Global environmental challenges
Forests are the lifeblood for millions of people around the world. Murniah, a 40-year-old mother of one in Mentaya Seberang village in Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan Province, knows this only too well.
Large areas to the west of her village on the Mentaya river have been converted to palm oil. Good for a short-term boost in incomes but not so good for the environment.
“The forest is very important,” she said. “There are many examples where the forest has been opened up, such as for palm oil, and this has caused flooding. We only care about rubber and rattan,” she said during a village meeting to discuss a project to save a vast peat swamp forest just to the east.
It took just 30 seconds to fell the tree. Hendri, 27, a skinny Indonesian from Central Kalimantan on Borneo island, skilfully wielded the chainsaw more than half his height. The result is a thunderous crash and a tree that is quickly cut into planks on the forest floor near by.
In the tiny settlement of Boa Frente on the banks of a tributary to the Amazon river, bright blue butterflies flitting through trees and the constant squawks of parrots add to the feeling of a paradise on earth. The poverty endured by most of its residents quickly shatters that illusion, but environmentalists hope this village and 35 others in Brazil’s Juma reserve could be a model for saving the world’s greatest forest from destruction.
This feature about the Juma REDD project, which stands for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, gives a fuller account of the issue.
REDD projects, in which reserves in developing nations with forest like Brazil and Indonesia receive funds from rich nations looking to offset carbon emissions, have emerged as one of the few areas in which a strong deal is possible in the divisive United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen this month.
My trip to Juma, which lies about an hour’s flight from Manaus city in Brazil’s vast Amazonas state, gave me an idea of how much is at stake as the seven-seater plane glided over a carpet of unspoiled forest that stretched to the horizon on every side. I also found that opinion is starkly divided over how to go about REDD schemes and whether Juma, whose backers include Coca Cola and hotel chain Marriott, is a desirable model.
For the 320 families in the reserve, the benefits are already becoming clear. As well as a $30 monthly stipend for all families, Boa Frente has gained a smart new school with Internet access that stands in sharp contrast to the simple huts that residents live in. If the REDD scheme takes off according to plan they could stand to gain $7 million a year by 2020 from carbon credit sales. That would go some way towards fulfilling a long-held truism of Amazon protection — that people will only stop cutting down trees when it becomes more valuable to keep them standing.
Yet some environmentalists I spoke to back in Manaus were surprisingly critical of the project. One worried that such projects would create dependency among the families and do little to address what he saw as the main causes of their poverty — a lack of markets for forest products. Another head of an environmental group who has worked with river communities for decades said that Juma community leaders were being manipulated by the project and were losing their freedom.
While REDD certainly represents new hope for preserving the Amazon and other tropical forests, there is a largely unheard debate over how they should best serve the interests of the forest dwellers who will have to live with them.
Amanda Sutton looks over a wheat field in northern Colorado and sees a potential project that could help curb greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming.
“This is a patch of highly-cultivated land that could provide potential carbon offsets,” she said, standing by the field which is owned by the city of Fort Collins and the surrounding county.
Large diameter trees are not doing well in California’s Yosemite National Park — there were 24 percent fewer in a recent decade than the 1930s, the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Washington scientists said in a new report. Climate change is the likely culprit they say, cutting snow pack, which cuts available water, which cuts growth of big trees, which cuts production of seeds for new trees, which — you get the idea, but basically the whole ecosystem is strained.Meanwhile, fewer fires has led to growth in the type of trees that are not fire-resistant — so future fires may be particularly bad, especially with warmer, drier conditions.The comparison of trees in 1988-1999 versus 1932-1936 was published in Forest Ecology and Management.California’s Yosemite may not be alone — Polish woods also face an uncertain future due to climate change, according to a new Reuters story.Photo by ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS
Add quieter U.S. forests, woods, and backyards to the list of changes our lives could face from climate change. A piece by my colleague Deborah Zabarenko explores the movement of American birds northward, sometimes hundreds of miles into Canada.
An Audubon Society study of citizen observations that took place over 40 years found that 58 percent of 305 bird species found on the continental U.S. shifted significantly to the north as temperatures warmed. Forest and feeders birds, like finches and chickadees, moved deep into the Canadian Boreal Forest.
The Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has released some pictures from the first large-scale census of jaguars in the Amazon region of Ecuador—one of the most biologically rich regions on the planet.
One of the pictures, shown here, was taken with a “camera trap” that photographs animals remotely when they trip a sensor that detects body heat.