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November 15, 2006

Forestry and CO2

As I mentioned yesterday there is good news on the forestry front:

Wealth is one of the clearest indicators of a country’s success in reversing deforestation. Of the countries surveyed, all of those with a GDP per capita greater than $4,600 (£2,400) — roughly equivalent to that of Chile — had increased their forest cover since 1990.

Because trees and other plants absorb CO2 they are regarded as a valuable tool in removing it from the atmosphere.

Conversely, if they are cut down, enormous quantities of CO2 are released into the atmosphere.

Paul Waggoner, of the Department of Forestry and Horticulture in Connecticut, said: “A rapid forest transition at a global scale would mean that atmospheric CO2 might not rise as fast as many fear.”

Just to restate the obvious: as the Stern Review pointed out land use changes (mainly deforestation) contribute some 36% (still can't remember if it is that or 38%) of CO2 emissions, more than the entire global transport sector. Reversing deforestation is thus a great deal more important than curbing transport.

Fortunately we know how to do this: get poor places growing, get modern instead of peasant agriculture in there, urbanise, industrialise, get rich. Excellent...if we can aid the poor countries in doing this, shouldn't we do so for our own sakes?

Step one of course will be to tear down our own barriers to their products. Free trade to save the planet!

November 15, 2006 in Climate Change | Permalink


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Press lies about war, 1964. NeoneoWealthy countries have more trees, and thus remove more evil evil CO2/ WorstallPayback to the unions. Good bye, Free Trade. Hello, higher prices. Samiz.Just asking: How does a young politican afford a $1.6 million house, [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 15, 2006 6:24:54 PM


And plants grow faster when there is more CO2 in the atmosphere. One of these bio-feedback systems, like increasing cloud cover lowering the palnet's albedo, which are ignored because they don't fit the more scary idea of positive feedbacks & tipping points to catastrophe.

Posted by: Neil Craig | Nov 15, 2006 1:33:14 PM

[Fortunately we know how to do this: get poor places growing, get modern instead of peasant agriculture in there, urbanise, industrialise, get rich. ]

there is something of a J-curve effect here though. Most countries which industrialised went through a significant period of deforestation in order to do so - were you aware that Dartmoor used to be a forest?

Tim adds: Sure, (well, didn't know about Dartmoor, no) the J Curve thing., That's really what the paper is about. Where is the low point of the J curve and they seem to think that with a couple of exceptions (Brazil and Indonesia) most heavily forested countries are through it....and for those that aren't we should help them through it.

Posted by: dsquared | Nov 16, 2006 8:56:53 AM

It is bit more complicated than just GDP. The bottom line is that forests start gaining density (if not area) when they are recognized and managed as a resource.

Nordic nations are probably most advanced in this respect, forest maintenance is both an important economic activity and a policy priority. Different parts of trees are used for pulp to make paper, for furniture, to build houses, heck even to make sugar that is good for your teeth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xylitol) Rest is used for energy, heating and electricity co-generation too. Finns get about 20% of their energy from wood, and there is active R&D in making better use of paper industry by-products and on making diesel out of wood.

Destroying forests is economically insane, and simply a sign of dysfunctional society, which does indeed tend to go hand in hand with bad economy. Which is the cause and which the effect is not that clear.

As for environmentalism: While protected areas are needed and the less heavy-handed forestry practices have actually proven to be better in many cases, there is something dysfunctional about the kind of environmentalism that opposes all use of forests. You can have forests that are economically useful in many, many ways while still maintaining bio-diversity, and being pleasant for leisure. Many local environmentalists understand this and co-operate with government, land owners and industry.

BTW, one Nordic solution to problem of commons that deserves to exported is Everyman's right. Basicly it states that everyone (citizens or not) can hike in nature (in practice forests), gather berries and mushrooms and so on regardless of who owns the land, as long as they don't cause any damage or disturb the owners. See http://www.ymparisto.fi/default.asp?contentid=49256&lan=EN
This is a valuable public good as such, but more importantly a possible solution to the conflicts of forest owners and people used to living off the land. It even in effect decreases the need to use tax money to buy land for public parks.

Posted by: teme | Nov 16, 2006 9:12:22 AM

Most countries which industrialised went through a significant period of deforestation in order to do so - were you aware that Dartmoor used to be a forest?

You may be right about the J curve but this comment is rather disingenous. Britain went through deforestation for a whole host of reasons including fuel & ship building long before the industrial revolution and in fact it has been argued that a motivating factor in the switch to coal fuel and iron ships was connected to the scarcity and hence high price of suitable wood. Coal was incredibly expensive in non-coal producing areas prior to the building of railways.

Posted by: J | Nov 16, 2006 1:45:15 PM

Mr Worstall it would seem that you're so busy writing you don't have time to read the comments posted on your breathless blog. I understand that you do this for money but a little interest in the subjects your write about wouldn't do any harm.
Your wrote:
November 14, 2006
Forests and Carbon Emissions

One of the commenters here, Teme, put me onto a very nice paper about forests, their growth and so on. I'm waiting to find out whether the full paper is stil embargoed before posting it up or discussing it in great detail but....

One fascinating piece of information is that in all countries with average GDP over $4,600 forest cover is growing. In those below, it isn't 'big business' cutting them down. It's a combination of poverty and population pressure that does it. Poor people clearing a patch to grow runty corn, as I've intimated before."

This is patent rubbish as I commented on that page.Though I didn't call it rubbish because I thought that you might have merely been mistaken. Now, of course I realise that you're not interested in whether you are mistaken or no ... you have an ideology to push.

Your breathless ideological freemarketeerism does no one any good.

Tim adds: If you look a little further, I did in fact find the paper and posted it. It is indeed true that the paper blames rural population pressure for the cutting down of forests, that when incomes rise above a certain point (and the associated industrialisation and urbanisation happen) that pressure on forests reduces and they start to grow again in both area and density.

What's ideological about stating what the paper says?

Posted by: steven | Nov 19, 2006 9:55:09 PM