David Suzuki: Forests count in our fight against climate change

In 1992, I attended an event that filled me with hope. Canada and the rest of the world had just signed a climate change treaty at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. I remember being optimistic that the world could come together to fight the greatest threat to our planet and our own survival. We had done it before in overcoming other threats, like defeating Nazism in Europe and beating back horrific diseases like polio that once maimed and killed tens of thousands of people each year.

When Canada signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty, we had not yet begun to experience the full consequences of climate change. There were no news reports of starving polar bears in the Arctic, the mountain pine beetle had not yet turned B.C.’s forests crimson, and we weren’t facing a rapid increase in infectious diseases, like Lyme disease, that are exacerbated by warming temperatures.

The effects of climate change are now affecting people and places all over the planet, from the most remote tropical rainforest to the urban parks where many of our kids play. And scientists tell us that some changes, like melting sea ice in the Arctic, are happening much faster than any computer model had predicted.

Though the 1992 UNFCCC treaty set no mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions and contained no enforcement provisions (these would come later in the Kyoto Protocol and, we hope, in a forthcoming climate treaty that will replace it), it did set an ambitious science-based goal: to stabilize greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent the effects of dangerous climate change.

Scientists say we can only achieve this goal if we radically reduce all major sources of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions. While much of the debate and action has focused on curbing emissions from burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and gas, the destruction of our forests, wetlands, grasslands, and peatlands is responsible for about one quarter of all other emissions into the atmosphere. That’s higher than emissions from cars, trucks, boats, and planes together.

In Canada and throughout the world, forests are being rapidly cleared for agriculture and oil and gas development and are being destructively mined and logged. When forest soils are disturbed and trees are burned or cut down for wood and paper products, much of the carbon stored in their biomass is released back into the atmosphere as heat-trapping carbon dioxide, although some carbon can remain stored in longer-lived forest products, like wood used to make furniture or homes.

Thus the destruction of forests and other ecosystems is not only a driver of extinction of species, such as boreal caribou, but is a driver of global warming as well.

We need to adopt a carbon stewardship approach to how we use our forests and the goods and services we take from them.

For some scientists, carbon stewardship means setting aside at least half of all remaining intact forests as protected areas, particularly carbon-rich forests like old-growth temperate rainforests in B.C. and the boreal in Canada’s north, where wildlife like caribou feed, breed, and roam. Protecting intact forests also promotes ecological resiliency so that species and ecosystems can cope with and adapt to the effects of climate change.

That doesn't mean that the logging companies should be allowed to trash the other 50 percent. Forests that we do manage for wood and paper production should be logged according to the highest standards of ecosystem-based management—without clear-cutting and with adequate protection for wildlife habitat like caribou as well as sensitive areas like wetlands.

In December, the world’s nations will meet at the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen to negotiate a new strong and fair climate change agreement that will continue and strengthen the Kyoto Protocol. Scientists tell us that to avoid dangerous climate change governments must agree to deep reductions in greenhouse gases, including carbon emissions from the destruction of our forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems. We can achieve this by agreeing to protect our intact forests, taking full responsibility for emissions from logging and other land-use activities, and helping developing nations reduce deforestation.

Let’s use our forests in a truly sustainable way that is better for nature, better for the climate, and ultimately better for our own health and well-being.

Take David Suzuki’s Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org/.

Comments

11 Comments

Mike Hansen

Oct 20, 2009 at 6:36pm

Our 'health and well-being' is not a matter of concern to the foreign corporations that control our governments.

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Canada

Oct 20, 2009 at 10:06pm

Is there a problem with the way we are harvesting BC forests?

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Kim Poirier

Oct 20, 2009 at 10:31pm

So why did you people endorse Gordon Campbell? You have no more crediblity.

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mikey

Oct 21, 2009 at 5:43am

In the mid 70's I worked in northern Alberta in oil & gas field development. I was one of the surveyors that directed the bulldozers that plowed through the wilderness to prep drilling rigs and pipe trenches, just so moronic lard-butts could fill up their SUVs. What a waste. I'm personally responsible for destroying untold acres of forest so idiot children can stay on the tit.

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RodSmelser

Oct 21, 2009 at 4:16pm

mikey:
"In the mid 70's I worked in northern Alberta ... the bulldozers that plowed through the wilderness to prep drilling rigs and pipe trenches, just so moronic lard-butts could fill up their SUVs."
================================

Actually, mikey, in the 1970s there were no SUVs.

Rod Smelser

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RodSmelser

Oct 21, 2009 at 4:32pm

Today in Ottawa the Liberals said they would not support Bill C311, the Climate Change Accountability Act when it comes up for Third Reading. Instead, they want it sent to committee for more study. Bill C311 is a private members bill carried over from the last parliament and sponsored by MP Bruce Hyer (NDP -- Thunder Bay - Superior North).

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2009/10/21/ndp-climate-change-bill-libera...

In April when the Bill passed second reading, with Liberal support, the David Suzuki Foundation was ecstatic. They took credit for organizing support for this legislation and promised to keep their followers informed of its progress:

We did it! Global Warming Accountability Bill One Step Closer to Law
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blog/DSF1_04020902.asp

“We will keep you posted on this important piece of legislation.”

Well, what does the David Suzuki Foundation say now? Are they at all critical of the Liberals for sidetracking this bill, which they once described as "important"?

At this point at least there's nothing one way or the other on the DSF website. Perhaps their response is still being wordsmithed. Or perhaps there's some reluctance at that office to say or do anything that amounts to criticism of the Liberal Party.

Rod Smelser

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common tater

Oct 21, 2009 at 9:24pm

One of the more important things David Suzuki could undertake rather than preaching to the choir at the Straight, would be to get the message out from his fellow Scientists. There seems to be a huge amount of confusing noise the deniers are able to spew forth over the issue of Global Warming. I think it proves very effective at distracting those who are unsure on the issue and it is hard to counter without an affirmative consensus from Climatologists.
A poll should be done with utmost accountability to as many Climatologists and other Global Warming related Scientists as possible; with the stated goal of causing a change in peoples mindset. I know Scientific conclusions are not supposed to be an exercise in democracy; so the Question can be worded to avoid requesting absolute certainty as you might do with whether the earth may or may not be flat. I have yet to see a survey of these scientists that has received more than 20% participation or response. This should be one of the more important weapons in this fight basically armed with knowledge and not set back by conflicted statements.

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Ivan Pulaski

Oct 22, 2009 at 12:38pm

<i>That doesn't mean that the logging companies should be allowed to trash the other 50 percent. Forests that we do manage for wood and paper production should be logged according to the highest standards of ecosystem-based management—without clear-cutting and with adequate protection for wildlife habitat like caribou as well as sensitive areas like wetlands.</i>

So says the man who has never been there. Yeah, 60 years of stopping forest fires had absolutely NOTHING to do with the pine beetle. Glad folks like you and Al are getting rich off of the bureaucracy you're creating. You don't give a shit about the planet just money and power.

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Judy Cross

Oct 22, 2009 at 5:08pm

The man who helped re-elect Gordo might consider some trees in Siberia...the ones that got picked out to show "global warming" was unique to the 1990s. Do a search for "Treemometers, a new scientific scandal" for a real eye opener about the "science" behind AGW.

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Daveintheshade

Oct 22, 2009 at 5:31pm

Re: "One of the more important things David Suzuki could undertake rather than preaching to the choir at the Straight, would be to get the message out from his fellow Scientists."

Common Tater,
I encourage you to read this article on the long existing debate of whether scientists should be advocates http://bit.ly/4caxUK Its an essay by NELSON and VUCETICH called On "Advocacy by Environmental Scientists: What, Whether, Why, and How"

http://twitter.com/daveintheshade

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