillionth (10-12) of a gram.

Jagdish Poudel, M.Sc.

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Notes from Canada – Good Luck, Earthlings

If we don't do something soon to drastically cut carbon emissions, we will find ourselves beyond the tipping point toward climate disaster. Photo: © Don

Bob Halstead, known to his followers on Facebook as Paradigm Shift, writes thought-provoking columns about matters of importance not only to his fellow Canadians, but also to citizens of Planet Earth. In this Earth Day post, he urges Canadians to take action, but it isn’t too far a stretch to say that he is urging us all to get off our duffs.

It’s easy to be complacent about climate change policy, letting our governments do the work — or not. But if we do not heed Halstead’s warning, we will find ourselves in deep trouble in no time at all. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

Appearing in Toronto on Earth Day’s Eve, award-winning author and columnist Gwynne Dyer delivered a dire report. Along with Dyer, environmental lawyer and Canada’s Green Party leader, Elizabeth May, shared an urgent message.

May warned that we have about a month to convince the Canadian media to convince the irresponsible Canadian government to put climate change on the agenda of the G20 meeting in Toronto in June 2010, or our great grandkids will not live in a civilised world.

The G20 allows the host nation to set the agenda. In June, the G20 meets in Toronto. Canada’s Prime Minister, arguably representing as much as 35% of Canada, will not put climate change on the G20 agenda for 2010. Canada has one month to make the change that will permit the G20 to act this year as a globally responsible organisation. Good luck, Earthlings.

Our window of opportunity to act effectively just lost 18% of the available time. The global carbon deficit must be zero by 2015 if we are to avoid passing through serious tipping points.

This dilemma would not afflict humanity if Canada entertained genuine democracy, as New Zealand and many of the countries in Europe do. Unfortunately, along with America and Britain, Canada supports a substantial amount of top-down tyranny.

As I write, this is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. What have we done in these years? Humanity cannot afford such brinkmanship, all to protect the reputation of a nation exercising the right to trade a few gallons of dirty oil for a couple of dollars, trade that will happen regardless.

Bob Halstead

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Save the Planet (and Money) by Living Your Values

People at all income levels can make changes to save energy and reduce their footprint.

People at all income levels can make changes to save energy and reduce their footprint.Photo: Courtesy A Nurtured Worl

“It doesn’t matter if you think you’re an environmentalist,” says Susan Roothaan, executive director of A Nurtured World, “your footprint isn’t proportional to your opinions and views, but to your income level. I’ve seen some conservatives with lower carbon footprints than radical leftists. People’s actions don’t always follow their opinions.”

Roothaan’s nonprofit provides workshops for both high- and low-income families, to help them reduce expenses by reducing their carbon footprints. What follows is part two of a two-part interview with Roothan, where we continue the discussion about A Nurtured World. — Publisher

BPGL: The Rays of Hope project (see Renewable Energy, a Tool for Social Equity), which is under the umbrella of your 501(c)3, focuses on families with limited incomes. Are you having as great an effect with upper-income families?

ROOTHAN: The people who need to drop their footprint the most are the upper-income people, so we started with a focus on them. And it’s working.

The family living in this home reduced their footprint by 2.1 tons each year.

The family living in this home reduced their footprint by 2.1 tons each year.

I’m a chemical engineer and a measurement nut. I talk to 15 percent of our workshop participants afterward to find out what they’ve done, so I have detailed knowledge of their actions. Measuring not only tells us how our programs are doing, but it also makes an impact on the workshop participant. When they see that their actions cause measurable results, it motivates more action.

BPGL: What caused you to add workshops for people in lower income groups?

ROOTHAAN: We began to work with people in lower-income groups to help them save money. There are a couple of reasons that we became excited about working with them. One is how much of a difference we’re making in their lives. For example, our partners in Meals on Wheels tell us that some of these families are forced to choose between energy and food. Our program has made it easier for them to meet their expenses.

The hope in this country is that everyone can become upper income. What A Nurtured World provides is a way to increase fulfillment without increasing your footprint. As people improve their economic position in society, we teach them how to do it in a way that adds a lot of fulfillment but not a lot of carbon footprint.

BPGL: Give an example of how that works.

Repairing duct leaks reduces home energy bills.

Repairing duct leaks reduces home energy bills.

ROOTHAAN: One thing we work on is helping people cut back how much money they spend. When people spend money, they usually think, I’m spending $10, not I had to work x amount of time to earn the money to pay for this. We teach people to shift how they look at money, to think of it as time. We ask them, “When you spend $10 at a fast food place, how long do you have to work to earn that?”

We show people that they don’t just have to work long enough to earn $10; they also have to pay tax on the money they earn. So, if they earn $10 an hour, they really work longer than an hour to pay for the item. When you spend, you need to ask, Is it worth the time I gave for that thing?

As Vicki Robin says in Your Money or Your Life, spending is not just giving away money, it’s giving away your life energy.

BPGL: That’s an important lesson that every kid should learn.

ROOTHAAN: I agree. One of my attendees suggested we take what we teach to adults and correlate it to the school system in Texas, so we’ve started a professional development program to train teachers on how to teach their students these concepts.

BPGL: How do you translate the workshop information to something meaningful for kids?

ROOTHAAN: We took a look at the Texas state standards, which are very prescriptive, and adapted our curriculum to middle school. We kept the heart of it, but shored it up to show the connections that make it relevant to the kids.

Check the energy rating on new appliances before you buy.

Check the energy rating on new appliances before you buy.

We adapt the money versus time issue to kids by asking, If you buy a CD for $14, how many times do you have to mow the lawn to pay for it? And we teach this in a way that meets an algebra standard. We look at what the kids are learning and figure out an activity to connect it to.

BPGL: How widespread is your teacher-training program?

ROOTHAAN: We’re working with 6th- through 8th-grade teachers of math, science, and English. Right now we’re only in Texas, but we’ll soon be doing programs in Oklahoma and Arizona.

We’ve also started to develop a program for second-grade teachers. I’m interested in science and environment being real for people, so it’s not this environment OUT THERE, like a nature preserve, but right here, right now, where it makes a difference. When you’re little and see a picture of a bird, that picture isn’t part of you. It’s “out there”; it isn’t real to you.

In second grade, the kids learn through hands-on experience about the effort it takes to move things. So the teachers have the kids load up little trucks with something heavy, like gravel, and something light, like cotton balls. We let them push the little trucks to see which takes more effort to move. Then we take the students outside to look at real trucks and get them to think about which ones require more gas to move. We get them to see it firsthand so it becomes real to them.

BPGL: How are the school programs funded?

ROOTHAAN: We have support from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA has been our lifeblood in many ways. One of the first people at EPA who believed in us and saw what we could do was Joy Campbell.

Installing an attic fan can cut your home energy bills and your carbon footprint.

Installing an attic fan can cut your home energy bills and your carbon footprint.

BPGL: It seems that what you’re doing is as much about clarifying one’s values as it is about environmentalism.

ROOTHAAN: An interesting question that we raise — primarily with middle and upper-income groups — is, “How much of what I spend goes to fulfillment versus waste? In over 1,000 people so far, we’re hearing that it’s roughly 50 percent before the workshop. This is a huge place where most environmental groups are not working.

By rethinking before we spend, and spending only for things that provide actual fulfillment, we also reduce our ecological footprint. Mathis Wakernagel and William Rees first put forth the concept of the ecological footprint in 1992. In 2003, experts calculated that the earth’s carrying capacity was about 1.8 global hectares (4.4 acres) per person. Meanwhile, the average American’s ecological footprint is about 9.6 global hectares (23.7 acres) per person for resource use and waste absorption.

BPGL: We’re very out of balance. Certainly, we all need to make changes in our lifestyles.

ROOTHAAN: The good news is that giving up a fair portion of our footprint isn’t much of a hardship for many people. If what we give up isn’t providing us with fulfillment, then giving it up is actually a freedom.

Installing the right amount of insulation is a wise investment.

Installing the right amount of insulation is a wise investment that will lower your home energy use. Photo: Courtesy A Nurtured World

However, when you start looking at lower income groups, reducing your footprint can be a hardship, especially if it means giving up food. That’s why the Rays of Hope/One House project is so exciting. We help people lower their energy footprint so they have that extra money for food. Dropping your footprint when you can’t eat isn’t something you want to think about. Many people in lower income groups say, “Listen, I don’t want to give anything up.” Yet, for a lot of people in middle- and upper income groups, it’s freeing. If you can give up the clutter before you’re forced to, you’re ahead of the game.

BPGL: What would you say to our readers if they were in your workshop today?

ROOTHAN: I would ask each of your readers — and you — to commit to a specific change right now. So if you liked what you learned from this article, commit to and implement something to save money, drop your footprint, and improve your level of fulfillment. I encourage you all to email me with your commitment at Make it your New Year’s resolution.

Part 1: Improve Quality of Life by Lowering Your Carbon Footprint
Part 2: Save the Planet (and Money) by Living Your Values (Top of Page)

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts:

Tailgating for a Common Green Purpose

Renewable Energy, a Tool for Social Equity

Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century