Climate and the boreal forest

2007-12-12

in Canada, Science, The environment

According to data submitted by Global Forest Watch Canada to the International Boreal Conservation Campaign (IBCC), Canada’s boreal forest contains 186 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. That is equal to about 27 years worth of present global emissions. Permafrost – which is rich in methane – makes up about 25% of the world’s land area and about 50% of Canada.

Significant permafrost melting would release gasses that would accelerate the warming trend. Making boreal areas into parks and avoiding deforestation there isn’t a terribly effective mechanism for keeping the bulk of these greenhouse gasses in the soil. The trees themselves are increasingly threatened by pine beetles, as warm winters permit their continued spread. Maintaining the soils as a carbon sink essentially requires that they remain cold – an increasingly distant prospect as emissions continue to grow and other carbon sinks become saturated.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Anon December 13, 2007 at 1:03 am
Tristan December 13, 2007 at 3:11 am

My father has become convinced that crime as well as ineffective environmental policy is a result of endemic lying. I don’t think he’s wrong.

Anon December 13, 2007 at 8:44 am

Tristan,

(1) ‘Effective’ government policy is that which maintains an electoral mandate in the next election – not that which achieves socially optimal outcomes.

(2) As with all natural resources, primary responsibility for forests lies with the Provinces and Territories.

(3) It is not clear what policy or collection of policies could possibly stop the pine beetles.

(4) Likewise, there is no way Canada can stop or even substantially slow climate change alone.

Litty December 13, 2007 at 11:23 am

Are there any pesticides that could be used at the edge of the beetle infestation to prevent them from spreading?

Tristan December 13, 2007 at 3:27 pm

(1) ‘Effective’ government policy is that which maintains an electoral mandate in the next election – not that which achieves socially optimal outcomes.

I disagree. Effective government policy is policy that is right. This is not the same as policy that is popular. It might be popular to ban abortion; it would note be right. Right is not just what people think, and especially not what people think about issues as presented by election campaigns, which is about as one-sided as presentation of issues can be.

There must be a difference between effective policy and a policy that maintains government popularity, otherwise the electorate could never be said to be “wrong” about their interests. Certainly people vote against their interests all the time? I think of poor red states in the US as an example.

Milan December 13, 2007 at 4:22 pm

The issue of effectiveness depends on perspective.

It is best to assume that governments want to maximize their power.

As such, we need to establish systems of oversight that constrain governments to act in the public interest to the greatest possible degree.

Achieving this is a great challenge, but it is the only durable defence against tyranny.

Milan December 13, 2007 at 4:25 pm

Tristan,

Your argument is highly elitist. You assert that poor states would do better to vote Democrat, because that party supports a stronger social safety net. That said, it may well be the preference of such voters to have a government that does more to satisfy other preferences like banning gay marriage and outlawing abortion.

I agree that preferences cannot be simply allowed to stand in a reasonable society. Challenging them through factual and logical argument is the major way by which progress is achieved in the world.

tristan December 13, 2007 at 5:34 pm

Certainly economic interests are more essential than religious ones. Saying the argument is elitist is the same as letting preferences allow to simply stand. People have to be able to be wrong about their interests, otherwise it doesn’t make sense to give them the freedom to determine them for themselves. And if people can be wrong about their interests, it must be at least a formal possibility that another could be right about it, and therefore have grounds for imposing on them a conception of the good which although seeming foreign to them, is actually their own.

If we let people determine their interests entirely for themselves then every act of justice is arbitrary violence to the reciever.

Tristan December 14, 2007 at 1:44 am

The pine beetle is a bad example of a problem that could be mitigated, but it’s also a bad example of policy reflecting long term interests of Canadians. However…

Choosing to let forestry companies cut pine beetle over and above their regular quotas results in over production which temporarily lowers the price of lumbar, which in turn results in shutting down mills. When pine beetle wood is all cut, there will be a reduction in supply and a spike in prices (70% of lumbar in north america today is coming from BC). This will put pressure on the BC government to increase stumpage licenses which will put strain on the forests that is not planned for in the long term sustainable forests plan. They will almost certainly fall to the pressure.

Tristan December 14, 2007 at 1:44 am

Sorry, not 70%, 30%

Tristan December 14, 2007 at 1:53 am

I have to take back this forestry analysis because the american credit crunch’s destruction of housing starts has caused a premature crash in forest production, so production in BC is way down.

Still, this is a good example of a crisis that would not have affected BC nearly as much if the government hadn’t allowed the industry to grow so quickly to “take advantage” of the pine beetle kill while maintaining their regular quotas.

Milan December 14, 2007 at 9:17 am

Certainly economic interests are more essential than religious ones.

Situation A

The government is conservative. Gay rights do not exist, children attend schools that teach the faith of their parents, and abortion is banned in most circumstances. Few restrictions exist on handgun ownership.

Situation B

The government is liberal. Gays can marry, all schools are strictly secular, and confidential abortions are available to anyone. Nobody owns a handgun and sharp restrictions exist on other weapons

I think there are people in Canada who would much prefer to live in one of these situations, even if they would be twice as rich in the other. Wealth cannot buy a fundamental change in the framework of laws that surrounds you. Would you rather be twice as rich in a state that forces you to be Catholic or Protestant and persecutes you if you stray from that line?

. December 14, 2007 at 11:19 am

“You know, the Gore-leone crime family is now the number one crime family in the world, when you think about it. He’s about to pull off the biggest scam in the history of the world. It’s bigger than any bank heist, bigger than any drug deal. It’s bigger than any counterfeiting scheme, and he’s doing it all nice and natural with a little help from the socialist perverts in Norway, who gave him a Nobel Prize. Why do I call them socialist perverts? Answer: because they are. By and large, 90 percent of the people on the Nobel Committee are into child pornography and molestation, according to the latest scientific studies.”

— nationally syndicated radio host Michael Savage

tristan December 15, 2007 at 4:57 am

Milan,

I disagree. I think anyone would rather live in situation A than situation B if it meant the difference between having a career and family or living on the street in poverty. Also, I think they would simply be better off given this situation in situation A, whether they thought so or not.

Furthermore, using this notion of “twice as rich” is ridiculous – the marginal benefit of income decreases exponentially, so twice as much money in no sense makes you twice as economically well off.

When you vote for a leader that furthers your religious interests, but makes it more likely you will be too poor to live a full and satisfying life, you are choosing your narrow interests over your broad ones, and therefore acting against your own best interests.

Milan December 15, 2007 at 10:12 am

I think anyone would rather live in situation A than situation B if it meant the difference between having a career and family or living on the street in poverty.

Desperate poverty is a special case – as Rawls argues well. That said, you could well imagine someone being happier earning $50,000 in Scenario A compared to $100,000 in Scenario B – or vice versa.

Furthermore, using this notion of “twice as rich” is ridiculous – the marginal benefit of income decreases exponentially, so twice as much money in no sense makes you twice as economically well off.

True, but irrelevant. We are discussing whether non-economic preferences can in some cases trump economic ones.

When you vote for a leader that furthers your religious interests, but makes it more likely you will be too poor to live a full and satisfying life, you are choosing your narrow interests over your broad ones, and therefore acting against your own best interests.

This has the same problem as your first statement. I would personally pay a lot to avoid living in a theocracy. I think that is a legitimate preference, even if I would somehow be rich in the theocracy. I don’t see how you can just dismiss someone’s preference about the social and religious climate in which they live. Countless people have expended huge sums and taken on great risks to move to places that are more to their liking in terms of their social or religious character.

Milan December 15, 2007 at 10:13 am

Re: Michael Savage,

Some people just cannot be satirized. They do it to themselves far more effectively than others could hope to.

. February 5, 2008 at 10:51 am

Risk of natural disturbances makes future contribution of Canada’s forests to the global carbon cycle highly uncertain

A large carbon sink in northern land surfaces inferred from global carbon cycle inversion models led to concerns during Kyoto Protocol negotiations that countries might be able to avoid efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions by claiming large sinks in their managed forests. The greenhouse gas balance of Canada’s managed forest is strongly affected by naturally occurring fire with high interannual variability in the area burned and by cyclical insect outbreaks. Taking these stochastic future disturbances into account, we used the Carbon Budget Model of the Canadian Forest Sector (CBM-CFS3) to project that the managed forests of Canada could be a source of between 30 and 245 Mt CO2e yr–1 during the first Kyoto Protocol commitment period (2008–2012). The recent transition from sink to source is the result of large insect outbreaks. The wide range in the predicted greenhouse gas balance (215 Mt CO2e yr–1) is equivalent to nearly 30% of Canada’s emissions in 2005. The increasing impact of natural disturbances, the two major insect outbreaks, and the Kyoto Protocol accounting rules all contributed to Canada’s decision not to elect forest management. In Canada, future efforts to influence the carbon balance through forest management could be overwhelmed by natural disturbances. Similar circumstances may arise elsewhere if global change increases natural disturbance rates. Future climate mitigation agreements that do not account for and protect against the impacts of natural disturbances, for example, by accounting for forest management benefits relative to baselines, will fail to encourage changes in forest management aimed at mitigating climate change.

. April 23, 2008 at 5:01 pm

The pine beetle is already moving on to greener pastures. It has crossed the Rockies into western Alberta’s forests. This year’s cold prairie winter should have helped set the bug back in Alberta, says Kurz.

But given favourable conditions in future, such as mild winters, the beetle could spread across Canada’s vast northern boreal forest, one of the most important stores of carbon on the planet.

“I don’t want to be alarmist, but it is certainly feasible that a future outbreak later this century could go across the boreal,” Kurz said in an interview. “Basically the warmer the climate gets, the greater the chances that this could occur.”

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