Michael’s Moot, an extraordinary meeting – honest, constructive and so much cheaper than Doha

OK, OK, OK, I must write up the minutes of this gathering. In fact, I will call it a moot – Michael’s Moot. He called it to discuss the ongoing deterioration in the global forest and the eminent failure of current methodologies to counteract less even correct this increasingly catastrophic scenario. Sleepwalking to a treeless planet.

Insufficient support is being drawn into forest communities and forest planting and market conditions increasingly prevail to encourage harvest of forest trees. Carbon credits, a theoretical source of funding for these urgent needs, have been debased in value down to practically zero and, due to the lower profile and difficult to quantify nature of forestry work, most of this now paltry stream of revenue is drawn to bijou energy projects and the like – short term, high visibility, quick return projects.

Several participants were determined the carbon price should be driven up. Some seemed to think a wee bit of adjustment should bring this about – restricting allocation, even retiring them out of circulation. However, I cannot feel there is coincidence in the fact that the sharp decline in the value of carbon credits has followed the flooding of the market with new sources of fossil carbon, driving back the apparent “Peak Oil” moment by a considerable, maybe unmeasurable, time.

So aside from US fracking and now UK and doubtless many other upcoming locations, we also have the prospect of massive Israeli/Syrian oil reserves under the Mediterranean Sea and onland in Syria and,  if they can only extract it, there’s masses of tar sands in Jordan – more there than in Canada, it seems. Oh, yes, and there’s Falklands Oil in the South Atlantic.

So I reckon it’s safe to say that this is going to come to market. And be burned. Whereas there will be ongoing desire to burn it cleanly and efficiently and the carbon market can help drive this I feel the carbon producers will bear a constant pressure to keep the carbon price low.

There are several strands to the push for forestry. First, in Avoided Deforestation, is a drive to find as much local and exported use of the trees whilst reinforcing the trees’ health and productivity in terms of carbon fixation – ie increased bulk. Now, we have Dr Simon Lewis et al of Leeds University, and other groups, too, who figure they can demonstrate ongoing annual increments in tropical forest bulk, presumedly concordant with elevated atmospheric carbon levels and, possibly, higher mean ambient temperatures. Michael is referencing hands on management techniques to bring about even greater carbon sequestration.

To encourage this it seems rational to offer ways and means to generate capital reward for such activity. Undoubtedly this is where efficient baseline – starter point – measurement is required. Whereas simply keeping a control plot seems appealing such an action would be waylaid by oh so many possible slip ups. Dr Genevieve Patteneuve at Edinburgh University talked with me of her group’s increasing confidence – and competence, I guess – at establishing GPS baselines of considerable accuracy, and such seems to me to be “the way ahead”. There’s other teams offering the same lines of development.

To provide individual project baselines is, thus, achievable. Perhaps there could also be whole country baselines, too, to avoid displaced deforestation. Several contributors bemoaned the fact that standing forest has a hard time fighting off the short term desire to harvest a “cash crop” – even if it only goes to make dirt cheap furniture – and to establish a more rewarding crop on the site – soya beans and beef cattle in Brazil, palm oil in the Phillipines, coffee, sadza, you name it in Africa. Conservation and carbon management, even with Michael’s new inputs cannot and will not compete  without drastic extra interventions.

Top down global organisations breathing down the necks of the national governments are unclear as to their benefits. Whereas some say these are essential as the market alone has no drive to conserve, it is equally pointed out that countries like Brazil, where there’s so much hue and cry about conservation and protection, have appalling records and continue to rapidly loose their forest.

Possibly overridingly importantly several, such as Javier, pointed out that saving and establishing forest, with additional benefits other than just an entry in the carbon log, are much more popular with the public. They actively want these projects to be supported. Here is a crucial psychological support for this movement and it must be highlighted to the maximum.

On the other hand all seemed to agree or indicate that the recent Doha shindig practically drove the last nail into Kyoto’s coffin. The process limps on but with so few countries on board as to be near worthless. Andrew pointed out the only beneficiaries of these extravagant gatherings were the delegates, jetted off to meet up in sundry beautiful resorts all round the planet – Copenhagen, Rio, Durban and now Doha.

Finally, and in positive and constructive mode, Steven suggested there was a mood to collaborate so why didn’t we. After all, the only way to achieve results is to amalgamate and grow. This is what Exxon and Mobil oil companies did in 1999 and they are far stronger now. He didn’t spell it out but, of course, these are the opposition and there needs to be strength to push back against their might.

Or, perhaps, we must use slightly more subtlety in this. I spelled out my Carbon Extraction Levy, which Michael reckoned might just have it’s time coming now, as Kyoto wanes. I said I saw it as additional to carbon credits as it tackles a different area of the equation. As such it must attain approval from the big oil producers. With that, it could be relatively plain sailing.

Who’s for the ride?

Posted in Additionality, Biodiversity, Carbon market, Carbon sinks, Development issues, Green politics,, Land use, New forests and woodland, Rainforest, REDD+ | Leave a comment

REDD it again – cant see the wood, cant see the trees….

Further unexpurgated sage remarks drawn down from Linkdin. I’m treating it a bit like attending a conference on the crisis. I am the self appointed minuting secretary – though it also feels a bit like running an illicit still and drawing out the spirits of the contributions.

So, once more, take it away, Michael:

Michael Dutschke

Interesting point, Chris. CEL would be equivalent to a worldwide upstream carbon levy, including for fossil fuels. This is an idea dismissed in the Kyoto negotiations, which installed a downstream system, but still extremely reasonable. It might even be acceptable to petrol-exporting countries, because it would treat all carbon on equal footing. On the forestry side, it would mean full carbon accounting, which is technically challenging. A quick fix could be to compensate temporary emissions (biomass sources) with temporary credits (from A/R). In Brazil, and for other purposes, this has been existing for years, and it is called “Reposicao Florestal”. Pizzerias and steak houses that use fuelwood have to pay a certain fee per cubic meter for reforestation.

So you would end up with a fossil carbon market, which would slowly be regulated down and a biomass sector that would only be allowed to burn as much as is being restored. The only sector not involved in carbon trading would be renewable energies from wind, sunlight, water and waste.

I have been giving up inputting this type of systemic new ideas, as long as Kyoto was the game in town. As we see it eroding, perhaps this is a good time to start discussing principles again…

Me again

Thanks, Michael, and I so agree with your last point.

From the top, though:

1 – No way do I see this as a replacement for the existing carbon economy as Cap and Trade aims to reduce use and maximise efficiency of use. That should continue.

2 – If it’s applied evenly then I see every reson to agree with yopur assertion that it “might be acceptable to petrol exporting countries”. Also gas and coal exporting countries, I would hope.

3 – Already no tree should be harvested without its replacement which should require the planting of many more than just one sapling.

4 – How to draw nuclear energy into the equation I am not sure – but I imagine we could!

Michael Dutschke

Thanks for your comments Chris. Two amendments:

– I agree, it is not about swapping a full-grown tree for a seedling on a 1:1 basis. If you look at the Brazilian scheme, it also aims at increasing the forest cover.

– Nuclear energy cannot be captured in carbon terms, even though it clearly embodies GHG emissions in its footprint. I think the real issue is government backing. Had energy utilities to cover full risks on their own, in all geographical and temporal extension, they would never have started nuclear energy in the first place. Only by legally limiting liability nukes become economically viable.

And, coming back to forestry: The way to clean up the nuclear mess in places where it did go wrong is permanent conservation. Make the polluters pay!

Stephen Dickey

In my opinion there is only one way to prevent further deforestation and increase reforestation and that is to alter respective values. While I can buy a solid teak table and 6 chairs for $199 at my local hardware superstore we are never going to succeed. While palm oil delivers a higher value per hectare than any other use of the land we are never going to succeed. While poverty remains rampant and slash and burn the only feasible way of surviving for local comunities etc. etc.

So, we need to value the standing forests properly. We need to value forest products properly and we we need to provide alternative incomes to the communities that rely on the forests. Nobody will disagree with me here.

A carbon value gets us some way along the path. I believe we must have good MRV, work from a a baseline and it must be additional. However, it must NOT have to be permanent. We have 25 years to turn around climate change after which whatever we do will be of minimal value except adaptation. If we can stop deforestation for 25 years we have to trust that the cost of renewed deforestation then will be prohibitive. Again, if it is not we will have failed in every other respect (or we will have won!).

Sustainable forestry helps (though I have seen precious few examples – shame on the FSC) and is essential. Tariffs or levies on forest products would be useful but in the end we have make the forest – existing or potential – have REAL asset value. Until we do your arguments and your and my efforts are probably spurious.

Carlo Castellani

Again Stephen I see your position as too simplistic: one medicine solves all problems. I agree with you that valuing and building market values on forests, that is increasing their value as forests, contributes to their conservation by decreasing the convenience to their conversion, but history shows that nothing has been preserved thanks to that mechanism alone, forests the least. Further a great amount does not stay in the market because of uncertain ownership and tenure, lawless or poorly regulated conditions, remoteness, lack of information, etc. Attributing values to those forests won’t act quick enough to save them. On the contrary a huge amount of forests worldwide survives thanks to conservation efforts and authorities enforcing protection measures.

The two forces must act together: carrot and stick.

Stephen Dickey

Carlo I don’t mean to imply that there is a simple solution; far from it. We need multiple carrots and sticks. Of course we must have effective conservation and policy with stringent enforcement but this is stating the obvious. It will take many initiatives beyond policy to raise the value of forests.

I put this to you; we have policy in many countries, Myanmar, Brazil, Vietnam and Indonesia included (four of the worst deforesters) but the policies have only had a minimal impact on deforestation so far.

We have the time we have, Carlo. A shortage of time is no reason not to instigate commercial changes that result in a permanent solution based on solid commercial reasons. The tree in your garden is worth only what you need for it. If you are desperate to feed your family to survive and can plant a crop there then that value won’t be high. On the other hand if you already derive an income from its ongoing existence then your price will be much higher.

Michael Dutschke • Talking about weak carbon markets…


Which is reproduced  at the end of this discussion

Rob Carlow

Thank you Michael, probably the most depressing article I have seen for a while. In the words of the welsh band Stereophonics “you gotta go there to come back”. Will we look back at Doha as the final missed opportunity? Sadly the most depressing news here is not the mass fraud but the lack of leadership shown by our nations leaders. Is anyone able to add some balance to this and post a link that documents the positive outcomes from the latest COP? There is a challenge!

Michael Dutschke

Here’s a piece of innocent logics:

1. If we are really going for 4 degrees Celsius instead of 2, vegetation will change dramatically.

2. Under this condition, forest carbon will become a lottery.

3. Still, sustainable forestry and forest conservation will be the most effective large-scale adaptation measures.

4. Mix lottery and land-use adaptation, and you may get an insurance policy.

5. Polluters pay and the higher the forest cover of the insured country, the higher the coverage against climate damages.      …just a thought………

Andrew Steel

Fantastic discussion and I think as we all know there are many ways to skin a cat and the topic can spin off in some many directions.

I have to agree with Joseph though that tightening the cap is a simple market economic forces that should drive the price up. At this point it is simply too complex and too expensive to release the revenue at the moment. However Carbon Fix I thought were doing a good job in simplifying the process as VCS was also looking to be complex and stringent. I am not saying that MRV should be lax, just that we need a simpler system and CFS I thought were some way towards achieving that without the need to worry too much about complex baseline calculations.

We recently stopped all carbon work on a project in the northern part of Thailand simply as the client wished for more revenue to be directed towards actual reforestation rather than the promise of revenue which could in turn have been used to plant more trees and create a sustainable revenue stream as well as the additional costs for auditing and verification start to kill the argument as to why do it in the first place. It seems that certain entities have a stranglehold on this area and its not cost effective for villagers to engage international companies to ensure that they don’t have numerous CAR on their project – its a bit of a misnomer at the moment.

I also agree that REDD+ is so far away and to boot millions of USD spent and will it really be attractive for villagers not to cut trees to simply feed themselves. I don’t believe at this stage the economics in the long term stack up when you consider how much a villager will actually receive over the long term versus the value of a 60 year old teak tree that he can feed his family off for a month or two.

At this stage the only winners are the UN staff and consultants that are pushing the REDD agenda at the countless meetings around the world and when a country pledges a Billion dollars to a government to protect its forests and that figure in reality is only a fraction of what they make in Oil palm revenue taxes – then its an uphill struggle.

However going back to the original point, I don’t think we can move away from carbon but more so need to broaden the spectrum with PES being an additional inclusive element but above all it has to be simple and be able to be achieved by the masses to have any chance of slowing down the rate of deforestation or making it attractive to actually put the trees back.

Its not an easy task …. 🙂

Stephen Dickey

If we are so like minded we don’t we (and more like us) merge? I suspect it is because, if we are honest, we are trying to make a buck while doing good and there is a warning here; the major NGO’s have and are suffering because they do NOT consider joining forces. I once suggested Oxfam and WWF merge (I worked for both). The suggestion was met with incredulity but, in fact, they are very complimentary with much synergy and, combined would be a far more powerful voice. Sad, isn’t it? I recommend the paper “The 21st Century NGO” as sober reading on this subject.

The tougher and tighter this field gets at sub-national, national and international level the more likely disparate and fragmented participants will fall. I have seen too many claims from small players that they work “with” governments and international bodies. Maybe, but to what ends? None of any lasting benefit or weight in the bigger arena. If COP 18 has taught us anything it is that we do not have the power to influence. In the oil industry the voices of the big four carry enormous weight and when Exxon and Mobil joined forces in 1999 their sphere and depth of influence grew exponentially.

Why, then, do we persevere with the SME model in a game where big power is so very necessary. Governments are not threatened by minnows. Commercial loggers, minors and other corporate giants do not fear us (though they do fear Greenpeace – just ask Nestle).

I work in Burma only, am very small and am on the home straight of my career span. You youngsters should join forces and swallow your ego’s, pride or greed if you really want to tackle the problem and not take any comfort in getting the odd commission or project successfully under wraps. On that note how many of us have actually taken a project from inception to completion?

The same applies to the standards. The VCS is, in my opinion, fine and only because of their stringency and forced disciplines did I and my team learn so much in Tasmania which was a tiny project anyway but a damn good learning experience. My suggestion to all is to persuade Carbon Fix and others to join forces with VCS even if that creates a broad church, and leverage the power of size to become a true force (not that I think it will happen).

In the real world it is common to buy out competition or at least to work together in co-opetition (dreadful word). I see little or no evidence of it in the Environmental Services world and, as a result, we all see little or no progress.

(To be continued…….)

Addendum –  lifted from REDD watch.

Worst fortnight ever for carbon markets?

By Chris Lang, 13th December 2012

During the first week of the negotiations at COP18 in Doha, Martin Hession, a vice-chair of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), said that the main issue is, “[W]hat are the targets going to be in the future and what instruments are going to deliver on those targets.”

Hession’s wrong. The main issue is how we’re going to start leaving fossil fuels underground. But he’s right when he says that “The CDM is in a difficult situation at the moment.” Hession’s interest in is bailing out the carbon markets: “The problem is that there is no demand so the biggest challenge is to address how we can get that.”

Governments failed to negotiate new emissions reduction targets in Doha and carbon markets were left high and dry. The past two weeks may be the worst ever for carbon markets. Ken Newcombe helped create carbon markets through his work at the World Bank. He left the World Bank to make his fortune as a carbon trader, working at Climate Change Capital and Goldman Sachs before setting up his own firm, C-Quest Capital. He is now watching traders leave the carbon markets. He recently spoke to RenewEconomy:

“With very few exceptions, investment banks, commercial banks, commodity based hedge funds and specialised carbon funds with exposure to the CDM have either closed shop and laid off their deal teams or appointed caretakers to manage portfolios of assets with residual value.

“Those business still active in the CDM are the ‘walking dead’ of the carbon market. They are living on deals done at higher prices years back and are living on borrowed time, if not borrowed money.”

Here are some of the highlights of the worst fortnight ever for carbon markets:

  1. 4 December 2012: City of London Police arrested 11 people after an investigation into “fraudulent” investment firms selling carbon credits: Hudson Forbes, CT Carbon and Burlington Energy Markets were the companies involved. Detective Inspector Matthew Bradford, of City of London Police, said,
  • “Carbon credits are the latest in a growing list of products marketed by fraudsters as a sure fire way to make maximum profits with minimal risks. They exploit people’s misguided belief that environmental investments cannot fail, and then use teams of cold callers to seal the deals, often bullying victims into handing over their savings against their better judgement.
  • “Carbon credits are designed for companies and small businesses to offset their carbon emissions, and definitely not for the individual investor looking to buy and sell.”
  1. 5 December 2012: The carbon trading exchange BlueNext closed. BlueNext is owned by NYSE Euronext and Groupe Caisse des Dépôts, a state-owned French investment vehicle. In April 2012, NYSE Euronext closed its Asian and US carbon operations. Duncan Niederauer, NYSE Euronext chief executive, said,
  • “This is not a verdict on the environmental space — simply a recognition that the development of this market will take longer than we or our shareholders are willing to wait”
  1. 8 December 2012: While Doha agreed to a second Kyoto period, running until 2020, the countries bound by the second period account for only 15% of global emissions. Meanwhile, negotiators in Doha allowed around 7 billion surplus Assigned Amount Units (AAUs), so-called “hot air”, from the first commitment period to be carried over to the second period. Australia, the EU, Japan, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway and Switzerland announced they would not buy the AAUs. Negotiators failed to agree reform measures for the Clean Development Mechanism that may have increased demand for and reduced supply of carbon credits.
  1. 11 December 2012: First Climate, a German carbon asset management company, closed its sales and trading department. The company blamed low carbon prices and “a lack of ambitious international carbon reduction goals”.
  1. 12 December 2012: 500 police officers raided Deutsche Bank, arresting five staff suspected of being linked to a value added tax (VAT) scam involving the trading of carbon permits. The police are investigating a further 20 bank employees on suspicion of serious tax evasion, money laundering and attempted obstruction of justice. In 2011, a German court jailed six men involved in a €300 million fraud selling carbon permits through Deutsche Bank.
  • In 2009 and 2010, the EU carbon markets were hit by “carousel fraud”, in which traders bought emissions permits in one country without paying VAT, then sold the permits in another country with VAT and pocketed the difference. Europol, the European Police Agency, estimates that VAT fraud cost EU states about €5 billion in lost taxes.
  1. 12 December 2012: The price of U.N. offsets crashed to a record low of 31 cents. The price of Certified Emissions Reductions was dragged down by the price of Emission Reduction Units (ERUs) which reached their own record low of 15 cents.
Posted in Additionality, Carbon market, Development issues, Green politics,, Land use, New forests and woodland, REDD+ | Leave a comment

Ash Die Back – All our fault?

Several lines here, not necessarily all relevant:

1 – Import, export, trans country and trans continental trade – everywhere we travel we cross transfer not just ourselves but also micro-organisms, seeds, spores and larvae. A worry some time ago it has now become routine and blasé has set in. “We have medicines”.

2 – Consider your natural ash key. It spins down from its parent tree, maybe in the autumn, as it ripens, or some time over the next twelve or more months. The first to hit the ground can germinate pretty much at once or maybe after the first winter. Those that stay on the tree ripen and on hitting the ground can be two or three years in germination and all seedlings can remain 100 to 500mm plants for decades, living in the shade of the woodlands, not needing to increase in bulk. Given tree loss in the canopy – wind blow, for example – suddenly the tiny saplings can accelerate and a few will win the competition to fill the gap. My goodness these plants have done their apprenticeship, they understand their environment and are ready for their role.

3 – The nursery ash sapling is usually not local provenance seed, is forced to grow quickly in controlled conditions, often in a polytunnel, transplanted, lined out and undercut to keep it manageable, and then transported, often bare-rooted, in containers, over long distances, even overseas, to its eventual planting destination. Here it is unceremonially thrust into the ground, pegged to mark it, even provided with protective sheath and anti-grazing devices. And then left to grow. Or not!

4 – The planting site can be recently felled forest – even conifer plantation  – or retired farmland. Either way, it has often got no mature edaphic ecology – locally developed and responsive soil populations – derived from the support of and symbiosis with mature ash woodland.

5 – Resoundingly, too, we should also consider the macro-environmental changes  – residual and ongoing acid rain type industrial pollution, global climate change and agricultural impacts such as soil erosion and eutrophic effects arising from gross use of fertilisers.

OK, OK well the ash is a widely tolerant species and our common ash – Fraxinus excelsior – has this name whether it originates in Poland, Serbia or West Wales. As I showed in my report “Phenotypic variation in Fraxinus excelsior from different European provenances” (1999) , seedstocks of different provenances perform very differently when grown on a common site. Yes, there is clear sub-speciation. One can reasonably assume, then, that the sub-speciation attains to the edaphic ecology as well, as outlined above, and the indicated influences upon it.

I have always said that the best way I can see to establish a woodland is to fence an area off and wait whilst natural seeding and successional ecologies develop. In many situations a mixture of impatience and emergency  (Oh yes, climate change is real and happening all around us now.) drive the above planting mechanisms to be adopted.  Obviously more active site seeding and detailed on-site establishment-management should be developed henceforward in new woodland establishment – techniques such as are used in French oak forest regimes, often under such systems for many centuries.

Posted in Ash die back, Ash trees, Ecology, Green politics,, Land use, New forests and woodland, Tree nurseries | Leave a comment

Can I call it CEL?

Carbon too cheap to sell!!

Well I read and digested the preceding discussion and tried to extract its pointers, its drift. There were a number of strands, as Javier de Vicente remarked, and an air of confusion but the essence was straightforward, I eventually decided. So I took the plunge:

OK, OK, that was fun and interesting. I think the one factor shared by all is an unease with the present balance. Me, I reckon there’s an almost institutionalized sidelining of forestry projects under the current range of carbon based funding mechanisms. Only China seems able to re-forest “profitably” and with any surety. I guess once you’ve voluntarily sponsored a new woodland or a Ugandan village forest gardening project any more gets repetitive and will no longer drive consumer loyalty so “voluntary” seeks other outlets.

Like most of you I am frustrated by this state of affairs. If the price of carbon increases in five to ten years then how much of that new funding will be directed into landscape regeneration projects. If the funding generated is greater then green energy schemes and efficient tortilla griddles for Mexican small traders will still outcompete re-forestry and even avoided deforestation projects by providing quicker returns for your credits.

So I’m sold on the need for an additional route to drive reforestation and have thought along the lines you talk of Michael in a land user tax. In the end I prefer a resource extraction or, even better and keeping things with carbon, a carbon extraction levy, CEL..

My approach, then, is that the present cap and trade can over time encourage greater and greater efficiency in the use of the derived carbon products and a move to green energy provision. This is great but has little in the way of a “Quid pro quo” to it. We have to move to put back that which we are removing and repair that which we are damaging. A CEL could generate deliberate designated funding for this.

Climate change is clearly a global issue – no country is immune and all are guilty to a greater or lesser extent of accelerating it. Equally, though, landscape degradation and decline are wholly global – biodiversity loss and habitat decline lead to our collective ecological buffering being severely stressed. There could clearly reach ecological “Tipping Points” just as are feared for ice melt – both need urgent action and not debate for another ten years.

Could the CEL grow?


1 – I figured a land user tax to have too many drawbacks – hard to collect, too close to existing taxations, too local in operation, hard to assess any payback etc, etc. CEL is a Global system.

2 – I agree about the fuzziness of Annex1 versus non-Annex1 and the need to broaden out definitions here. The problem is, as said, global and the fewer obstacles exist to progress in its correction, the better.

3 – The Edinburgh GPS-etc Group I met at the Carbon Show 2011  were profoundly confident of their ability to provide accurate, global baselining pretty much already. Later corroborated by Australian group, as previously covered here and on the Facebook 5TT site.

4 – Additionality is an unfortunate problem and obligatory restocking or pre-funded national planting plans do not need to attract extra financial backing.


Posted in Additionality, Carbon market, Development issues, Ecology, Green politics,, New forests and woodland, REDD+ | 2 Comments

“Carbon is at a historic low”

OK, this is essentially just raw conversation, drawn down from Linkedin. I’ve just done a scant edit for flow and added references to clarify terminology. Chat’s still ongoing – I’ve not joined in yet! But it’s skirting around a lot of crucial, ongoing topics and is an excellent follow on – as it stands – to my earlier pieces complaining of the carbon market’s abject failings and inevitable failures. So, take it away Michael:

Michael Dutschke

Carbon is at a historic low, with a CER below 1 euro.

[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Certified_Emission_Reduction ].

Shouldn’t we just move away from carbon and look for other ecosystem values?

Which also means, moving away from offsetting and into a purely voluntary market without additionality and baseline requirements, but with reliable MRV – measurement, reporting and verification.


Are consumers ripe for it?

Rob Carlow

It is certainly an interesting idea. I wonder though, having moved away from carbon, what exactly we would be measuring, reporting and verifying. Compliance or voluntary, both markets are dependent on carbon. Beyond market use, carbon is appealing because we can assign GWP [Global warming potential] values for direct comparisons with other GHG’s[Greenhouse gases]. Removing baseline requirements gives no consideration for a comparison to be made. We must have reference levels to judge reductions against. What would our new reference levels be?

Additionality is essential for both the voluntary and the compliance markets to operate.


How else can you justify “carbon funding” on either an institutional or financial level? I am not sure “consumers” would even know what they were purchasing without the strict carbon related requirements we currently have. I believe the carbon market will recover as we move through the 2nd “Committment Period”, CP2,


we just need to stabilise the quantity of credits in the market, restrict some types of UN-Offset and get out of this economic downturn. Simple.

Michael Dutschke

MRV means, we still monitor, most likely carbon. There absolutely needs to be accountability. Let me be more specific: My main argument is directed towards Avoided Deforestation (AD). Carbon-smart Agriculture and Sustainable Forest Management [give] an increase in carbon efficiency above business as usual [BAU] levels, while sustaining or even increasing yields over the long term. This can actually be compared to industrial activities and may be included in an emissions trading system, ETS.

But is it worth while going through all the trouble of a baseline study and validation at the ridiculous carbon price levels we have reached?

However, I [can] now see a substantial difference between “higher efficiency fuel use” and “just doing nothing” on a predetermined piece of land in the case of Avoided Deforestation which relates to everything involved: capacity, technology, and “efficiency” – of what? – , not to mention baselines or “leakage” risks.

Why then trade one against the other?

The current carbon crisis should allow us to take a step back and think anew: there is growing awareness about the fact that all land users have a common responsibility towards the maintenance of our common natural resources they take advantage of.

Any land-consuming activity (mining, construction, agriculture, cattle farming) could well pay a fee (per hectare, per year) with which the overall landscape functions are maintained, and part of which may even flow back, if this activity increases carbon stocks. This can be best achieved through a localized mechanism within an international framework.

Prices of primary goods would implicitly include this fee.

On voluntary markets, I estimate that roughly half  are not serving any compliance scheme. It’s consumers like you and me that want to feel better about our consumption patterns. Alternatively to buying offsets, wouldn’t it feel better if instead of an abstract amount of CO2 fixed, you knew your money is helping Mexican peasants to implement agroforestry, or assisting to protect the habitat of a tiger in Bangladesh?

This is not to say that I do not believe in carbon markets any longer. I do sincerely hope for a CP2 target that reestablishes the needed market narrowness for GHGs. But internationally this is at least 5 years down the road, and it will include new players, many of whom are currently involved in deforestation.

The 1992 division between Annex I and non-Annex and the 1997 market model will no longer apply. Additionality and baselines are  Clean Developement Mechanism, CDM [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_Development_Mechanism], methodologies for otherwise non-committed players.

Let’s start a transitional phase of subnational, national and bilateral mechanisms and question our old beliefs from the carbon market.

Rob Carlow

I see your point. The title strap for this discussion was “shouldn’t we move away from carbon.” I think we have established we both think we shouldn’t. The answer to should we bother with a baseline is still, in my opinion, yes. It is the only way to conclusively prove that progress is being made, in any sector.

Standardisation of baselines, now there is an area that I agree needs some work, especially with regard to forestry re article 3.3 and 3.4 of the KP, Kyoto Protocol. It is an interesting Malthusian approach in your 2nd paragraph. It smacks of the tragedy of the commons (Hardin). [I’m sure] Arne Naess and the deep ecologists are all on board!

On a more serious note, there is certainly an argument to be made from your point of view. Which voluntary markets have you found that serve a compliance scheme? Is this not an oxymoron?

I am not sure I agree with the idea of lumping the greenhouse gas problems we face in with the plight of the tigers. As linked as they are, I am not sure why I would attempt to off-set and organisation’s emissions (on a voluntary basis) by protecting the habitat of a Bangladesh tiger.

I would want to use my corporate social responsibility report, CSR, to reflect how I have directly compensated for my emissions. A by product of that may be increased habitat but I did it to off-set my emissions. If I want to sponsor a tiger I will go to the WWF. I think it is very important that we continue to deal in the “ghg currency” we have created. It is important not to muddy the water further by not talking about the carbon (when we are talking about carbon!).

Having said that, perhaps there is room to do both. It should not, though, detract from the challenge at hand of reducing atmospheric ghg levels. An optimal “market narrowness” for GHG’s may be 5 years down the road but its 5 years closer than anything else.

I am not sure why the developed/developing models will not apply in 5 years? The majority of the “developing world”  will still be very under-developed.

Additionality and baselines are not born of CDMs. They are used in almost all carbon mechanisms not just those introduced through Kyoto. It is imperative that they remain  – the challenge lies in getting the non-committed players onto the field.

([I] may need a little more detail on the “transitional phase of subnational, national and bilateral mechanisms” in order to understand your way forward.)

Michael Dutschke

Thanks for your views. Additionality & baseline were first introduced under the hardly significant “activities implemented jointly”, AIJ, phase started after COP1 in Berlin, 1995 [http://unfccc.int/cop7/issues/aij.html].

Another appendix: Voluntary markets are split between “purely voluntary” and “pre-compliance”.

A little more detail, as requested: I do not see any significant movement on a follow-up international climate agreement before 2020. At best, we can keep Kyoto restrictions in place. REDD+ will not become a compliance mechanism before that time.

On the other hand, there is a lot of progress at national and subnational levels in advanced developing countries, including domestic trading systems. In 2020, and in terms of commitment, why should Greece be an Annex I country, while Malaysia or Korea remain non-Annex developing countries? [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyoto_Protocol]

Look at the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force, for example: http://www.gcftaskforce.org/ and ask  “Where’s the divide between developed and under-developed?”. How can one maintain 1992 [parameters] when these systems are already [overlapping] between each other?

The world is becoming more complex every day. While mandatory carbon markets are so sluggish, let’s develop alternative and add-on environmental services. Willingness to pay for the environment is not as volatile as the carbon markets. Let’s take advantage of investors’ and consumers’ awareness and offer them credible alternatives to pure carbon dioxide emission reductions that no longer tell a good story.

Bruce Rising

That makes a lot of sense. Carbon from fossil fuels is only 3%of the total carbon flux. Trying to balance atmospheric carbon dioxide needs to consider all sources and sinks.

Joseph Pallant

I disagree. Carbon pricing in the CDM and ETS, is low because European capped entities were able to get their emissions below the (arguably too lax) cap. This arose from a combination of factors, but I have not seen any that invalidate the concept of Cap and Trade.

What must be done is to tighten the cap. That will make prices go back up and continue their role of incentivising emissions reduction. This is exactly the mechanism considered in the creation of this system, and shows broadly that the system is working.

Note: most of the European Union,EU, is negotiating for a “credit holdback”, to shrink the supply of credits and so increase prices. I believe it is solely Poland that is opposing this move.

“Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold”. Add ecosystem services to the equation, robustly. But don’t toss the carbon market out with the bathwater. If you discard the system rather than fix it, you’ll only find yourself in the same position with an ecosystem market in the future.

Javier de Vicente

Too many issues for an apparently single subject – “the carbon market”. Voluntary and compliance markets are really different whether in buyer motivation or most sought methodologies and standards, as well as prices and tendencies.

I agree with Joseph, the problem in EU Market is based on a supply and demand mismatch and can be redressed with a slight shift in the rules: maybe more sectors being involved or lower cap levels.

Bu,t having said that, I’m closer to Michael’s arguments – above all when we speak about voluntary markets.

Buyers are more willing to pay for a carbon credit coming from a forest than coming from industry as they are more reliable for the consumer (note: I guess all of us agree on the convenience of “ghg currency”, as Rob said). Moreover, the latest forest-trends report identifies a tendency of buyers moving towards national or subnational markets and standards which have a higher credibility.

Clients and [their] customers relate to forest with a bunch of environmental services rather than only carbon, although the commodity is carbon.  [However] the problem with local carbon markets could be in the additionality and baseline [assessments].

I think the final goal of both is the reliability and credibility of the issued credits, but they seem to be designed for clean energies and other methodologies instead of forest projects.

Indeed the mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol discourage [one] to carry out these offset projects ( [issues of] amounts, baseline and additionality conditions, permanence…) In the end, baseline and additionality are only a market agreement so as to get credibility and MRV, but [anyway] every arrangement can be changed.

What about a “zero baseline” for sustainable forest management  projects? Why not? Why not [simply] pay for every ton of carbon sunk? They exist and they can be Measured, Reported and Verified.

Why are we rewarding people without trees if they plant… and doing nothing about people who have always taken care of their forests?

In the beginnings of the “payment for environmental services”,PES, program in Costa Rica, they had to implement a specific program for existing forests, because the risk was more deforestation in order to become a part of this PES program… Are we doing the same with forest carbon markets?

Maybe the forest carbon project’s strength relies on people perceiving not only the carbon fixing but the other benefits (biodiversity, weather…). It wouldn’t be necessary to change the project’s focus on carbon, just to build a new standard – more open but still reliable.

(“International agreements”, “compliance markets”, “green taxes”, “REDD+ challenges”, “high complexity of methods”… as I said, there are too many aspects of the same stuff!)

Rob Carlow

I, like Javier, have no problem with the concept that Michael is suggesting. However I am cautious when we talk of removing baselines and additionality. In my opinion both are important for forest carbon to continue to be recognised as a quantifiable contributor to global emissions reductions. Regardless of whether there are credits being generated or not.

The baseline has to exist in order to be able to prove that progress is being made.

Additionality has to exist in order to prevent the system being preyed upon by opportunistic, fraudulent “carbon cowboys”.

In order to be seen as a contribution to carbon reduction a forestry project has to be able to prove that it contributes to an increase in forest cover (compared against a baseline) and that it is additional.

Having said that, I think the baseline is less of a threat and more useful than additionality. In many cases additionality is already being ignored.

In Scotland, for example, the government have pledged to reduce emissions by X. As part of this reduction they will ensure that a certain number of trees will be planted each year (approx 10,000 hectares). This means that until this level of planting has been reached nothing can really be classed as being additional (because the government are legally bound to do it anyway, or face the associated fines).

Theoretically additionality is being ignored. It is debatable whether this is financial additionality or institutional additionality, either way it is being ignored. Does this mean it should be scrapped or clarified?

Michael Dutschke

I like the reactions my

is provoking. I have been working on flexible mechanisms for 15 years and am fully aware that additionality and baseline are necessary in any dealings between a compliance system and the “non-complied” world, like in the case of CDM and also in voluntary emission offsetting.

Additionality works as long as the non-complied government does not take legal action to reduce emissions or increase sinks (which would be institutional additionality). But is this the way we want the world to work?

Do we really want to set this perverse political incentive? We want developing country governments to actively pursue climate and biodiversity friendly forest policies.

The Scottish example looks convincing to me. Let the developing world on national or sub-national levels take up calculable increasing compromises against which their additional achievements can be measured and [then] fund over-achievements via the markets for carbon and [through]other PES [schemes].

But, most importantly, PES can just be a starter. In the long run, land-based activity must become economically profitable (i.e. financially non-additional).

Posted in Additionality, Carbon market, Climate carbon history, Development issues, Green politics,, New forests and woodland, Rainforest, REDD+ | 3 Comments

Flooding – an increasing phenomenon or just another result of human stupidity

After another few days where there were countless TV, radio and other reporters describing in mind achingly boring detail the rise and fall of flood waters, this time throughout south western and Welsh Britain I find myself re-asking this question. My answer is sadly blurred.

This is because there’s truckloads of human stupidity, spread out all over our flood-plains for a start, which tend to mask the impacts of underlying environmental alterations. I guess, though, it’s logical and methodical to clarify what I mean by “truckloads of human stupidity” before returning to phenomena, impacts, arising directly from climatic change.

The latest series of events have been, I think, all post cloud dumping of, typically, “a month’s rain in two days”. They always say that unqualified. In a year a location might have, say, a metre of rainfall. Although this then works out at about 8.4 centimetres per month it never falls spread out like that. There are wet seasons – October, November, February, early March – and dry seasons – say April til September. Most of the rain falls in the wet months and we are used to that.

But a number of things have changed and it seems clear that the time between rain falling and flooding events has shrunk. It’s also clear that there’s more and more hard surfaces which simply shed water fast downhill. Upland grazing of sheep keeps the sward to an absolute minimum. Of course so much channeling and ditching are always being improved, as well.

It is illuminating to consider the volume of a five centimetre downpour. Over one square kilometre there falls 50 000 tonnes of water, a volume, of course, of 50 000 cubic metres. A block 100 metres by 50 metres by 10 metres. Sorry, I labour the point but, if it cannot sink into the ground, and recently very little has been able to, then that’s all got to get to the river systems. Frequently then there are points in the ditching/piping which cannot carry a sudden bulk like this and chaotic flooding ensues.

It all ends up on the flood plains, yes, but sudden torrents like these can cause damage on the way down, too, flowing into back yards and out through the living rooms. This seems to have been the case in Snowdon’s foothill town of Llanberis this week – overflowing  torrents cascading downhill independently of the stream, ditch and piping systems. As this is some one hundred square kilometers catchment area that was five million cubic metres of water through one small town in 48 hours.

The more we fix the bottleneck points, the faster water will reach the rivers and the more flooding of “flood plains” will inevitably occur. Multiply up Llanberis’ problem last week to major, downstream situations and the bulk of water is immense. The better we drain the uplands, the worse will be the impact of flash floods as that water is accelerated to the lowlands.

Silting of the entire river system with soils washed away from  field systems exacerbates these problems, too, as well as leaving flooded houses caked in a deep layer of mud, when the waters recede. Llanberis looked like a recently ploughed field!

Of course it needn’t be like this. Downhill, lowland areas have undoubtedly seen developments in highly questionable locations and the concomitant increase in the downhill velocity of the rainfall has compounded this problem. But we do not wish for the water to disappear out to sea as fast as possible for, when the rains relent droughts can quickly set in – increased water use, evapotranspiration from the land and still fast flowing land drainage systems.

Upland   woodland and undrained bogs and mires retain moisture and slow its progression to the sea. Woodlands further downstream also build deep soils, ideal to retain moisture as well as impeding its flow downhill. With deep root systems trees break up the subsoils and allow surface rainwater to seep down into the lower rock strata, to recharge aquifers and allow wells to flow at considerable distance away.

So much of this has gone today which further compounds the downhill problems – the last fifty years seeing increasing upland drainage and only ever planting ranks of rank conifers, with ditches spewing out highly acidified, toxic effluents into the river systems.

A few years ago the Cornish coastal village of Boscombe was dramatically flooded with a colossal torrent wreaking havoc as it forced its way through the narrow high street. “Once in a hundred years – a freak incident” they all said. Two years later it happened again and, like as not, it was bad this week. It has a group of tors surrounding it, each grazed incredibly short, drained to improve the grass yields and lacking in any woodlands. Any heavy rain and it is bound to flood and this will continue until the uplands are restored.

Restored to native, deciduous, deep soiled, ecologically diverse, rich and actually almost certainly far more productive as a food growing resource than they are now. Yes and that will require more people to carry out the range of activities to culture and gather this food – not just one jaded shepherd per thousand hectares, not seeing a soul from day to day as he picks up dead lambs and dead ewes until he, too, is picked up equally dead having broken under the strain and the loneliness.

So you can see why I prevaricated at the start. With all this human folly, how can we look at the effects of climate change? There’s been a huge “See, we told you so” campaign by climate activists in the USA, based on the fact that they’ve had a huge amount of events – floods, storms, sandy hurricanes, whirlwhinds, Mary Poppins events, you name it! We got nothing compared with that lot. And last year, even earlier this year, we had “conclusive drought” conditions. “See, this drought proves it” people would say, meaningfully.

There are Met Office data for rainfall going back maybe 200 years. Perhaps we can show something there. There must be people examining these data – mustn’t there? I like to think that I imagine I can see that there’s simply “more weather” but, in truth, I maybe just HEAR of it more – 24 hour news reporters got to talk about something, after all!

With increased solar energy gathered by and locked into the atmosphere by the accumulation of concentrations of greenhouse gases over and above that which naturally reside there, elevated temperatures, increased turbulence and more rainfall from extra evaporation seem inevitable. We cannot with any certainty predict how such forces will play out.

Regardless, we still should restore our native, natural, water management system – replant our upland woodlands and put other, lowerland marginal acreages down to trees. It’ll help us all live better, buffer our water courses and work against atmospheric carbon accumulation. Just to be on the safe side!

Posted in Flooding, Green politics,, Land use, New forests and woodland, Sheep and cattle farming, Water management, Water resource | Leave a comment

Die back, die back, as ecology says you should!

This week there’s still loads of stuff about ash die back in the media. Even with the BBC in its death throws as it lurks from scandal to scandal, they find time to talk of the end of our Ash woodlands based on a couple of nurseries and a newly planted ash woodland showing up an imported variety of an indigenous fungus. Was there ever “death” or was it all just “die back”  followed by “bonfire of the panic-trees”.

Anyway, in their Science slot, the New Statesman had an article by Michael Brooks on the topic this week, prompting this as my reply to it’s drifts:

I am so in favour of an “Arts and humanities” mag such as yourselves having at least some science input but Michael Brooks piece on Ash die back – “A deadly trade” 9-15/11/2012 –  lacks both clarity and accuracy, both  seemingly sacrificed in seeking journalistic clout.

Ash is a native tree adapted to its environment and co-habitants in said location. This includes fungal types well adjusted to a little changing ecosystem. Unlike the bacterial mutations witnessed in hospitals and on farms in recent decades giving rise to antibiotic resistance then shared between bacterial species with total and reckless promiscuity and multiplied by half hourly division,  fungal evolution is very different and far, far slower. In fact they seem to evolve more by mycologists changing their names than by altering their genetic constitutions.

However, raising native woodland trees of local provenance on my nursery, I have always found the product performs well when transplanted to its final growing position. I regard importing of growing plants as anathema as they will inevitably be ill suited to the location and will introduce alien  fungi, bacteria, plants  and animal species like nematodes.  Furthermore centralized  production usually reduces employment and industrializes it, rendering it dull, monotonous and boring.

But, look, most of the species moved around the Globe fail in their new found niches – they don’t “swap genes and evolve into forms for which native species have no resistance”. In farms and hospitals bacteria can do this because of gross use of antibiotics as a selective agent. There is no equivalent in our natural woodlands or even our “suburban gardens”. Where we are now finding fungal damage in Britain – as in Europe, I imagine – is where the local conditions are poor and unnatural. So newly lined out, imported Fraxinus excelsior woodlands, carrying foreign fungi which can prosper in the short term before perishing/being absorbed into the established ecosystem surrounding it.

There are plenty of other examples – BBC’s Countryfile has Larch forest in the West Country this week, being clear felled to create a barrier to spore transfer of a Larch targetting fungus. This tree is non-native and grown in cramped, unnatural conditions. Of course it’s ailing – the fungus just proliferates in already sick trees. That’s what fungi are for – “saprophytes” to recycle organic matter. They are not “pathogens” waging war on our landscape – they just clean up natural or man made failures.
“A huge microbiology experiment that is destroying the World’s forests”? No, Michael, it’s the inept and ill informed pursuit of profits playing against gullible, fashion driven consumers and short sighted forestry managers going for cheap imports over high quality local stock. But there’s no ecological disaster round the corner and, if we in future concentrate on using only locally grown, locally bred species we have a healthier future ahead of us.

Posted in Ash die back, Ash trees, Biodiversity, Ecology, Green politics,, New forests and woodland, Tree nurseries | Leave a comment

Ashes to ashes?

Hey, what’s all this about the death of the Ash?

All the media in the UK are full of the story and most are quoting Danish arboricultural experts who tell of their recent loss of 90% of their Fraxinus excelsior. THAT IS SIMPLY CARELESS! Or, indeed, it has happened so quickly that they could not stop it.

OK, now the infective culprit – a fungus they tell us – has been found on imported ash saplings in nurseries in the UK – East Anglia first but possibly elsewhere, too. To protect the region 100 000 ash have been “felled” or otherwise removed (most were  just nursery lined out or recently planted saplings.)

Now I’d think this was just a ten minute panic, to sell newspapers and amuse wardens, if I hadn’t seen the Death of Elms in the 1980s when vast tracts of land in the UK were decimated by the loss again to a fungal infection. Dutch Elm Disease, DED, was an epochal event and fairly quick, too.

Well Danish Ash Disease, DAD, is found in other Northern European countries, too, and also increasing for them, although not to the drastic Danish 90% yet. For a second such fungal infection to spread through a well adapted and widespread species, such as the Ash is, would be catastrophic and can only be an indicator of the subtle adaptations of species to their own local ecosystems.

In my native tree nursery,  written about previously (Running a native tree nursery, Feb 2012) I stressed how it was a fundamental principle that all planting stock should be of local provenance seedstock grown locally to enable accurate and healthy establishment in the chosen environment. This was based upon a lot of personal observations of such events.

In my own plantings of nursery purchased saplings I have seen unfortunate performances. The classic is Crateagus monogyna, Hawthorn which,  although I bought the saplings from a nursery in Welshpool, less than 100 miles away, I later found they’d imported the saplings in bulk. Now, some fifteen years on, these young trees still come into leaf two weeks earlier than the Hawthorn which already grew on the site. Flowering is also earlier. Clearly this can disadvantage the foreign trees and leave then more prone to frost damage or missing pollination  insects, having profound knock on effects to the ecosystem.

I have witnessed the same problems in Fraxinus excelsior as this is the species I wrote a detailed research paper on in which I compared the performance of a dozen subgroups of the tree grown from seed sourced all over Western and Central Europe. ( “Phenotypic variations in Fraxinus excelsior from different European provenances”, Chris Hemmings,  UCW Bangor, 1999, available as pdf by email – please contact me if required – crishtrees@gmail.com)   Two hundred seedlings from each site were grown on two common plots, one in North Wales and a second in North Yorkshire. The saplings of each origin were grown in intact blocks of ten by ten, the whole thus as an array of grids.

Much detailed measurement of the then seven year planted out saplings showed dramatic differences in performance with the suggestion that one could discern in the more Northern and Eastern origins slower growth and greater tolerance of drought. Suffice to say it was at once clear when one moved from one origin’s “box” into the next.

So often when you go to follow up that happy public planting session where the mayor and hundreds of volunteers had a year or two ago “created a new woodland” you find the majority of the new plants have perished. Clearly if the plants have not been grown from seed of local  provenance then subtleties of the plants’ genetics are just wrong and the new plantings are more easily rejected. Could establishing a new woodland thus be more like a skin graft than has before been realised?

Anyway, if Ash saplings imported from the continent are not only genetically wrong but are also carrying alien fungal tissue the “grafts” will surely fail. Cleverer nurseries, of course, actually import seed. So a Dutch nursery can sell you saplings grown from seed sourced, say, in Snowdonia. But they’re still going to experience foreign fungi – unfamiliar to their genetic programmes – which could be, thus, well established/ingrained before  you import them. Planted out the fungi can readily then flourish and kill off the new and fragile plantings. They’re less bothered where they grow and transplanted saplings lack any established root systems within the soil structure.!

DED took down acres of established Elm. It went first for young trees, especially in the Spring when sap was rising and later for older, maturer, even ponderous trees. But pretty much all went over maybe ten years. This arose “from spores on timber imported from Holland”. Some said that a greater environmental frailty existed, rendering Elm open to this infection. Seemingly there was no effective integral defense mechanism available against this particular fungus, delivered by a particular boring beetle deep into the bark.

But really, you’d have expected otherwise. Tough, tried and tested species, well adapted and totally part of the landscape felled by humans causing contamination between distant ecosystems. DED could have had a far eastern origin and subsequent mutation or cross to another fungus to create the particularly deadly strain. Certainly, it seems, it would not have occurred in a World undisturbed by human trade.

If that’s the origin of DAD then who knows what will happen. We’ve not really recovered from DED – loss of all or most of our Ash would be a disastrous blow and would it not then just be a matter of time before we lost the Oak, as well? To some other human pedalled spores.

Currently there are nurseries attacking the government for not alerting us to the dangers in 2008, when they were first informed of the latent problem – ash death on the continent. “Why did they not lock down the system then, halt imports and even cross UK trading?” These, however, are the same nurseries, I believe, as have been importing saplings from overseas growers as large scale, centralised production has so undercut the small scale local grower. Don’t I know that story well!

Once again the environment is suffering due to the pressures of modern scale capitalist pressure, financial pressure, corporate pressure. Always brain dead, short-termism whereby money moves ever faster, ever further but to ever diminishing gain and ever increasing damage.

Time to slow down, build up local resources, local provision and, yes, truly local woodlands.

Posted in Ash trees, Biodiversity, Ecology, Green politics,, New forests and woodland, Tree nurseries | Leave a comment

Is it Gaia or Apollo?

Lovelock and  Gaia – a love lost?

James Lovelock named his autobiography “Homage to Gaia” and so continued the process whereby the theory has been clouded in controversy, scorn and ridicule. The naming was not even his, but was chosen by his friend and neighbour the late William Golding, he of “Lord of the Flies” fame. That is to say he wrote the again rather notorious book where an unlikely plane crash left a pack of young teenaged boys to survive on a desert island with a range of unsavoury outcomes. “Kill the pig” and all that.

So, when asked by James what he thought of the “living Earth” hypothesis, well read William came up with the classical Greek reference for the mother of all the Gods, and so effectively all life, the most powerful, bountiful and, frankly, rather unrestrained goddess Gaia as a handle for it. Thus Lovelock then went on to publicise and enthuse about his theory having had it deified by William Golding. Oh dear, boys will be boys and don’t that bring about trouble!?

You see the theory is, of course, merely the vocalisation of a plainly obvious extension of the principle of “Dynamic Equilibrium” which governs all ecosystems. Every school biology course in its ecology section will look at relationships between species. A favourite is the closed area with grazing rabbits and predatory foxes. One year there’s a super effective hunt allowed into the area and all the foxes are killed. Brutal but the rabbits are pretty cool about it. They go on to do what rabbits do and rapidly reproduce and soon there’s a whole host of them, chewing every blade of grass right down to the ground. Yes, you can take the story on from here and so easily kill off all the bunnies, too!
Because what really happens is that as foxes decline, rabbits increase, yes, but the system is not usually closed. So new foxes colonise readily, there being so much food. Rabbits decline and so foxes roam away or simply die. Good summer, more grass, more rabbits, happy foxes. Ebb and flow.
I apologise for labouring that point but it is the essence of Gaism. There are extra dimensions to include, though, and one is the physical and chemical nature of the environment and how that changes to encourage the maintenance of life. The other is how a system like this came about – without the good hand of the Goddess up there on mount Olympus! We cannot seek to install a reason for it’s happening but we can endeavour to explain why it has occurred.
You see, Lovelock is a chemist by inclination and from the bulk of his life’s work. A profoundly inventive, practical mind, he always knew the benefits of clear measurement and finding new perspectives on matters. Although he worked in medical research – as a chemist – for many years one senses he was always straining at the leash and so much preferred to set his own agenda and approach a problem in his own, personal manner.

He became a contract chemical scientist and was taken on by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the United States, who were then looking to visit the Moon and Mars. This led to sundry discussion sessions about how they should look for life.

“Suddenly, as a revelation, I saw the Earth as a living planet. The quest to know and understand our planet as one that behaves like something alive, and has kept home for us, has been the Grail that has beckoned me ever since”.

And, further: “The intuition that the Earth controls its surface and atmosphere to keep the environment always benign for life…..”

are quotes from his chapter “The quest for Gaia” and show how the idea worked and still works for him.

He was clearly ripe, in his thinking, for Golding’s classical reference  but methinks it took him too far and so spoils a useful presentation of a very valid perspective. Groups were established, generally not from the “scientific authodoxy” looking for evidence to support the hypothesis but, of course, supposed sightings of the goddess were looked for in media coverage, bedecked with voluptuous illustrations of the bountiful icon of adulation.

Lovelock of course wanted scientific measurements and so looked to chemistry to support his otherwise increasingly romanticised notion. Here, he felt on safe ground. He recounts several such systems but seems most satisfied with work which tied marine algae to modifications of atmospheric conditions which could allow or, indeed, disallow cloud formation.  You see he was able to measure chemistry here – methyl sulphides produced by phytoplankton and other marine algae.

The data were worked up by a team into the “CLAW” hypothesis  – using individuals’ initials for the name – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CLAW_hypothesis

and published in Nature – http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1987Natur.326..655C.

They thus composed schema for homeostatic feedback loops, much as for foxes and rabbits, only here based on interrelationships between biology, ocean and atmospheric chemistry, climate and overall insolation. And always, running through his description is an element of planning, even of design although as by some collaborative committee composed of, well, Gaia knows who!

Lovelock attempts to draw back from this. “If they reject the name Gaia then maybe it should be called Earth System Science”  where “it” is “Earth’s capacity to regulate the planet”. That’s “adjust as required” and “control” by my dictionary. Why James, why? Because She wants to?

Personally I feel there is an innate logic but it is wholly counter to Lovelock’s earlier stipulations regarding detection of life systems. When discussing the detection of signs of life on distant planets – specifically Mars, in this instance, but later generalised – he came upon an application of thermodynamics. “We should search for increased order, reduced entropy. Because “entropy, like temperature, can be measured precisely, and it indicates the degree of disorganisation of a system.” Then he devised experiments to search for this increased order.

[In this book at this point he wrote the unforgiveable: “Plants breathe out oxygen, which, to them is a waste product”.  Of course they don’t, as, just like us, their respiration consumes oxygen. It is the photosynthetic process, not “breathing out”, which generates oxygen as a by-product. Plants use oxygen 24/7 just like us and similarly produce carbon dioxide at the same time.]

But still the investigations were valid. Complex hydrocarbons, repeated, would indicate life and not random-chemistry-debris of, say, meteor strikes. Atmospheric composition could also have a fingerprint of non-random association which would indicate the distortions resultant from life’s existence on the planet. All quite logical ecology, really.

But there’s an imprint on him in this – life equals order – which is wholly wrong, as it does not. Life is just slow release chaos resulting, always, in increased entropy and further dissipation of energy. The story of life on Earth is one of constant dissipation of energy and not one of ever increasing order. We are maybe as a waterwheel placed in a flowing river – we draw off and apply differently a small fraction of the system’s energy flow. But it is  still always all used up. And the entropy of the Universe expanded a wee, tiny bit.

So life follows the laws of thermodynamics and, having initially been injected activation energy, always releases whatever is first put in. Perhaps, also, life increases other flows and releases trapped, static, potential energies? So the redox cycles of nitrogen, carbon and sulphur, so the weathering of rocks  but mostly we are describing the dispersion of solar radiation input to the planet. Far from coming from the Earth, Gaia is in essence heliocentred and the physical Earth at best a catalyst.

Yes, Earth is a “heavily subsidised” ecosystem, constantly bathed in countless megajoules  of sunlight. Over four billion years this has been the backdrop to changes from the red hot molten mass (See “Fantasia!”) to the seeming intense cold periods, such as of “Snowball Earth” prior to the “Cambrian Explosion” era or recent relatively minor (!) ice ages. Life has proliferated, been practically annihilated and adapted to a wide range of circumstances. Probably no life today could survive in some of those earlier climes, yet all life’s diversity today results from progress through species which equally could not survive today –  Stromatolites, in form anyway, being the exception to prove the rule!

Life has so far been able to follow all the fluctuations. We’ve had the time and the damage has never been too harsh. Once, it seems, the oceans’ pH/oxygen content altered almost decimating all marine life. At the end Cretaceous the opposite was true and the bias was towards the extinction of terrestrial – especially animal – especially dinosaur! – species. Was this Gaia’s caring influence which saved any terrestrial life or simply chance?

Point is that, just as the rabbits prosper after the hunt’s been through, so whatever’s left will go on to repair the system if they find themselves in duress. And this is as true for chemistry and physics as it is for biology. If life pulls a chemical system out of its abiotic balance and the life is removed then the abiotic balance will be restored.

And, frankly, if things had ever gone too far? Well, we wouldn’t know, would we? Show me your controls, Jamie, show me your controls!

Posted in Ecology, Gaia, Green politics,, James Lovelock | Leave a comment

Quid Pro Quo

Offsetting isn’t working and the carbon market is a farce.

Sometimes I feel I have the patience of a saint. I have for so long been able to wait whilst the new systems “bed down” and discover whether they work or not. But it’s nearly fifteen years since these economic mechanisms started to emerge in the States then seep into the European Community’s patterns of thought. In recent years they’ve also come to the fore in the UK, too.

Simple offsetting was an early hit here, mind, and I never trusted it. I had a long discussion at the Centre for Alternative Technology five years back with a guy happy to support it “because it was doing some good”. Better than nothing, kind of argument. In fact he was doing his brother’s bidding, as said bro worked…for an offsetting company. My thought then, and now too, was to engage in offsetting masked the true damage whilst providing no solution. I went home and fumed but came out with a cohesive response:

Zero carbon Britain – where trees are not little, fluffy irrelevances.

At Europe’s leading environmental centre – the Centre for Alternative Technology, CAT – this weekend I joined a meeting where they unveiled their blueprint for a “zerocarbonbritain” to be obtained by drastic and stringent changes to our national lifestyle over the next twenty years. In sidelining the use of fossil fuels for transport and aiming to become nationally self sufficient in food production they set clear goals but, rather as a non league second eleven playing Manchester United, it wasn’t clear how they were going to score them.

Actually, I don’t doubt the need. We face a dual threat. First that of Climate Change, driven by an ever increasing Global consumption of fossil fuels and the destruction of natural, carbon fixing forestlands and, second, that of the less affluent two thirds of the World wanting their fair share of current affluence. By a simple positive feed back mechanism the latter thus accelerates the former.

In a vain effort to cover the blushes of the affluent megapolluters a system of “Offsetting” carbon release has been evolving. The intergovernmental treaty signed in Kyoto was maybe the obvious start of this. We (for, yes, I am part of that group) Megapolluters would carry on megapolluting only, in return for letting us do this, Lesserpolluters would allow us to teach them how to get by better using even less energy.

There has also developed a private form of “Offsetting”. This was and is for private individual and corporate Megapolluters to pay conscience money after using an embarrassing amount of carbon for personal fun or corporate gain. This offset money from the UK was initially spent in the UK planting trees to soak up – “sequester”- all this embarrassing carbon. To make it into wood again. In fact it turned out to be doubly embarrassing as it seemed creative forestry accounting was then used to label trees already planted for “normal forestry” as now being carbon sequesterers.

Red faced, the Carbon Offsetting companies then took their lead from Kyoto. Actually they’ve been driven by Kyoto. As part of our Megapolluter Obligation to educate the Lesserpolluters to help us repair the damage we’ve made, we then, for example, planted mango forests (now Played out) in India and eucalypts a long way from the Outback. No good at all it turned out, not surprisingly.

So the emphasis turned to helping the Lesserpolluters use even less carbon. Mexican tortilla makers were given new, efficient stoves to cook more tortillas whilst burning less charcoal. Marvellous. Until the folk north of the border took to buying up all the maize flour so as to convert it into bio diesel for their new “Green” driving craze. Now the tortilla maker doesn’t use his stove at all because he can’t afford the flour. Even less carbon release! I needn’t mention low energy light bulbs to South African townships, need I?

After all this bad press it was inevitable that Government would step in. If there’s to be mess and cock ups the government wants its share! They have now agreed a voluntary “Gold Standard” for conscience money payments. So all “Offset Companies” set off to offset in the same way. A bit more double accounting should easily use all the dosh to meet outstanding promises of government aid to Lesserpolluting countries in surviving on less fossil fuel. Incredibly one of these gold standards is that none of this conscience money should ever be spent on the planting of trees. “It doesn’t work”, “It could only be 5% of the UK’s carbon release.” “It costs too much to monitor it over time”.

The truth is that of course it cannot be a full answer. We’re burning our way through fossil fuel laid down over 200 million years in just 200 years. Put every square metre of the planet to forest and it’ll take a long while to restore the atmosphere to the pre-industrial state. But at present we have no other method available to us or even feasible.  I see it as integral to our collective future on this planet that we restore as much forest as we can. This future seems to me to be dependent on this action which leaves me dumbfounded when I read and hear of the politics of “Offsetting”. Trees, I hear, are regarded by young British Green Activists as being annoyingly “cuddly” and “fluffy”. “People like them and want us to plant the horrid things. Misguided fools, it’d do no good”.

Thankfully the CAT document suggests we in Britain increase our forest by around 200% , that’s five million hectares (about 19000 square miles), up to 33% of our land surface area. Now if we brought home all the conscience money and Offset all our damage here at home where we’ve made most of it, we could see the results and continue to monitor it as well as moving towards CAT’s laudable goals. In the meanwhile our Government could spend real Government money to meet its own international Obligations. I imagine we could persuade them to help towards the five million hectares as they’ve a lot at home on their conscience to Offset as well.

That’s settled then. Zerocarbonbritain in twenty years and trees are neither fluffy nor irrelevant.

Chris Hemmings  July 10th, 2007.

But, of course, in the intervening five years these economic mechanisms have become the only show in town. Yes, we have the glamorous “Voluntary market” I’ve delved into in recent postings and there is the scope for a tightening of the emissions trading scheme but not at present carbon pricing. As I’ve also mentioned previously most of what money is generated by these markets finds its way to high visibility, short term payback projects which result in quickly accountable direct reductions in fossil fuel consumption. Thus windfarms on the Scottish moorlands or clean technology in developing countries. (Yeah, the tortilla cookers, above!)

Quid pro quo. Reciprocal exchange. An eye for an eye. The offset lie is that that tonne of coal “offset” will not be burned whereas we all know that all it actually means is the “Offsetter” is allowed to burn it himself, again and again because he’s stopped you doing it. He is finding you some money to build your windfarmed tortilla cooker but still burns just as much carbon. Quid pro quo. There must be restoration. Extract coal, extract oil, extract gas and there must be restoration, repair to the environment.

The maths will be arbitrary. How many trees to cover one tonne of coal? It could be based on the amount of solar energy sunk in that coal and the forest required to capture that but this is detail. The principle needs must be established first – if you extract carbon energy stores from the Earth you fund directly the restoration. Quid pro quo.

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