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Tropical Wetlands Sequester 80% More Carbon than Temperate Wetlands

Tropical wetlands store 80 percent more carbon than temperate wetlands, reports a new study that compared ecosystems in Costa Rica and Ohio.

William Mitsch of Ohio State University and colleagues found that the tropical wetland in Costa Rica accumulated around 1 ton of carbon per acre [2.63 t/ha] per year, while the temperate wetland in Ohio accumulated 0.6 tons of carbon per acre [1.4 t/ha] per year.

“Finding out how much carbon has accumulated over a specific time period gives us an indication of the average rate of carbon sequestration, telling us how valuable each wetland is as a carbon sink,” said Mitsch. “We already know wetlands are outstanding coastal protection systems, and yet wetlands continue to be destroyed around the planet. Showing that wetlands are gigantic carbon sequestration machines might end up being the most convincing reason yet to preserve them.”

Mitsch says that while wetlands are a natural source of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – from decomposition, CO2 sequestration appears to balance net carbon emissions.

“A big issue in wetland science is how carbon sequestration balances against the release of greenhouse gases,” Mitsch said. “Methane is a more effective greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide in terms of how much radiation it absorbs, but it also oxidizes in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide does not degrade – it is an end product. If you take that into account, I think wetlands are very effective systems for sequestering carbon.”

Mitsch conducted the study with graduate student Blanca Bernal, who presented the findings Wednesday at the Geological Society of America meeting in Houston.

Filed under: Carbon Offsets, Climate Change, , , , , , , , ,

Part 6 – Getting Our Priorities Straight – Common Sense Goals for Fighting Climate Change.

Climate Change Global Warming Solutions Carbon Offsets

By Kevin Peterson, CEO
Eco Preservation Society

At Eco Preservation Society we advocate two common sense long-term goals:

Common Sense Goal #1: Within thirty years we must replace fossil fuels as an energy source.

Common Sense Goal #2: Over the next one hundred years we must sequestered the excess carbon that has been added to the atmosphere over the last one hundred years.

As important as it is to reduce our CO2 emissions, it is also important to remove the excess CO2 that we have already put into the atmosphere. Certainly over the next 30 years we will be producing much more CO2 before we begin to produce less. To suggest that we should choose emissions over sequestation is a false choice. We must focus on both.

Further, when talking about Carbon Neutral or Carbon Offsets, reforestation is not only a “viable option”; it is our “only option”. Investing in future technologies to reduce emissions does NOTHING to remove the CO2 that we have already dumped into the atmosphere. There is only ONE viable and proven way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and that is through the growth of trees and vegetation.

Common sense must prevail. The notion that planting trees is detrimental to the cause of protecting our environment does not pass the common sense test. Critics correctly note that as carbon sinks a forests ability to sequester carbon may follow a saw tooth pattern. However it is a fallacy to suggest that because carbon retention in our forests does not follow a linear pattern that it is somehow diminished in importance. This is non-sense! Simply because our understanding of these processes may be more complex than once thought, that does not mean that these processes are any less important to our future.

Those that argue that reforestation efforts are only “feel good” solutions because an individual tree may not permanently sequestered the carbon in its biomass are presenting an overly simplistic argument. An analogous argument could be made that one should not open a bank account because not ALL of the money that you deposit into that account remains there permanently. The concept of effectively managing a bank account does not require that every dollar you put into the account remain there forever. The concept is that money flows in and out and over time successful money manager will grow that account. This is how we need to look at our forests, as a renewable resource that plays an unparalleled and unique role in sequestering carbon from our atmosphere.

There is a danger that when we grasp at headlines like “Reforestation Contributes to Global Warming” that we promote an overly simplistic view of the problem. The headlines garnered by the Livermore Study were so seductive for so many, particularly those that have an interest in the emission reduction side of the Carbon Offset debate. However carbon cycle is only one factor in the equation of protecting our environment. Along with reducing CO2 emissions and removing the excess CO2 that has already been emitted, we should not loose sight of the role that trees play in the water cycle and in the production of the oxygen that we breath. The notion that environmentalist can make blanket statements like: “planting trees north of the Canadian bordered contributes to Global Warming” and to have so many accept these findings without serious scrutiny should be cause for great concern within the environmental community. It is no wonder that those in the business community look at us environmentalist as a bunch of flakes.

Climate Change Global Warming Solutions Carbon Offsets

We must do better

At Eco Preservation Society we believe that we need to re-examine all of our options in sequestering carbon. Today there are many web sites that feature Carbon Calculators that tell us about our individual Carbon Footprint. Yet in all of the Carbon Footprint Calculators, none take into account the amount of carbon that an affluent family has sequestered in their 4000 square foot wood structured home. We must do better!

Looking at the wood products industry as a possible solution to Global Warming problem is a politically incorrect discussion within the environmental movement. We must to take a fresh look at reforestation and forestry as a sustainable resource.

In the past the forestry industry has given us mono-habitats and clear cutting. These are obvious negative impacts and we must do better. How much more engineering and planning would it really require to manage these resources in a more diverse manner?

In the future we can do better and we need to take a fresh look at how we approach these issues.

Clearly the Lawrence Livermore study is not the final word. It only serves to awaken us to the fact that the complexities of the problems that we face are much greater than we once imagined. It is fair to conclude from the Livermore Study that overly simplistic monolithic solutions such as “Universal Tree Planting” are not viable. At the same time, overly simplistic conclusions drawn from the Livermore Study are equally inappropriate.

As leaders in the environmental movement it is important that we are responsible with the information that we feed to the public. We loose credibility with the public when we grasp at sensational headlines and do not deliver on thoughtful and meaningful examination of these critical issues.

Climate Change Global Warming Solutions Carbon Offsets

Solutions Moving Forward:

Perhaps it is time for us to reexamine the concept of deforestation, both in terms of methods and importance. Deforestation occurs in nature, it serves a purpose in nature’s cycles. Without question our last remaining old growth forest and primary rain forests must absolutely be protected. However when it comes to the management of lands that have already been deforested there are other options that have not been considered. For those interested in this topic see our article on the Resource Revolution.

Over the last century there have been vast amounts of lands that have been deforested and converted to pasturelands and croplands that should be converted back to forestlands and wildlife habitat. The key to realizing this goal is to provide economic incentives for landowners to covert these lands back to forests.

We see 3 sources of revenue incentives for conservation minded landowners.

First, financial incentives can come in the form of selective harvesting of trees in a diverse forest environment. Instead of planting a “mono crop” of trees that would be harvested all at once, a diverse environment could be created with a variety of trees that grow at different rates. Trees could be harvested in a selective manner at different times based on a variety of factors. Instead of wiping an entire habitat, trees can be harvested in a manner that preserves the habitat.

Second, this staggered harvest approach means that the forests will retain their value not only as a habitat, but as recreational areas as well. Recreational activities would be an additional source of revenue for the land owner: hiking trails, cross-country skiing, canopy tours, horseback riding, GPS tracking games, trail biking, ATV tours, ect, ect.

Finally, with the ability to sell carbon credits, there is a third possible source of revenue for the landowner.

Conclusions

It took us a century to create our problems with the environment; we need to take a long-term view at solving them. Realistically it is going to take us 30 years to phase out fossil fuels; there will be more damage to correct during that time. We need to start now and reforestation is the answer. We are conditioned to seek immediate gratification and we are not satisfied unless we achieve instant results. Instant results are not a realistic expectation for solving our environmental problems. From our view a longer-term approach is required. The key is for our generation to initiate the process and to raise our children with understanding that this will be the biggest challenge facing their generation. We need to provide our children with the values and the education so that they will have the tools and the imagination to solve these problems within their lifetime. The future belongs to our children and it is up to us to provide them the means to make their future a bright one. This is a living legacy that is our responsibility to deliver upon for future generations. This is the goal of the Eco Preservation Society.

Kevin Peterson, CEO
Eco Preservation Society
EcoPreservationSociety.org

Part 1 – Does Reforestation Contribute to Global Warming?
Part 2 – Reforestation, Aldedo and Lawrence Livermore Study
Part 3 – Rain Forests: The World’s Air Conditioner
Part 4 – Planting Trees in Cities
Part 5 – Does Reforestation Contribute to Global Warming? – A second look at the Livermore Study
Part 6 – Getting Our Priorities Straight – Common Sense Solutions to Climate Change

Filed under: Carbon Offsets, Climate Change, Reforestation, Sustainable Living, Wildlife Conservation, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Carbon Sequestration and Storage in Soils Could Solve Global Warming

Soils contain more than twice as much carbon as the atmosphere according to estimates (Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations, FAO). Increasing the amount of carbon naturally stored in soils could provide the short-term bridge to reduce the impacts of increasing carbon emissions until low-carbon and sustainable technologies can be implemented. A group called Soil Carbon, based in Australia, makes the case for soil carbon storage in a presentation available in English, German, Spanish, Italian, Mexican and Portuguese. The Soil Carbon report includes impressive photographs, such as those above, demonstrating the difference between well-managed and poorly managed soils.

The Soil Carbon report makes a good read in a powerpoint format rich in pictures, and is an easy introduction to a complex topic for the interested layman. The more scientifically oriented, and truly committed, will want to review the FAO report, Carbon Sequestration in Dryland Soils which goes much more in depth in the science and facts behind soil carbon.

The FAO report sheds some doubt on the optimism in the figures presented by Soil Carbon. For example, Soil Carbon calculates the potential for CO2 sequestration in soil by starting from the assumption that soil organic matter can be increased 1% of the total weight of the soils to a depth of 1 meter. By this calculation, Soil Carbon claims a potential increase of 47 tons of carbon per hectare. As reasonable as a simple “1 % increase” may sound, it appears not to be scientifically valid.

Carbon Sequestration

According to the FAO (FAO report, page 28): the carbon content of dryland soils is estimated to be 4 tons/hectare. Carbon content ranges between 7 tons and 24 tons in normal (non-depleted) soils, depending on the climate zone and vegetation. Studies show that non-degraded savannahs can have up to 18 tons C/hectare (top 20 cm). Based on this, one can conclude that an increased carbon sequestration of 18 – 4 = 14 tons/hectare is the most optimistic potential achievement, well under the 47 tons/hectare that Soil Carbon suggests is achievable. Nonetheless, the FAO report point out that increasing the carbon content by only 1.5 tons/hectare on 2 billion hectares of degraded lands could balance out predicted increases in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere due to annual emissions increases. (FAO report, page 6) This would buy time while fossil-fuel free technologies are developed.

Soil Carbon also targets exclusively the use of ruminant grazing as a soil restoration method. This is only one of many methods, which must be used in combinations depending on the local conditions. As much as the beef lovers amongst us may cheer the finding that cattle are an essential part of a healthy farming eco-system, the FAO points out that there is a large amount of disagreement about the value of ruminants in soil carbon cycling. That manure is the most efficient manner to incorporate carbon into soils is undebated. But some studies point out that feed must be grown on adjoining land, thereby depleting it, so the carbon added to one piece of land is in effect merely displaced from other land, rather than a net positive addition. The question of methane production, a 23-times more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, must also be considered. Somehow humorous in the multi-faceted evaluations required to make good decisions is the statement in the FAO report that when conducting carbon audits: “it is essential to remember that the purpose of agriculture is to feed people.”

The most interesting facet of the FAO report for the non-scientist may be the discussions of using funding available from carbon offsetting to implement soil restoration projects and help farmers apply methods which benefit soil carbon levels. The additional income from carbon offsetting would help alleviate poverty, and the more productive farming possible after restoration of soils could break farmers out of the cycle of land depletion for mere survival. Although the development of accurate models to measure carbon offsets and the implementation of measures to reduce the risk of reversal of the gains present obstacles, the prospect of carbon sequestration in soils is a win-win for developed and developing nations.

Filed under: Carbon Offsets, Climate Change, Sustainable Living, , , , , , , , ,

National Geographic Human Footprint – How much Soda will you consume?

Naitonal Geogrpahic Human FootrintNational Geographic demonstrates the amount of Soda an average person will consume in a lifetime.

Part Five – Bread
Part Six- Fruit Consumption
Part Seven – Soda Consumption

Part Eight – Showers
Part Nine – Hygiene and Cosmetics
Part Ten- Clothing

Filed under: Sustainable Living, , , , , , ,

National Geographic Human Footprint – Fruit Consumption

National Geographic Human FootprintNational Geographic Human Footprint takes a look at the amount of fruit the average person will consume in a lifetime.

Part Three – Meat Consumption
Part Four – Eggs for a Lifetime
Part Five – Bread
Part Six- Fruit Consumption
Part Seven – Soda Consumption

Part Eight – Showers
Part Nine – Hygiene and Cosmetics

Filed under: Sustainable Development, , , , , , , , ,

National Geographic Human Footprint – The Eggs We Consume

National Geographic Human FootprintNational Geographic demonstrates a lifetime of egg consumption by an average individual.

Part One – Introduction
Part Two – Milk & Daily Industry
Part Three – Meat Consumption

Part Four – Eggs for a Lifetime
Part Five – Bread
Part Six- Fruit Consumption

Filed under: Sustainable Living, , , , , , , , , ,

National Geographic’s Human Foot Print – Bread Consumption

Human Footprint BreadHow much bread will you consume in your lifetime?

Part Three – Meat Consumption
Part Four – Eggs for a Lifetime
Part Five – Bread
Part Six- Fruit Consumption
Part Seven – Soda Consumption

Part Eight – Showers
Part Nine – Hygiene and Cosmetics

Filed under: Sustainable Living, , , , , , , , ,

Part 6 – Getting Our Priorities Straight – Common Sense Solutions to Climate Change

( We would to thank everyone at Treehugger.com that contributed to this series. We are grateful for your insights and ideas.)

At Eco Preservation Society we advocate two common sense long-term goals:

Common Sense Goal #1: Within thirty years we must replace fossil fuels as an energy source.

Common Sense Goal #2: Over the next one hundred years we must sequestered the excess carbon that has been added to the atmosphere over the last one hundred years.

As important as it is to reduce our CO2 emissions, it is also important to remove the excess CO2 that we have already put into the atmosphere. Certainly over the next 30 years we will be producing much more CO2 before we begin to produce less. To suggest that we should choose emissions over sequestation is a false choice. We must focus on both.

Further, when talking about Carbon Neutral or Carbon Offsets, reforestation is not only a “viable option”; it is our “only option”. Investing in future technologies to reduce emissions does NOTHING to remove the CO2 that we have already dumped into the atmosphere. There is only ONE viable and proven way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and that is through the growth of trees and vegetation.

Common sense must prevail. The notion that planting trees is detrimental to the cause of protecting our environment does not pass the common sense test. Critics correctly note that as carbon sinks a forests ability to sequester carbon may follow a saw tooth pattern. However it is a fallacy to suggest that because carbon retention in our forests does not follow a linear pattern that it is somehow diminished in importance. This is non-sense! Simply because our understanding of these processes may be more complex than once thought, that does not mean that these processes are any less important to our future.

Those that argue that reforestation efforts are only “feel good” solutions because an individual tree may not permanently sequestered the carbon in its biomass are presenting an overly simplistic argument. An analogous argument could be made that one should not open a bank account because not ALL of the money that you deposit into that account remains there permanently. The concept of effectively managing a bank account does not require that every dollar you put into the account remain there forever. The concept is that money flows in and out and over time successful money manager will grow that account. This is how we need to look at our forests, as a renewable resource that plays an unparalleled and unique role in sequestering carbon from our atmosphere.

There is a danger that when we grasp at headlines like “Reforestation Contributes to Global Warming” that we promote an overly simplistic view of the problem. The headlines garnered by the Livermore Study were so seductive for so many, particularly those that have an interest in the emission reduction side of the Carbon Offset debate. However carbon cycle is only one factor in the equation of protecting our environment. Along with reducing CO2 emissions and removing the excess CO2 that has already been emitted, we should not loose sight of the role that trees play in the water cycle and in the production of the oxygen that we breath. The notion that environmentalist can make blanket statements like: “planting trees north of the Canadian bordered contributes to Global Warming” and to have so many accept these findings without serious scrutiny should be cause for great concern within the environmental community. It is no wonder that those in the business community look at us environmentalist as a bunch of flakes.

We must do better

At Eco Preservation Society we believe that we need to re-examine all of our options in sequestering carbon. Today there are many web sites that feature Carbon Calculators that tell us about our individual Carbon Footprint. Yet in all of the Carbon Footprint Calculators, none take into account the amount of carbon that an affluent family has sequestered in their 4000 square foot wood structured home. We must do better!

Looking at the wood products industry as a possible solution to Global Warming problem is a politically incorrect discussion within the environmental movement. We must to take a fresh look at reforestation and forestry as a sustainable resource.

In the past the forestry industry has given us mono-habitats and clear cutting. These are obvious negative impacts and we must do better. How much more engineering and planning would it really require to manage these resources in a more diverse manner?

In the future we can do better and we need to take a fresh look at how we approach these issues.

Clearly the Lawrence Livermore study is not the final word. It only serves to awaken us to the fact that the complexities of the problems that we face are much greater than we once imagined. It is fair to conclude from the Livermore Study that overly simplistic monolithic solutions such as “Universal Tree Planting” are not viable. At the same time, overly simplistic conclusions drawn from the Livermore Study are equally inappropriate.

As leaders in the environmental movement it is important that we are responsible with the information that we feed to the public. We loose credibility with the public when we grasp at sensational headlines and do not deliver on thoughtful and meaningful examination of these critical issues.

Solutions Moving Forward:

Perhaps it is time for us to reexamine the concept of deforestation, both in terms of methods and importance. Deforestation occurs in nature, it serves a purpose in nature’s cycles. Without question our last remaining old growth forest and primary rain forests must absolutely be protected. However when it comes to the management of lands that have already been deforested there are other options that have not been considered. For those interested in this topic see our article on the Resource Revolution.

Over the last century there have been vast amounts of lands that have been deforested and converted to pasturelands and croplands that should be converted back to forestlands and wildlife habitat. The key to realizing this goal is to provide economic incentives for landowners to covert these lands back to forests.

We see 3 sources of revenue incentives for conservation minded landowners.

First, financial incentives can come in the form of selective harvesting of trees in a diverse forest environment. Instead of planting a “mono crop” of trees that would be harvested all at once, a diverse environment could be created with a variety of trees that grow at different rates. Trees could be harvested in a selective manner at different times based on a variety of factors. Instead of wiping an entire habitat, trees can be harvested in a manner that preserves the habitat.

Second, this staggered harvest approach means that the forests will retain their value not only as a habitat, but as recreational areas as well. Recreational activities would be an additional source of revenue for the land owner: hiking trails, cross-country skiing, canopy tours, horseback riding, GPS tracking games, trail biking, ATV tours, ect, ect.

Finally, with the ability to sell carbon credits, there is a third possible source of revenue for the landowner.

Conclusions

It took us a century to create our problems with the environment; we need to take a long-term view at solving them. Realistically it is going to take us 30 years to phase out fossil fuels; there will be more damage to correct during that time. We need to start now and reforestation is the answer. We are conditioned to seek immediate gratification and we are not satisfied unless we achieve instant results. Instant results are not a realistic expectation for solving our environmental problems. From our view a longer-term approach is required. The key is for our generation to initiate the process and to raise our children with understanding that this will be the biggest challenge facing their generation. We need to provide our children with the values and the education so that they will have the tools and the imagination to solve these problems within their lifetime. The future belongs to our children and it is up to us to provide them the means to make their future a bright one. This is a living legacy that is our responsibility to deliver upon for future generations. This is the goal of the Eco Preservation Society.

Kevin Peterson, CEO
Eco Preservation Society
EcoPreservationSociety.org

Part 1 – Does Reforestation Contribute to Global Warming?
Part 2 – Reforestation, Aldedo and Lawrence Livermore Study
Part 3 – Rain Forests: The World’s Air Conditioner
Part 4 – Planting Trees in Cities
Part 5 – Does Reforestation Contribute to Global Warming? – A second look at the Livermore Study
Part 6 – Getting Our Priorities Straight – Common Sense Solutions to Climate Change

Filed under: Carbon Offsets, Climate Change, Reforestation, Sustainable Development, Wildlife Conservation, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Costa Rican Company Leads The Resource Revolution

by Fred Morgan, January 2008 Eco World

A new revolution has begun. As with all changes of great magnitude, the status quo is resisting for as long as it can, but inevitably, the Resource Revolution will push aside the old way of life and bring in the new.

When the world stopped having to rely on manual power and animal power, the result was the Industrial Revolution. Until that time, if you wanted a horseshoe, you would ask a blacksmith to make one for you and he would custom make it to fit your horse. When industry could make thousands of horseshoes per day, the price dropped and often the quality increased, helping create a market for the thousands of horseshoes. Much of the affluence of the modern world is due to the efficiency of industry. Each revolution sows the seeds for the next. For example, without the Industrial Revolution, the Microchip Revolution would have been impossible, because manufacturing at the micro level cannot be done by hand. And without cheap computers and the microchip, the Information Revolution or Information Superhighway would never have happened, with its profound impact on the world. Now a smaller company can compete effectively against large companies because of the efficiencies brought about by computers and the Internet.

There are people left behind in the Information Revolution, as in any revolution. There are jobs that have gone away, just as blacksmithing became nearly an extinct occupation as a result of the industrial revolution. No longer does someone dictate to a secretary who takes shorthand. Draftsmen who did not learn to use CAD systems lost their jobs. In the publishing industry, in the early days, computers helped tremendously by replacing old typesetting processes. But now, because of the Internet, most old-style publishing companies are feeling the pressure. No longer do you need a publisher to get your ideas out, just a website. I can be sitting in Costa Rica typing this while those who will read it can be anywhere. The amount of time invested for me to write and disseminate this is very little compared to the time and cost of publishing it. The Information Revolution has permitted us to have a global perspective like we’ve never experienced before, helping bring us into the Resource Revolution, wherein for the first time we are starting to view the earth as a closed system. Now that we can see the world as a closed system, we have to learn how to treat it like one. With few exceptions, man has removed the easily available resources, and when those were depleted, we moved on to the next place. Land was left fallow to recover from the wastes.

Our species always migrates toward resources. In the USA there is a grave problem with illegal immigration. In truth, there may not be a political solution. This is because we are dealing with the fact that it is always easier to migrate toward resources than to create them. It is the perception in many countries that the USA has an abundance of resources still remaining and all that is necessary to have a better life is to get there. You might as well try to hold back the waves with your hands as to try to stop a migration to easily available resources. Much of the tropics have been deforested in recent years due to slash-and-burn farming (). A farmer stakes out land and removes the forest. After a few years, the soils and fertility have been used up and so he moves to the next section of land. It angers the average farmer when I try to explain why this is a problem, because I’m attacking what they perceive as their only means of earning a living. Besides, if it was good enough for dear old dad, it’s good enough for them. I can remember a time when it was considered okay to dump your trash in the nearest stream. The ability for the streams and rivers to accept it seemed inexhaustible until rivers started to catch fire and fish started dying. In many ways, we as a species have functioned like children. Leave children with no training alone in a home, and they will eat whatever is in the refrigerator and the pantry and, if you are lucky, fill up the trash baskets. We have been doing the same; we have been consuming all the resources of the planet without being worried that someday we would run out. The magic refrigerator and pantry were filled with all manner of good things and we have eaten like there was no tomorrow. We didn’t think about the need to deal with the trash pile growing up around our ears. Mother Earth has been like the adult who comes home to replenish the larder and tell the kids to take out the trash, but we are rapidly running out of easily available resources, untapped frontiers, and places to dump the garbage. Those who do not learn how to treat the world as a closed system will be left behind in the Resource Revolution.

Much of the profitability of old-style companies is based on resources whose only cost is that of extraction. This has left other costs not calculated. For example, to be healthy, a company needs to calculate the cost of resource replacement and the cost of cleanup of any unwanted byproducts of using the resource or creating products with the resource. As resources become more and more dear, the nature of business is changing. Since I am in the business of wood and reforestation and it is a subject I know well, I’ll use it as my example. Before the Industrial Revolution, if you wanted to use wood, you went out and cut the tree down yourself. Since you literally created your home from the sweat of your brow with the power of your body, you built small unless you were very rich. Log cabins required very little wood processing. The only planks that were necessary were for the floor, if you didn’t just have a dirt floor. The roof was made by splitting wood for shakes. It was a challenge to make much of a dent in the forest. The population was relatively small, and the time involved to take a tree and make wood from it was long. In truth, most of the time the forest recuperated faster than trees could be removed. Most of the clearing for farms was done with fire, not with ax. When the Industrial Revolution came about, not only did saws and axes become of better quality and cheaper, but motorized means of cutting trees came into play. Sawmills were invented that could process thousands of board feet of wood a day. If you wished to build a home, you could merely go and buy the processed wood. About this time the USA moved away from post and beam construction that produced homes and barns that lasted for hundreds of years to homes built using framing construction that do not last nearly as long. But it was faster to build with precut framing wood than to build post and beam, and if the homes didn’t last as long, at least they were easier to repair or replace, since there was always more wood available down at the sawmill or lumber store. Now we have machinery such that a single crew can clearcut a square mile of forest per day. In the past, for a person to drop ten large trees in a day would be a good day’s work; now tens of thousands is more normal. This is considered progress. But now we are seeing something: All of this great productivity has destroyed streams, rivers, and the land itself in runoff, degradation of soil, and erosion. Where before was an ecosystem that could easily regenerate itself, now it gets harder and harder to regrow the forest. We’ve tried replacing trees in monocrop plantations, but this has created very serious disease and pest problems in many areas. Not only that, as the supply dwindles, there is not enough wood to keep the very expensive sawmills and harvest equipment busy. The nature of a large capital investment in equipment is that it only makes sense if it is used at nearly full capacity. It is hard to pay the bills on a million dollar piece of equipment if it is sitting idle because there are no trees to cut. Yet as sawmills are closing, for example, in many parts of the USA, there are people elsewhere who are doing very well in wood today. They are revolutionary thinkers who have taken the long view, treating the world as a closed system and buying land with trees on it that had very little value because others had already taken all the good trees. These people have gone out and selectively harvested just the bad trees. Instead of only taking the best, they took the worst. Even though it is not as profitable to process poor quality wood, when you do it with smaller equipment and use it to make flooring, moldings, and such, you can make more than enough to survive while you allow the forest to recover. Instead of year by year the forest being worse off, it actually improves. This means the owner, instead of being poorer every year, actually is getting wealthier. It is like having a magic pantry that every time you open it, the amount of food as well as the quality increases. The secret to this business model is to always have a view to the future, because if you destroy the resource, you will destroy your business and your livelihood. You also have to be careful of your waste, because no more can we assume that there is yet another frontier to exploit just over the hill. If you poison your environment, it will be you that you poison, not your neighbors. The good part is that if you have your own source of resources, your business is not held hostage by availability of the resource nor by price fluctuations of that resource. There is a book worth reading called Collapse by Jared Diamond. Diamond shows how civilizations have collapsed due to various factors, often including abuse of their environment. The author might agree with me that in the coming years, no longer can we view a society as civilized that plunders resources. After all, do we think of societies that are based on robbing and plundering as being civilizations? No, we think of them as barbaric forces against civilization. Now has come a time that if we are not to suffer a collapse of the civilization we have, we must understand that exploitation of anything is not civilization because such action is not sustainable. In the future, we may view companies who exploit resources as no different from a thief who supports himself by stealing. It is not producing to merely take from a common pool of resources. The resources of the world belong to all of us, and those who take and do not replenish are enriching themselves by making all of us poorer. This is not being civilized. You will notice that those who are against the Kyoto agreement often state that adopting it would wreck our economy. Think about what they are saying: If we have to pay for the damage we cause, our businesses will not be profitable. In reality, since we know that there is no “magic pantry” and no “magic trash can,” businesses like that are showing themselves profitable only because they are not calculating the full costs and are leaving the rest of them for all of us to pay. It’s like transferring your expenses to another department to appear profitable. This is considered fraud in business, and we should consider it fraud in civilization as well. When we think of the businesses that have taken resources without putting back and have left the trash for the public to deal with, we need to understand that we are really the culprits. Any time we buy their products, we are benefiting from their short-term gains, and when we place our money in their companies via investments, we are granting them our agreement with their practices. Unfortunately, it will not be them who pay the piper at the end, but all of us. We are starting to see new companies that not only do not rape the planet for resources, but manage to actually turn a profit while turning back the clock on resource consumption. We at Finca Leola believe we have managed to create such a company. The reason, I think, is simple: We were never driven by a need for short-term profit and so were able to take the long view, the revolutionary view. In much of Latin America, the way people outside of the cities earn a living is often by raising cattle. They have chopped down or burned the rainforest, planted grass, and put cattle on the land. Much of the meat is purchased in order to supply cheap beef for the northern markets. There is a problem with this model. First of all, if you have to buy the land, you cannot survive this way – it is better to put the money in the bank and receive the interest. So, raising cattle in Latin America is based on having a free resource: land. Secondly, the longer you have cattle on the land, the poorer becomes the land. I constantly hear stories of how rich the land here in Costa Rica was in the past. When the forest was first removed, all that was needed to raise corn or beans was to cast the seeds on the ground and you would have a great harvest! But after a few years of doing this, you have to start adding fertilizer or you will not have a harvest at all. Finca Leola buys cattle farms and plants trees on them. You can own trees on Finca Leola plantations, and your money will bring back rainforest, improving the world and your bottom line. We raise trees that are pioneer species in order to quickly protect the land and produce a return for the tree owners. After a while, we plant the permanent rainforest trees among the pioneer trees, using them like a nursery. As the forest returns, its products will sustain its protection as well as provide work for the locals so that they value the forest. The forest will be considered a partner, not a free resource to be robbed. This creates many very good and permanent jobs, because the permanent forest is productive, whereas raising cattle in the tropics is a cycle of poverty for all except a few large landowners. Every year our lands are more productive and the future looks brighter. The streams and rivers on our land are cleaner and flow with more water. The wildlife is much more abundant, and amazingly, much more comfortable around people. All our workers have health insurance and retirement, uncommon among rural Costa Rican laborers. They have better jobs that pay better than average in the area. We now have a woodshop that is producing products from the plantations. Since we own the woodshop and sawmill, we use nearly all the tree, not just the easiest part to process. This is because we take the closed-system view that no resource is to be wasted. It takes a lot of effort to grow a tree, and we don’t want to throw away any of it. True, it would be more profitable in the short term if we took the best of the tree and left the rest as waste, but in the long run, it is better to use as much as we can. And since we don’t have many layers (loggers, sawmills, wood brokers, lumber yards, etc.) we can use wood that normally would not be considered profitable. We also use sheep, small cattle, and horses to keep down the grass between the trees. This produces revenue while reducing our cost to care for the trees. When we have to create a bridge for access, at times we create a pond for fish as well. This produces food for our workers and for ourselves and perhaps some for market. We don’t run like an assembly line but as a complete system. We try to use all resources efficiently while producing more if at all possible. No more can industry use up the resources in one location and move on to where there are more. We have finally realized that resources are not inexhaustible. People who have decided to invest in diminishing resources such as trees instead of investing in old-fashioned businesses not only understand that many of the old-style businesses are facing very serious challenges in the future, but that companies such as ours are allowing investors to benefit in the new way of business. They are finding that the returns from the efficient way we grow trees exceed what they would have received from an old-style plantation. We are entering into a new kind of world where holistic companies are the profitable ones. Green investing is a movement that recognizes this as a market force. Instead of investing in businesses that rape and pillage and are therefore doomed to only short-term success, the smart investor places his money in businesses that work in harmony with the earth and help replenish life. Success in business and in investing is usually due to recognizing emerging trends. Buy low; sell high, because no one thinks what you are investing in is worth much, but when the trend catches on, your initial investment is worth many times more. Sometimes the trend is so large, it becomes a revolution. These are times when the fundamentals of business changes radically, and during such times there are always winners and losers, the losers being those who either do not or will not accept the change. Don’t be left behind in this revolution – invest in companies that treat the earth as a closed system. If we are going to advance civilization, our money needs to do more than just earn more money; it needs to buy back the health of our planet.

Filed under: Carbon Offsets, Climate Change, Reforestation, Sustainable Development, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why are Amphibians in Decline?

Wednesday September 5, 2007

In recent years, scientists and conservationists have been working to raise public awareness of a global decline in amphibian populations. Herpetologists first started noting that amphibian populations were falling at many of their study sites in the 1980s. Those early reports were anecdotal and many experts doubted that the observed declines were cause for concern (the argument was that populations of amphibians fluctuate over time and the decline could have been merely natural variation).

But by 1990, a significant global trend had emerged—one that overstepped normal population fluctuations. Herpetologists and conservationists started voicing their concern for the worldwide fate of amphibians. Their message was alarming: of the estimated 5,918 known species of amphibians that inhabit our planet, a staggering 1,856 species were listed as endangered, threatened or vulnerable on the IUCN Red List (Global Amphibian Assessment 2007).

Amphibians are considered to be indicator species for environmental health: they have delicate skin that readily absorbs toxins from their environment; they have few defenses and can fall prey to non-native predators; they rely on both aquatic and terrestrial habitats at various times during their life cycle. If amphibians populations are in decline, it is likely that the quality of the habitat in which they live is suffering.

There are numerous known factors that contribute to amphibian declines—habitat destruction, pollution, the effects of introduced species. Yet research has revealed that even in pristine habitats—those that lie beyond the reach of the bulldozer and crop-duster—amphibians are disappearing at a shocking rate and without explanation. Scientists are now looking to global phenomena for explanations. Climate change, emerging diseases, and increased exposure to UV-B radiation (due to ozone depletion) are all additional factors that could be contributing to falling amphibian populations.

So it seems the question ‘Why are amphibians in decline?’ has no simple answer. Instead, amphibians are disappearing due to a complex mixture of factors which include:

  1. Alien Species—Native amphibian populations can suffer decline when alien species are introduced into their habitats. There are a number of ways an introduced species can impact populations of native amphibians. For instance, an amphibian species may become the prey of the introduced species. Alternatively, the introduced species may compete for the same resources required by the native amphibian. It is also possible that the introduced species may form hybrids with the native species and in doing so reduce the prevalence of the native amphibian within the resulting gene pool.
  2. Over-Exploitation—Amphibian populations in some parts of the world suffer decline because they are captured for the pet trade or are harvested for human consumption.
  3. Habitat Alteration and Destruction—Alteration and destruction of habitat has devastating effects on many organisms and amphibians are no exception. Changes to water drainage, vegetation structure, and habitat composition all impact the ability of amphibians to survive and reproduce. For example, the drainage of wetland areas for agricultural use of the land directly reduces the habitat available for amphibians which require aquatic habitat for breeding and foraging.
  4. Global Changes (Climate, UV-B, and Atmospheric Changes)—Global climate change presents a serious threat to amphibians because altered precipitation patterns will likely result in changes to wetland habitat on which amphibians rely. Additionally, increases in UV-B radiation due to ozone depletion have been found to severely impact some species of amphibians.
  5. Infectious Diseases—Significant amphibian declines have been associated with infectious diseases such as chytrid fungus and iridoviruses. Chytrid fungal infections in amphibians was first discovered in populations of amphibians in Austrailia but also has been found in Central America and North America.
  6. Pesticides and Toxins—The widespread use of pesticides, herbicides, and other synthetic chemicals and pollutants has severely impacted many amphibian populations. In 2006, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley found that mixtures of pesticides were causing amphibian deformities, reducing reproductive success, harming development, and increasing susceptability to diseases such as bacterial meningitis.

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