FEATURE: Old-Growth Carbon Findings Cause Forest Protection Schism
New ecological science increases calls for forest protection movement to unite in campaign to protect all ancient forests
By Earth's Newsdesk, a project of EcoInternet (EI)
A new study in the journal Nature [ark] finds old-growth forests are “carbon sinks” [search] and continually absorb carbon dioxide . Australian researchers recently found logging primary forests releases 40 percent of their carbon . These findings discredit decades of thought that primary forests are carbon neutral, they can or should be “sustainably” logged, and only young forests continue to remove carbon.
The Earth's remaining ancient forests need to be fully protected not just because destroying them will release huge stores of greenhouse gases while destroying biodiversity — but because science now knows what many of us intuited — they continue in perpetuity to absorb massive amounts of new carbon dioxide. The environmental movement must respond accordingly.
This causes discomfort for groups like Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) that actively support ancient forest logging. They campaign for certified industrial first-time harvest of primary forests, and to establish some protected areas, while acquiescing to ancient forest logging elsewhere. They work to end coal use, but not ancient forest logging. New ecological science indicates their discredited forest campaigns cause climate change and block ecologically sufficient policies.
Thirty percent of global forests are unmanaged primary forests or regenerating old-growth forests. These ancient forests in Canada, Russia and Alaska alone absorb 1.3 gigatonnes of carbon annually, about ten percent of global emissions. Much of their carbon, including in the soil, “will move back to the atmosphere if these forests are disturbed… Carbon accounting rules for forests should give credit for leaving old-growth forest intact,” conclude Oregon State University researchers in Nature.
Greenpeace and RAN — and virtually every major forest campaign — continue to focus upon establishing protected areas in some remaining wildernesses, and making first-time industrial logging less damaging elsewhere. After millennia of terrestrial ecosystem destruction by humans, and over a century of failed logging reform, ecologically driven activists question the dominant failed paradigm that logging primeval forests can ever be justified. This has led to a major schism in the forest protection movement, which is not going to go away easily.
Both RAN and Greenpeace recently celebrated Ontario, Canada's promise to protect Boreal Forests in coming decades in exchange for continued industrial development now. Since the announcement, plans to log old-growth forests in Ontario's Temagami region have been fast-tracked, and logging giant AbitibiBowater has taken the agreement as a green light to intensify logging. This occurs with Greenpeace and RAN's blessing, because there may be some protections in 15 years.
Greenpeace activists last week boarded a logging ship in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to prevent Malaysian-owned logging company Rimbunan Hijau from exporting timber to China. “We need to urgently protect these ancient forests to save our climate… Greenpeace is asking the PNG government to establish a moratorium on any new large-scale logging,” said campaigner Sam Moko. Given PNG's two earlier, largely Greenpeace inspired, temporary moratoriums in past decades, that led to no changes in forest policy, perhaps Greenpeace should work to END ancient forest logging in PNG and globally, before the forests are gone.
Britain's Prince Charles called yesterday for the world to act with a “sense of wartime urgency” to protect the rainforests, warning they were “umbilically connected” to the phenomenon of climate change. The heir to the British throne says rainforests “are the world's lifebelt”, acting as the “world's air conditioning system” and helping store the largest body of flowing water on the planet. Such ambitious, ecologically-based policy is welcome from the nation that unleashed industrialism.
For over a decade, EcoInternet (EI) — the world's leading exclusively Internet-based forest and climate campaigners — has called for an end to all primary and old-growth forest logging as necessary to save the Earth's climate and biodiversity. Active campaigns seek to end ancient forest logging in Tasmania, Australia and British Columbia, Canada. EI has campaigned to have Greenpeace and RAN change their forest policies, and given current science, their hand to continue doing so has been strengthened.
The response has been nearly total silence, with some ridicule and questioning of motives. Yet, there are important discussions regarding how forests relate to global ecological sustainability that must be held, and EI and allies will persevere. Are there enough ancient forests remaining to sustain atmospheric processes? Can first time industrial logging of ancient forests ever be done carefully enough to maintain carbon, species and other values? Is wide-scale industrial development of primary forests acceptable if indigenous peoples so desire? Why are Greenpeace and RAN stonewalling such important questions?
According to EI President, Dr. Glen Barry, “Greenpeace and RAN must engage in public dialogue, and review their forest campaigns, to bring them up to date with ecological science and planetary conditions. Emphasis must be upon requirements to maintain the Earth's atmosphere and all life's habitats — regardless of difficulty — and this means leaving old-growth standing. Until all forest defenders embrace full protection for ancient forests, ecologically sufficient forest campaigns cannot succeed. Continued refusal makes Greenpeace and RAN legitimate targets of protest.”
 Old-growth forests as global carbon sinks. Nature 455, 213-215 (September 11, 2008).
 Green Carbon: The role of natural forests in carbon storage. ANU E Press (July 2008).
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