Farm, timber, and enviro groups demand forests and farms be part of climate bill, reject “energy-only” bill

In a letter to the authors of the Senate energy and climate bill, some of the most powerful companies and organizations in U.S. agriculture and forestry joined with environmentalists and industry to insist on inclusion of strong incentives for forests and farms in any climate legislation.  Guest blogger Glenn Hurowitz, Washington Director of Avoided Deforestation Partners, has the story along with a good video on deforestation.

The letter was signed by groups including the American Forest and Paper Association, the National Alliance of Forest Owners (representing owners and managers of more than 75 million acres of privately owned forestland such as Plum Creek and Weyerhaeuser), the National Farmers Union, Dominion, and the Sierra Club (full letter and signatories here, article in The Hill here).

Here’s the key quote:

By providing an affordable means to address climate change, public and private incentives (such as offsets) for forests and farms can help Americans save money while leading the way to a low carbon economy.

The letter represents a rejection by American business and environmentalists of  “energy-only” approaches to climate change, such as the Energy and Natural Resource Committee’s pollution heavy bill and the Cantwell-Collins CLEAR Act.

With good reason. In an admittedly provocatively titled piece in The Hill, “The Energy Fetish,” I teamed up with former American Forest and Paper Association executive vice president Stephen Lovett to analyze some of the problems with energy-only approaches to climate change:

Despite all the attention deservedly given to power plants and automobiles’ contribution to climate change, only about half of global greenhouse gas emissions actually come from energy. Approximately seventeen percent come from the clearing and burning of tropical rainforests and another fifteen percent comes from agriculture (the rest comes primarily from dangerous chemicals used in refrigeration)…

We can already see the potential of regrowing forests and restoring lands to reduce pollution: by breathing in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen, America’s forests and sustainably managed croplands already suck up more than one tenth of the emissions produced by industry and autos”¦.

According to an analysis by the consulting firm McKinsey and Company, almost half the near-term potential for reducing pollution comes from forestry and agriculture.

And while we’re making that clean energy shift, investing in the land will create a bigger jobs bang for the buck than any other sector. New research from economists Heidi Garrett-Peltier and Robert Pollin at the University of Massachusetts show that every million dollars of investment in forest and stream restoration and sustainable land management produces 39 jobs. That’s 74 percent more than the second-best jobs producer and six times the jobs of investments in conventional energy sources.

In the letter, many of these groups recognized for the first time the major benefits to their industries of protecting tropical rainforests. Because tropical forest conservation is one of the most affordable ways to reduce climate pollution – costing around $5 per ton compared to double or quadruple that for many domestic emissions reductions, it keeps climate legislation affordable, allowing stronger pollution reduction targets than would otherwise be possible.

The groups also recognized another benefit to the United States: reducing illegal, unfair, and environmentally damaging competition from rainforest logging and cattle, soy, palm oil, and other crops grown on deforested land. Until we pass climate legislation and value trees for the carbon they store, outlaw ranchers, loggers, and plantation operators will continue to tear down the rainforest, terrorize and kill forest dwellers (and the occasional American nun), and export commodities that directly undercut more sustainable and responsible U.S. producers.

Two of the letter signatories, Avoided Deforestation Partners and the Ohio Corn Growers Association, launched a significant ad campaign today to highlight these impacts. You can read in more depth about that issue here, or watch a video that’s part of the ad campaign below.

These groups are now working together to support the legislation’s measures to set aside five percent of allowances for tropical forest conservation. This is crucial to maintain the legislation’s affordability and targets.

Here’s why: climate scuttlebutt indicates that the KGL legislation will include fairly robust offsets, some of which would need to come from tropical forest conservation.

But it will be impossible for rainforest nations to deliver those affordable offsets unless they can meet the high standards for offsets by reducing deforestation on a national level – something which they will require the set-aside to do.

In addition, it will be very difficult for the United States to persuade other countries to adopt ambitious climate targets without the five percent set-aside. Much of the funding goes to help governments reduce illegal logging and conserve forests in unstable countries like Democratic Republic of Congo that may find it difficult to attract private investment, as well as to protect major carbon stores like peatlands and wetlands.

These emissions reductions have pretty outstanding impact: the House-passed legislation, for instance, relies on the set-aside to bring the legislation’s emission reductions up to 17-23 percent below 1990 levels, compared to 17 percent below 2005 levels without it. World Resources Institute has a great analysis of how these “additional reductions” dramatically improve climate legislation.

Not only are will those additional reductions deliver direct benefits, they’re also essential to getting other countries to adopt targets in line with or exceeding those of the United States – and a key part of including forests and farms.

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22 Responses to Farm, timber, and enviro groups demand forests and farms be part of climate bill, reject “energy-only” bill

  1. Just received from Dr. James Hanson about the difficulties caused by determined deniers: (rest of article is scientific.)

    “Somehow we have to do a better job of communicating. The tricks being used by people supporting denial and business-as-usual are recognizably dirty, yet effective. We are continually burdened by sweeping FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, which reduce our ability to do science and write it up (perhaps this is their main objective), a waste of tax-payer money. Our analyses are freely available on the GISS web site as is the computer program used to carry out the analysis and the data sets that go into the program.

    The material that we supplied to some recent FOIA requests was promptly posted on a website, and within minutes after that posting someone found that one of the e-mails included information about how to access Makiko Sato’s password-protected research directory on the GISS website (we had not noticed this due to the volume of material). Within 90 minutes, and before anyone else who saw this password information thought it worth reporting to GISS staff, most if not all
    of the material in Makiko’s directory was purloined by someone using automated “web harvesting” software and re-posted elsewhere on the web. The primary material consisted of numerous drafts of webpage graphics and article figures made in recent years.

    It seems that a primary objective of the FOIA requestors and the “harvesters” is discussions that they can snip and quote out of context. On the long run, these distortions of the truth will not work and the public will realize that they have been bamboozled. Unfortunately, the delay in public understanding of the situation, in combination with the way the climate system works (inertia, tipping points) could be very detrimental for our children and grandchildren. The public will need to put more pressure on policymakers, enough to overcome the pressure from special financial interests, if the actions needed to stabilize climate are to be achieved.


    [JR: I already did a whole post on this.]

  2. mike roddy says:

    I didn’t bother to read this. Allowing someone from the Forest and Paper Association to provide advice on the best climate policy for our forests is a totally ridiculous idea.

    I did briefly note that this guy says that we should cut ’em here instead of in the tropics. The problem is caused by the fact that we are already cutting them way too rapidly here in the US, where about 25% of the entire globe’s wood products are consumed. Loggers believe that the answer to any problem, including fire, emissions, and forest health, is to cut more trees.

    Guess what: they are wrong, on every detail, all of the time. Our logging practices if anything are worse than in places like Brazil. After we clearcut, we spray with herbicides and plant monocultures, the worst thing you can do for the microclimate, watersheds, sequestration, and biodiversity.

    Northwestern US coastal forests are sequestering about 25% of the carbon that they did before these forests were liquidated, especially after WW II. Google it sometime, for a continuous view of stumps and pygmy trees. I calculate the logging caused CO2 emissions in the US at about 440 million tons of CO2 annually, using comparable country reports (the US is not transparent) and conservative carbon accounting assumptions.

    I am extremely disappointed in this post, a rare Climate Progress stink bomb. Please try to get this right next time, Joe. If you do, there actually is an excellent opportunity to do something proactive about our emissions. Hint: leave the timber companies out of this conversation.

  3. G says:

    I agree with your sentiment, Mike Roddy, as an Oregonian who has worked for and is committed to forest restoration. One thing that strikes me though, is that the main argument we use when we try and stop timber sales is that the trees have value as living organisms. The US forest service has a few biologists and planners who are reasonable and can recognize this, but private (including corporate) landowners could really care less (mostly). Unless they’re getting a check to leave them standing, their trees will be cut and replaced with even-age monoculture plantations. The devil is in the details, of course, but if the forests really are valuable then perhaps they should be part of an economic equation that will keep them standing and manage them towards diversity.

    We already have massive federal and state subsidies to regions hit by the decline of timber jobs, it would seem that if we could use some of that money putting people to work to do thinning in order to protect against catastrophic wildfires (which are predicted to increase with climate change) and do ecosystem restoration, ie. carbon sink maintenence, that it might be a win-win. Many loggers out here are ambivalent about seeing the forests fall, the profession puts food on the table for folks who would wither away behind a desk yet they also watch their fishing streams disappear while they’re made obsolete by feller-buncher industrial harvesting. If real “forestry” became a viable means of making a living as opposed to forest liquidation, you might also see some new political support for keeping ecosystems intact.

  4. Leif says:

    As an Olympic Peninsula resident, I vote with Mike and G. Clear-cutting increases runoff thus enhancing flooding and degrading stream quality, thus reducing salmon habitat and return. Our “forests” for the most part are a mere shadow of their former grander with less than 10% even approaching “Old Growth” and even that definition has been bastardized.

  5. Just to be clear, I strongly support (and have spent years for working for) protection and restoration of old-growth forests, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. These rainforests in many cases actually sequester more carbon per hectare than even tropical rainforests (though there are many more tropical rainforests). It’s for that reason, among others, that I’m just as passionate about protecting and restoring the Tongass and other American forests.

    But I think there is actual common ground here, rather than some negotiated solution (if you note the signatories to the letter, there are some pretty tough-minded green groups here). Forestry companies and landowners recognize that if you value the trees for their carbon, whether here or in the tropics, landowners and others can make more money from protecting, restoring, and sustainably managing forests than from unsustainable clearcuts. For the first time, the quest for propserity will be aligned with protection of the Earth’s resources, not their destruction – and that’s a major and positive revolution in our world.

  6. mike roddy says:

    Thanks for the support, Leif and G. I was worried after blasting Joe today, since I just don’t think he knows any better. It takes those of us who’ve actually spent time up here in the woods to see what’s been going on.

    Glenn, I applaud your wish to protect the scant remaining old growth here in the West, but what about the devastated coastal forests? That’s where the biggest trees and richest ecosystems used to be, though you could hardly tell now. Cascade, Olympic, and Crater Lake parks are mostly high elevation, sparser forests. The coastal forests all the way down to San Francisco are a destroyed economic sacrifice zone, just like Appalachia, with a few little strips for the tourists. For what? Houses made from two by fours?

    I don’t think we’re going back into the old growth much anyway. What about stopping tree farming on the coasts, and letting those trees grow back? Sequestration could exceed 200 Mt CO2 a year here in the Northwest alone. There are a variety of instruments available to make this work. Tree farming does not work in the steep Northwest, on any level, and needs to stop. Economic benefits from tourism and salmon alone would make it worthwhile; carbon sequestration would make this effort a critical mission for the world.

  7. Bob Wallace says:

    Mike, I suspect the issue is a little more complex when it comes to forests.

    I believe that trees during their growth cycle extract more carbon from the atmosphere than when they are mature. Cutting/replanting might do more for reducing atmospheric CO2 than allowing forests to mature and stand. Those “2×4″s that go into houses contain sequestered carbon.

    And the root systems left behind in the ground are contain a lot of carbon which previously was loose in the atmosphere. In temperate forests the root mass can be as large as the mass above ground. Letting a tree bury all that carbon, using the top, and letting another tree get busy sticking more carbon underground might be a good thing….

  8. mike roddy says:

    Bob, #7, you need to do some homework. About 15% of the carbon on a logging site ends up being sequestered in the wood products. Roots rot, but the soil disturbance from logging, and the hotter microclimate, cause big releases there, too.

    This is a complex subject, but I suggest that you google the work of Mark Harmon from Oregon State. Or, a study by Heath and Birdsey once calculated a no logging scenario would result in additional annual sequestration of 1,204 tons of CO2 equivalent per year. Even a fraction of that would be big. You could also go to the Max Planck Institute for data, check out IPCC country reports, or just ask a forest carbon specialist who doesn’t work for the timber industry. Google Heiken’s slide show or Ingerson’s work for TWS, too.

    The timber industry talks about the two by fours “locking up” carbon, which makes sense intuitively. In the real world of the carbon cycle, though, it’s bullshit. Clearcut logging as we practice every day in this country is horrible for our CO2 emissions.

  9. G says:

    Re: Bob Wallace @ #7: It is true that growing trees pound-for-pound consume more C02 than mature trees, but the cycle of clear-cutting (and that’s what it is, if you’ve seen it even though they have euphemisms) and leaving the land bare for periods of time cannot be an improvement on a healthy forest ecosystem. A lot of times these bare areas slide out leaving huge gashes in the mountainsides, the soil goes into the streams and nothing will grow there for a very long time. Also don’t forget the carbon outputs for fertilizer, trucking and helicoptering mass logging operations require if there is a harvest and replant.

    Additionally, a healthy, mature _forest_ has multistory, multistage tree growth with thriving understory plant growth which adds to the intensity of oxygenation that the tree farms do not. This in turns helps out in sponging up precipitation and slowly delivering it to stream systems, which should be considered very valuable given the lesser degree with which we can depend on glaciers to store water in the future.

  10. Jeeb says:

    Seriously, what the hell Mike Roddy? Are we back in the 1980s spotted owl wars here or what? Some people need to drop the Earth First! mentality and language and move themselves into 2010. Alas, always hard to do for extremists.

    This is one helluva diverse bunch of groups–some of them very powerful–coming together to attempt to reduce CO2 emissions in a way that is economically attractive AND has the potential for very real conservation benefits across a wide swath of land uses including agriculture and forestry. The planet is in no position to respond to such rare opportunities for real progress with such narrow minded ideology born from times past. Seize the opportunities for real progress that present themselves and stop the bitching.

    Nice post Joe.

  11. David B. Benson says:

    A good thread to plant this link

    Irrigated afforestation of the Sahara and Australian Outback to end global warming
    (click on the internal pdf link for the whole paper)

    for some suggestions about supplimental carbon sinks called trees.

  12. Jeeb says:

    And they’re off…off they go at breakneck speed on a tangent about the evils of logging, rather than addressing the wider potential for improved land and carbon management that could be had…

  13. Just to reiterate, restoring forests must be a huge part of the equation both here in the United States (in coastal and inland forests) and abroad. The climate bills we’ve seen so far include strong incentives for reforestation – and would help increase the amount of old growth forest. I think we’re in agreement.

  14. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    It is the notion of “Avoided Deforestation” that I can’t quite swallow.
    As I understand it, it assumes that either a large enough fee-per-acre will be paid to the forest owner/franchisee to end the clearance of an area for ever, or that lesser fees will be required annually, or periodically, to continue to refrain from that clearance.

    This notion made little sense even when applied to developing countries, given the scale of forest needing such funding, and the certainty that
    a/. the price/acre/yr demanded will rise precipitously as both global wood-trade and agribusiness-growth are impacted;
    b/. that ‘leakage’ will become an intractable international problem on the day that intra-national leakages are resolved; and
    c/. the exclusion of landless peasantry from nationally owned forests is an utterly predictable target for electoral gaming, with consequent revocation of forest status pending ‘re-negotiation.’

    But now, with Uncle Sam’s forest-owning brother wanting his cut too (and having the shills to acquire a good rate) a whole new boondoggle arises.
    Both ex-comrade Putin and the neo-con Herr Harper must be gleeful at the truly vast acreages of boreal forest whose destruction they can now ‘avoid’, for a suitably vast annual fee of course . . . .

    “Give us da money or dem forests is toilet roll . . . ” has more of a Latin lilt to it than a Russian one, but the sentiment isn’t limited to any national culture.

    And exactly which politicians are going to be raising what taxes to pay for such extortion ? And since when were we convinced that it is wise to pay polluters annually to desist, rather than penalizing them if they continue after a deadline ?

    The proper means of conserving forest resources include setting an increasingly stringent price on CO2e outputs (this gets the methane component of forest clearance), allotting declining national emission allowances against which outputs are debited, and establishing locally-owned productive-forestry buffers around old growth for which they’re responsible.

    Anything less than this is planning to fail in my book.



  15. Bob Wallace says:

    Mike and G – I actually live in the Northwest (steep) woods and have logging going on around me. Not so much right now as wood demand is extremely low and the wholesale price of logs won’t pay for the cost of cutting and hauling.

    My property is bounded on two sides by a thousand acres of BLM land (some of it old growth Doug fir) which is being put in a preserve. Spotted owl habitat. The other two sides are large multi-generation cattle/timber ranches. My 60 acres was selectively logged some 25 years ago and will have some nice mature trees in another couple of decades.

    Today’s logging practices are not yesterday’s practices. No longer are stream banks being cut. Cuts are relatively small, usually 40 acres. And replanting is pretty immediate.

    One not so good practice which seems to be going away is burning the slash, the limbs that are too small to be of commercial value. We’re starting to see the slash chipped and blown back on the logged land so that it serves as mulch and fertilizer for the replants.

    As for the roots rotting, yes they do. But they rot below the surface of the soil, leaving their carbon in the ground. That, to me, seems like a good thing.

    While on 15% of above ground mass may make it to the lumber yard, that doesn’t mean that the other 85% is wasted. We have two biomass electricity plants in our area which use the sawmill waste to produce electricity. Sure, that releases carbon back into the atmosphere, but it’s recycled carbon. It’s replacing fossil fuel generation which releases sequestered carbon. Again, that seems like a good thing to me.

  16. mike roddy says:

    David Benson,

    I think that afforestation and irrigation of barren land is a great way to sequester carbon. The Sahara is not that dry- 8″ of rain a year- and has decent and unutilized aquifers. There are opportunities in this country, too, especially in marginal range land locations in Texas and the Plains.

    Jeez, I don’t know what your trip is, but mine is carbon science as it applies to forestry. I’ve published on the subject. Spotted owls have nothing to do with it. Forest defenders are not a bunch of spaced out goofballs.

    Glenn, I’m glad that we agree about reforestation. My issue is with getting traditional foresters involved, who have a terrible track record, including lying about the carbon cycle and liquidating ecosystems whenever they get a chance. You don’t really have to do much to allow the coastal forests to regenerate: just stop destroying them. The key to enable the market to permit this is to negotiate the right mix of incentives, credits, and tax advantages. It can be done, because forestry in the West is very marginal now anyway.

  17. Leif says:

    Lewis, #13: “And exactly which politicians are going to be raising what taxes to pay for such extortion”

    You need to have a different mind set. One big old growth Douglas fir can be worth over $100,000 on the stump. Before value added. That can be a few years of earnings for a family or even a lifetime of earnings for a third world person. The problem arises when you cut them all down at once to make one person filthy rich.

    Another point is at what point does a tree become “Mature?” When it is two feet in diameter? 3′, 4′, 5′, 6′? The larger the tree the more wood it puts on per season. Doug fir can and do/did reach these sizes. I have a photo of myself standing 8 feet off the ground of a Cedar tree that I try and visit yearly here on the Olympic Peninsula. At 8 feet above the ground the butt is 12 to 14 feet in diameter! The west at one time had thousands of millions of big trees. Granted not many this size but half that size, no problem.

    Mature Forests transport rainfall further inland and improve soil absorption as pointed out above. This lowers flood damage and improves aquifers. In a mature forest it can rain for several hours before the first drops even reach the ground. Much of the first rain is evaporated again to fall further inland. Lowering irrigation requirements. What is the value of all that?

    I cannot go on at the moment. To sad. I have visited many spots in my 69 years that would take your breath away. Far too many gone forever. For what? Track houses to be torn down in 50 years and rebuilt.

  18. Barry says:

    SOIL CARBON: Temperate old growth forests hold more carbon than plantation rotations ever can because most of the carbon in old growth forests is in the soil….not the trees.

    Clearcuts expose soil to warmth and moisture and the soil carbon is released quickly….but takes centuries to re-build. The timber plantations never manage to regain the total forest carbon levels of the original old growth forest unless left uncut for centuries.

    2×4 SEQUESTERING: Myth. What is the lifespan of a 2×4 in a home these days? 50 years? 80 years? A rule of thumb is that a fallen tree takes about as long to fully rot (release carbon) as it took to grow. So old-growth trees that fall and rot take centuries to release their carbon. Plantation trees that become paper release their carbon very quickly…while those that become 2x4s probably release it quicker than the old-growth trees lying on the ground in an old-growth forest.

    PINE BEETLE: What if someone sold carbon credits for the pine forests of BC 5 or 10 years ago? Even the old-growth protected pine forests? Less than a decade later the trees are all dead. Does it make any sense to enable fossil fuel burning by offsetting via trees that could easily just die as a result of that fossil fuel burning? Seriously.

    In BC the fate of many tree species are looking as precarious over the next century as pine. Western Red Cedar is dying from summer drying over much of its range. I’ve seen climate models that clearly show spruce trees across southern BC are growing where climate won’t support them in coming decades…because of fossil fueled warming. Does it make sense to enable fossil fuel burning by selling carbon credits based on these trees standing for centuries?

    BC forests have gone from carbon sinks to carbon sources in recent years not because of changes to logging practices but because of fossil fuelled climate changes. Lots more to come. Please point to any forest in BC and tell me it will be there in 50 years if we keep burning fossil like we are now.

    Saving forests isn’t going to happen without curtailing fossil fuel emissions.

  19. fj2 says:

    The more industries that push for this stuff the better building the consensus that we are in an environmental crisis and have to act immediately, decisively.

  20. I believe that trees during their growth cycle extract more carbon from the atmosphere than when they are mature. Cutting/replanting might do more for reducing atmospheric CO2 than allowing forests to mature and stand. Those “2×4″s that go into houses contain sequestered carbon.

  21. Bob Wallace says:

    “SOIL CARBON: Temperate old growth forests hold more carbon than plantation rotations ever can because most of the carbon in old growth forests is in the soil….not the trees.”

    That just doesn’t make sense to me.

    Let’s take an “old growth” Douglas fir, 200 years old seems to be the working age of old growth DFs. In 200 years a DF sticks X% of carbon beneath the soil’s surface via its root structure.

    Then a “mature” DF cut on a 60 year rotation. Three, almost four sets of roots are established in that same 200 years. The only way that old growth could sequester more carbon than a rotation of mature trees would be that from 60 years on the trees grow massive amounts of roots in proportion to their above ground mass. A mature DF would have to produce less than 33% of the roots of an old growth DF.

  22. “I believe that trees during their growth cycle…”

    “That just doesn’t make sense to me….”

    Come on, folks. Forest climate science is not something you work out in your head. It is not a matter of belief or ad-hoc back-of-the-envelope calculations. Especially not in the wake of decades of forest carbon mythology, promoted by the timber industry and industry-connected researchers.

    Overall, Mike Roddy’s statements here are very much in line with current science.

    I wince every time I read words about protecting “tropical rainforests” to the exclusion of temperate forests and temperate rainforests. There are few, if any, forests on Earth which can be harvested without 1) new carbon releases, and 2) net loss of ongoing sequestration capacity.