The main purpose of this ongoing blog will be to track planetary extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials).😉
Main Topic: Update On Destruction Of The Worlds Major Forest Carbon Syncs
Dear Diary. Today’s main topic leaves me very depressed because A) it looks like the Earth’s so called lungs are terminal and )B living in the United States we have very little control over what happens with those lungs. I will point out that we as individuals and the powers that be should push for legislation prohibiting the use of beef from the Amazon region of the planet and paper and other wood products from Canada, where major forests are under siege. Please do so.
Should the Amazon disappear and North American forests become net emitters of carbon it probably will be game over for our climate. We are perilously close to that precipice now as noted by the following two articles:
The Amazon rainforest is losing 200,000 acres a day. Soon it will be too late
Thu 7 Oct 2021 09.00 EDT
Since 1988, humans have destroyed an area of rainforest roughly the size of Texas and New Mexico combined
‘The Amazon – historically a great carbon absorber – now releases more carbon than it stores, which adds to, rather helps to reduce, our global climate crisis.’ Photograph: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images
Shortly before his 44th birthday, in December 1988, the Brazilian rubber tapper and environmental activist Chico Mendes predicted he would not live until Christmas. “At first,” he said, “I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realize I am fighting for humanity.”
Mendes had received death threats for years. The threats escalated when an aggressive rancher laid claim to a nearby forest reserve, where he intended to burn and level trees to create pasture for cattle. The rancher hired gunmen to prowl around Mendes’s neighborhood. Mendes publicly opposed the rancher, and continued to advocate for the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin, saying Brazil must save the most biodiverse forest in the world. Destroy it, he said, and we, the human race, will end up destroying ourselves.
Three days before Christmas, 1988, Mendes was shot dead by the rancher’s son.
It stunned the world.
The National Council of Rubber Tappers, reeling from the assassination, made a plea that the Amazon be preserved “for the whole Brazilian nation as part of its identity and self-esteem”. The council added: “This Alliance of the Peoples of the Forest – bringing together Indians, rubber tappers, and riverbank communities – embraces all efforts to protect and preserve this immense but fragile life-system that involves our forests, rivers, lakes and springs, the source of our wealth and the basis of our cultures and traditions.”
Since Mendes’s murder, nearly 1 million sq km of the Amazon, an area roughly the size of Texas and New Mexico combined, have been destroyed, primarily in Brazil, but also in Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana, and French Guyana. That equates to an average of some 200,000 acres every day, or 40 football fields per minute. In Brazil alone, home to the greatest expanse of forest, the rate of loss has increased by more than 30%. The Amazon – historically a great carbon absorber, since trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen – now releases more carbon than it stores, which adds to, rather helps to reduce, our global climate crisis.
Deforestation rates decreased slightly from 2004 to 2012. But since then, they’re back on the rise, especially in the past couple of years, since Jair Bolsonaro became president of Brazil.
In 2018, as Bolsonaro campaigned as a patriotic man of the people, scientists predicted that once the Amazon lost more than 25% of its tree cover, it would become a drier ecosystem, all because deforestation changes weather patterns (due to how trees respire), which in turn reduces rainfall. Furthermore, as the forest becomes fragmented, areas surrounded by pastureland will lose species in a process biogeographers call “ecosystem decay.”
In short, the Amazon is dying. Entire genetic libraries and symphonies of species – trees, birds, reptiles, insects and more, eons in the making, fine-tuned by natural selection – are being wiped out to make room for methane-belching cows.
“Bolsonaro is a powerful supporter of agribusiness,” the Washington Post reported before he won the presidency, “and is likely to favor profits over preservation. [He] has chafed at foreign pressure to safeguard the Amazon rain forest and he served notice to international nonprofit groups such as the World Wildlife Fund that he will not tolerate their agendas in Brazil. He has also come out strongly against lands reserved for indigenous tribes.”
Writing in Mongabay, a science website, Thais Borges and Sue Branford reported in May 2019 that a “new manifesto by eight of Brazil’s past environment ministers … warn[s] that Bolsonaro’s draconian environmental policies, including the weakening of environmental licensing, plus sweeping illegal deforestation amnesties, could cause great economic harm to Brazil”.
Robert Walker, a quantitative geographer at the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American studies, has said that unless something unprecedented happens, he predicts that the greatest rain forest on earth will be wiped out by 2064.
If so, it will have taken local opportunists – armed with chainsaws, bulldozers, and chants of “land, land, land” – little more than a century to destroy a rain forest 10 million years old and composed of some 390bn trees. Perhaps then, in the hot, brutal and not-too-distant future, when historians chronicle humanity’s destruction of its own home planet, the killing of the Amazon will rank at or near the top. And all the reasons why it had to be done – so pressing at the time – will seem trite until, stripped away, two fundamental causes remain: ignorance and greed.
It’s not how much time we have, or money. It’s what we do with it
Enter Pope Francis, who is not afraid to set precedent. Together with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Patrick Bartholomew, the world’s three main Christian leaders recently issued “A Joint Message for the Protection of Creation,” asking Christians everywhere to “listen to the cry of the Earth”. This includes everyone, rich and poor, old and young, who must examine their behavior and pledge “meaningful sacrifices for the sake of the Earth which God has given us.” The three also implored world leaders scheduled to attend the United Nations Climate Conference (Cop 26) in Glasgow, which begins on 31 October, to make courageous – and necessary – choices.
If his health permits, Francis will take part in the Glasgow conference. Welby also plans to attend. Hopefully, soon thereafter, Francis, who is the first pope in history from the Americas, would visit Brazil, the world’s most populous Roman Catholic country. He’d walk into the Amazon, bless the forest – what remains of it – and ask the world to help turn the tide on Brazil’s reckless policies. Perhaps he could give a homily on Revelations 7:3: “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees…” One that inspires South Americans to improve their livelihoods while also protecting their ancient forest – the lungs of the earth. Finally, Francis could appeal to his church and the world’s richest nations to spend some of their vast wealth to help re-educate, re-tool, and re-employ the farmers, ranchers, squatters and businessfolk of the Amazon.
Soon after he was elected pope in 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires took his papal title after St Francis of Assisi of Italy, the patron saint of animals and birds, who, like Chico Mendes, died at 44, and spoke truth to power. Henry David Thoreau, the New England transcendentalist who wrote Walden and Civil Disobedience, also died at 44, and did the same.
It’s not how much time we have, or money. It’s what we do with it. “Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine,” Thoreau wrote. He added that whenever he walked in the woods, he came out “taller than the trees.”
Brazil takes its name from a tree, the Paubrasilia, so-given by Portuguese explorers who prized it for its red dyes. Known today as Pernambuco or brazilwood, it’s listed as an endangered species, and is carefully planted and managed, and selectively harvested by skilled men who, with machetes hanging from their rope belts, move through the forest like water, and often bless each tree before cutting the wood that will be carved into exquisite bows for violins, violas and cellos.
It’s said that the people of Brazil, no matter how difficult their situation, will smile rather than cry because they love life. It’s also been said that the future of Brazil is the future of the world.
Chico Mendes was right.
Save the Amazon, and we just might save ourselves.
- A frequent contributor to the Guardian, Kim Heacox is the author of many books, including The Only Kayak, a memoir, and Jimmy Bluefeather, a memoir, both winners of the National Outdoor Book Award. He lives in Alaska
Now here is that article from Canada’s National Observer involving their set of lungs, which must protect our planet:
One of Canada’s biggest carbon sinks is circling the drain
Canada’s managed forests are dying, burning and being cut faster than they are growing back. Photo by U.S. Forest Service
Canada’s continent-spanning forest used to remove massive amounts of CO2 from the air each year. It was a hugely valuable “carbon sink”, slowing the pace of climate change and benefiting our logging industry.
But that carbon sink has steadily collapsed to the point where the forest now emits CO2. That adds fuel to our accelerating climate crisis, and spells trouble for Canadian logging.
That is the grim story told by the data in Canada’s latest National Inventory Report (NIR).
I’ve dug into that data to create a series of charts that illustrate what’s happening in Canada’s managed forest, and what it means for our climate emergency and our logging industry.
Out of thin air …
Canada’s managed forest contains trillions of trees, from tiny seedlings to towering old-growth survivors. All these trees literally build themselves out of thin air. Half their weight is the carbon they pulled, molecule by molecule, from CO2 in the air.
That carbon is temporarily locked up in trees until the wood gets burned or rots. At that point, the carbon gets recombined with oxygen and released back into the atmosphere as CO2.
The balance between new growth versus fire and decay determines whether a forest is a net CO2 sink or a net CO2 emitter. In the past, our managed forest grew more than it burned or decayed — creating a giant carbon sink.
… and now back into it
But like so many of the planet’s great ecosystems, Canada’s managed forest is suffering from aggressive land use combined with human-created climate impacts — surging wildfires, insect outbreaks, droughts, diseases and storms.
Canada’s continent-spanning forest used to remove massive amounts of CO2 from the air each year, but that carbon sink has steadily collapsed, columnist @bsaxifrage writes for @NatObserver.
Over the last two decades, the once great carbon sink has steadily drained away. It’s now gone, and the balance in the forest has tipped to emitting CO2 instead.
And that’s before accounting for the additional CO2 emitted by harvesting wood, which adds even more CO2 to the total. The logging industry benefited when the forests were a healthy carbon sink. The trees cleaned up the CO2 created by logging, and at no cost. Now this free service is gone, leaving the industry in uncharted waters.
You can see the startling collapse of the carbon sink in my first chart. That plunging green line shows the net amount of CO2 that Canada’s managed forest removed from the atmosphere each year. Canada reports this under the techno-speak term “net flux” (NIR table 6-5).
I’ve plotted the 10-year running average to reveal the underlying long-term trend; each point on the line is the average of the 10 years leading up to it.
For example, that upper left dot means that during the 1990s, Canada’s managed forest removed an average of 160 million tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2) per year from the atmosphere. That added up to 1,600 MtCO2 over the decade. It was a huge help in the climate fight — and a huge free service for our logging industry.
The tipping point occurred when the green line plunged past zero and turned red. That’s when the balance for the preceding 10 years flipped to being a net source of CO2, instead of a sink.
And that final dot, in 2019, means our faltering managed forest released an average of 24 MtCO2 per year into the atmosphere during the 2010s.
The full impact in the atmosphere
As my next chart shows, the full climate impact of this lost carbon sink added up to 184 MtCO2 per year, on average, during the 2010s.
That’s the increase in atmospheric CO2 compared to what it would have been if the forest carbon sink had remained healthy at 1990s levels.
For scale, that’s five tonnes of CO2 per Canadian per year — double the emissions from all our passenger cars and trucks.
Such a huge new flood of CO2 into our already destabilized climate is obviously bad news.
It’s bad news for our forest.
It’s bad news for our climate.
It’s bad news for Canada’s plans to use forest “offsets” to green-light extra fossil fuel burning.
And it’s bad news for our logging industry’s plans to continue selling their wood as a climate-safe and climate-sustainable carbon product.
Two billion more trees
In an effort to bolster the collapsing carbon sink, Ottawa announced a “Two Billion Trees” initiative.
The government plans to spend $3.16 billion over the next decade to plant an additional two billion seedlings. This would be a 40 per cent increase in the number of seedlings planted in Canada.
If all goes well — which they say will be challenging because of rising climate impacts — these new trees could remove as much as 12 MtCO2 per year by 2050.
While that would be welcome, it pales in comparison to the scale and pace of the problem.
I’ve added a tiny bar at the bottom of the chart to show what 12 MtCO2 looks like. It’s roughly the amount that has been disappearing every 16 months since the 1990s.
And, most troubling for our forest and for us, there is no sign it will recover until humans bring our metastasizing climate crisis under control.
Climate changing 10 to 100 times faster than forests can adapt
To get a sense of what’s coming, here’s what National Resources Canada says in the latest State of Canada’s Forests report :
“Scientists predict that increasing temperatures and changes in weather patterns associated with climate change will drastically affect Canada’s forests in the near future. With the rate of projected climate change expected to be 10 to 100 times faster than the ability of forests to adapt naturally.”
And in one of the most depressing climate warnings I’ve read recently, the report goes on to say that naturally reseeded forests are expected to struggle under climate change:
“(Local seedlings used to be) best adapted to the climate conditions of the site. However, with a rapidly changing climate, these local populations may not be able to adapt quickly enough, and while well-established adult trees can often withstand increased stress, seedlings are highly vulnerable. “
Canadian forestry scientists are so concerned, they are turning to “genomic selection” in a race to develop seedlings that might be better able to survive. This effort combines a suite of computer analysis, DNA-sequencing, rapid propagation, and cross-breeding techniques they hope will produce seedlings that can handle the rapidly shifting climate we are cooking up. Then humans will need to plant these seedlings in the right places.
This reminds me of the frantic race by coral scientists and coral CRISPR engineers to develop “super corals” that won’t all just die in our increasingly overheated and acidified oceans. They, too, will need to plant their coral seedlings in the right places and on a mind-boggling scale.
As Elizabeth Kolbert documents in her excellent new book, Under A White Sky, The Nature of the Future, the growing number of technological “interventions like assisted evolution and gene drives” are no longer seen by the scientists leading them as techno-optimistic improvements of the originals. They are just the best anyone has come up with to “prevent no-longer-fully-natural ecosystems from collapsing.”
So far, we’ve looked at the collapse unfolding in Canada’s managed forest. Now let’s take a look at the additional CO2 being released by logging.
Logging from CO2-emitting forests
Forestry and wood products are advertised as good for the climate on the theory the CO2 emitted by logged wood gets reabsorbed by new growth.
But, as we’ve seen, the government data shows Canada’s managed forest isn’t absorbing CO2 anymore — it’s emitting it. My next chart lets you see what this means for logging.
I’ve added a solid brown line, which shows the carbon content of the wood logged and removed from the forests each year. And I’ve used a 10-year running average for it. (Note: You can find this data listed in NIR Table 6-7 as “inputs to carbon stocks”.)
Now, compare that harvested wood line to the green line showing how much carbon the forest was absorbing.
Until the 2000s, the forest almost kept pace with logging. The gap between the amount of carbon that logging took out and the amount the forest replaced was relatively small.
But as the forest carbon sink collapsed, less and less got replaced.
Over the last decade, as Canada’s managed forest flipped to be a carbon source, it couldn’t replace any of the carbon that logging removed from it. We have been logging a forest that is already a net emitter of CO2.
The growing flood of CO2 into the atmosphere
All that harvested wood doesn’t instantly turn to CO2. There is a delay between the time when a tree is cut and when its carbon turns into CO2.
In Canada, most harvested wood reverts to CO2 within a few years. Very roughly, one-third is burned for energy. Another third is made into short-lived products, like paper, that are discarded and rot within a few years. The final third, is made into longer-lasting wood products, like building materials and furniture, which can take up to several decades before reverting to CO2.
Canada tracks and reports how much of the carbon stored in harvested wood was emitted as CO2 each year. That’s the lower dashed brown line I’ve added to the chart.
You can find this data in the NIR’s top-level inventory table, listed under “HWP” (Harvested Wood Product). And I’ve again used a 10-year running average for it.
If you look at the left of this dashed line, you’ll see that harvested wood emitted an average of 144 MtCO2 per year before 2000. But the green line shows the forest back then absorbed even more than that: 160 MtCO2 per year.
Having the forest absorb more CO2 than the harvested wood emitted made it easier to argue that the wood was “carbon neutral”.
But as the forest carbon sink collapsed, the forest couldn’t keep up.
A gap opened between that plunging green line and the steady, business-as-usual-logging dashed brown line. The size of that gap shows how much CO2 was being added to the atmosphere.
What started as a trickle in the early 2000s, quickly turned into the flood. And during the last decade, Canada’s managed forest didn’t absorb any of the CO2 emitted by the wood harvested from it. That’s because, again, our managed forest ended up being a net emitter of CO2 over that decade.
Twenty years ago, all the CO2 being emitted by harvested wood was being taken back up by the forest. Now none of it is. Instead, it is accumulating in our atmosphere, worsening the climate crisis.
Killing the golden goose
This highlights one of the many economic threats created by foot-dragging on climate action. As our intensifying climate impacts drive ecosystems to become CO2 emitters, these degraded ecosystems no longer provide us with the valuable free service of cleaning up our CO2 mess.
Canada’s logging industry, in particular, reaped the benefits of this free CO2 removal. The carbon they harvest from the forest is exempted from Canada’s carbon tax and from Canada’s climate pollution targets. And their wood products have been viewed as “carbon neutral”, giving them a marketplace advantage over alternatives that lack a free CO2 cleanup.
It was certainly a great deal, while it lasted.
To appreciate just how good it was, consider that a company like Climeworks, in Iceland, currently charges $1,000 per tonne to extract CO2 from the air with technology and store it safely away. To hire Climeworks to do the job the forest used to do for free would cost more than $100 billion a year.
The climate science is crystal clear: To prevent a full-blown climate crisis, all our CO2 emissions must quickly fall to a net of zero. Any CO2 we emit must be balanced by physically removing an equal amount from the atmosphere.
The climate doesn’t care if the excess CO2 piling up in the atmosphere comes from ancient plants, like coal, or from living ones, like logged wood.
In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says burning wood is even more climate polluting than burning coal, per unit of heat.
As noted above, roughly a third of the wood logged in Canada gets burned for fuel. And now that form of carbon fuel is coming from a forest without a net carbon sink to offset it.
Given the rising pressure on governments and businesses to shut down all our excess CO2 emissions, I imagine it will become increasingly difficult to convince the customers of Canadian wood that logging from a CO2-emitting forest is a climate-safe and climate-sustainable choice.
There was a time when optimists argued that Canada’s forest would be a global warming winner. Their hope was that warmer temperatures and extra “CO2 fertilization” would lead to increased growth. But whatever benefits those brought are being overwhelmed by the downsides of climate change: increasing fire, death and decay.
The late, great climate scientist Wallace S. Broecker repeatedly warned the Earth’s history reveals that ”the climate system is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks.”
After decades of recklessly poking at it with ever-larger sticks, that angry beast is now rampaging its way ever deeper into our ecosystems and economy.
May 7th 2021
Here are some recently reported “ET’s”:
Here is more September 2021 climatology:
Here is more climate and weather news from Tuesday:
(As usual, this will be a fluid post in which more information gets added during the day as it crosses my radar, crediting all who have put it on-line. Items will be archived on this site for posterity. In most instances click on the pictures of each tweet to see each article. The most noteworthy items will be listed first.)
Now here are some of today’s articles and notes on the horrid COVID-19 pandemic:
(If you like these posts and my work please contribute via the PayPal widget, which has recently been added to this site. Thanks in advance for any support.)
Guy Walton “The Climate Guy”