Climate-Change Stopgap: Trees Action on Global Warming Is Stymied, So Let's at Least Save the Forests

By Joseph J Ellis / Peter Ellis | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), September 23, 2014 | Go to article overview

Climate-Change Stopgap: Trees Action on Global Warming Is Stymied, So Let's at Least Save the Forests


Joseph J Ellis / Peter Ellis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Two contradictory facts reign supreme with regard to climate change. The first is that the atmosphere and oceans of our planet are heating up. The catastrophic consequences of this reality are already baked into the environment, and most of New Orleans will be underwater 100 years from now. If Occupy Wall Street persists as a political movement till then, it will have to hoist its banners from kayaks.

The second is that the current Congress is incapable of leadership or legislation that reduces the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In 50 years, we will look back at this moment and compare our dysfunctional congressional leaders to those church theologians who convicted Galileo of heresy for insisting that the Earth was not the center of the universe. But, for now, the United States is politically gridlocked.

Our domestic paralysis also has an international equivalent that has stymied global reform ever since the U.N. climate conference at Kyoto in 1997. All attempts to reduce carbon emissions through binding international agreements have floundered because the world's developing countries - chiefly China and India - are understandably reluctant to deny their populations a higher standard of living in response to requests from the West, which already achieved that higher standard by burning fossil fuels with impunity.

We are, then, in an awkward historical moment, waiting for the looming environmental catastrophe to get worse - goodbye polar bears and Greenland glaciers - and change the political chemistry for the better. For the foreseeable future, it seems clear that hurricanes, droughts and floods will intensify, and the political will to address the problem will lag behind the crises that occur.

In this stymied situation, the obvious question is: What can we do?

The three-word answer is an environmental version of the Hippocratic Oath: Do no harm. The one-word answer is forests. If the bridge fuel from coal and oil to renewables is natural gas, the bridge technology between today and the emissions reductions we need is nature's most efficient carbon container: the tree.

At the upcoming U.N. summits on climate change in Lima (in December) and Paris (in 2015), we propose setting forest conservation as the global goal that most maximizes benefits and minimizes sacrifices. Conversations laying the groundwork for these negotiations will begin at the U. …

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