Congressman Rohrabacher believes chopping down rainforests will solve global warming

Commentary by Rhett A. Butler,
May 27, 2011

Republican House Representative Dana Rohrabacher shocked scientists on Wednesday when he asserted clear-cutting the world's rainforests would be a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reports Politico.

"Is there some thought being given to subsidizing the clearing of rain forests in order for some countries to eliminate that production of greenhouse gases?" the congressman asked Todd Stern, the lead U.S. climate negotiator during a politically-charged hearing on climate change.

"Or would people be supportive of cutting down older trees in order to plant younger trees as a means to prevent this disaster from happening?"

Rohrabacher seemed to rationalize his argument by saying that 80-90 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are "generated by nature itself." He neglects to mention, or fails to understand, that these emissions mostly balance out, unlike emissions from burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, which primarily contribute to climate change.

"He’s seriously confused,” Oliver Phillips, a professor of geography at the UK's University of Leeds in Britain and an author of several papers carbon storage in forests, told The New York Times. "He’s just got half of the equation. Natural things decay, of course, but they also grow... The need is to reduce deforestation."

Scientists and many policymakers believe that ecosystems like forests, which are net carbon sinks as they expand, are an important component in addressing climate change. Accordingly the U.S. and other industrialized countries are supporting programs to reduce deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. REDD, as the concept has been named, offers other potential co-benefits including safeguarding biodiversity, supporting sustainable local livelihoods, and maintaining key ecosystem services like buffering against flooding and erosion.

However there is risk that climate change-associated fire and drought could reverse the role forests play in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. Research by scientists in the Amazon have found that the world's largest rainforest released vast amounts of carbon in 2006 and 2010 when it was affected by the worst droughts on record.

Nevertheless clearing forests wouldn't help reduce emissions. Converting natural forests to plantations probably won't help much either because plantations generally store less carbon than mature, natural forests.

Rohrabacher's "solution" is thus no solution at all.


Ending deforestation could boost Brazilian agriculture

(06/26/2010) Ending Amazon deforestation could boost the fortunes of the Brazilian agricultural sector by $145-306 billion, estimates a new analysis issued by Avoided Deforestation Partners, a group pushing for U.S. climate legislation that includes a strong role for forest conservation. The analysis, which follows on the heels of a report that forecast large gains for U.S. farmers from progress in gradually stopping overseas deforestation by 2030, estimates that existing Brazilian farmers could see around $100 billion from higher commodity prices and improved access to markets. Meanwhile landholders in the Brazilian Amazon—including ranchers and farmers—could see $50-202 billion from carbon payments for forest protection.

U.S. farms and forests report draws ire in Brazil; cutting down the Amazon does not mean lower food prices

(06/24/2010) Not surprisingly, a US report released last week which argued that saving forests abroad will help US agricultural producers by reducing international competition has raised hackles in tropical forest counties. The report, commissioned by Avoided Deforestation Partners, a US group pushing for including tropical forest conservation in US climate policy, and the National Farmers Union, a lobbying firm, has threatened to erode support for stopping deforestation in places like Brazil. However, two rebuttals have been issued, one from international environmental organizations and the other from Brazilian NGOs, that counter findings in the US report and urge unity in stopping deforestation, not for the economic betterment of US producers, but for everyone.

Amazongate fraud

(06/21/2010) The Sunday Times over the weekend retracted a column that accused the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of making a "bogus rainforest claim" when it cited a report warning that up to 40 percent of the Amazon could be "drastically" affected by climate change. The "Amazongate" column, authored by Jonathan Leake, Science & Environment Editor of the Sunday Times, was immediately seized upon by climate skeptics as further evidence to discredit the IPCC just two weeks after it was found to be using shoddy glacier data in its 2007 climate assessment. But now the Sunday Times has removed Leake's column from its web site and issued on apology, admitting that the Amazon claim was indeed supported by scientific research. The Sunday Times also acknowledged misconduct in the way one of the story's sources—Simon Lewis of the University of Leeds in Britain—was quoted.

Are we on the brink of saving rainforests?

(07/22/2009) Until now saving rainforests seemed like an impossible mission. But the world is now warming to the idea that a proposed solution to help address climate change could offer a new way to unlock the value of forest without cutting it down.Deep in the Brazilian Amazon, members of the Surui tribe are developing a scheme that will reward them for protecting their rainforest home from encroachment by ranchers and illegal loggers. The project, initiated by the Surui themselves, will bring jobs as park guards and deliver health clinics, computers, and schools that will help youths retain traditional knowledge and cultural ties to the forest. Surprisingly, the states of California, Wisconsin and Illinois may finance the endeavor as part of their climate change mitigation programs.

Drought threatens the Amazon rainforest as a carbon sink

(03/05/2009) Drought in the Amazon is imperiling the rainforest ecosystem and global climate, reports new research published in Science. Analyzing the impact of the severe Amazon drought of 2005, a team of 68 researchers across 13 countries found evidence that rainfall-starved tropical forests lose massive amounts of carbon due to reduced plant growth and dying trees. The 2005 drought — triggered by warming in the tropical North Atlantic rather than el Niño — resulted in a net flux of 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere — more than the combined annual emissions of Japan and Europe — relative to normal years when the Amazon is a net sink for 2 billion tons of CO2.

55% of the Amazon may be lost by 2030

(01/23/2008) Cattle ranching, industrial soy farming, and logging are three of the leading drivers of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. As commodity prices continue to rise, driven by surging demand for biofuels and grain for meat production, the economic incentives for developing the Amazon increase. Already the largest exporter of beef and the second largest producer of soy - with the largest expanse of "undeveloped" but arable land of any country - Brazil is well on its way to rivaling the U.S. as the world's agricultural superpower. The trend towards turning the Amazon into a giant breadbasket seems unstoppable. Nevertheless the decision at the U.N. climate talks in Bali to include "Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Degradation" (REDD) in future climate treaty negotiations may preempt this fate, says Dr. Daniel Nepstad, a scientist at the Woods Hole Research Institute.

Globalization could save the Amazon rainforest

(06/03/2007) The Amazon basin is home to the world's largest rainforest, an ecosystem that supports perhaps 30 percent of the world's terrestrial species, stores vast amounts of carbon, and exerts considerable influence on global weather patterns and climate. Few would dispute that it is one of the planet's most important landscapes. Despite its scale, the Amazon is also one of the fastest changing ecosystems, largely as a result of human activities, including deforestation, forest fires, and, increasingly, climate change. Few people understand these impacts better than Dr. Daniel Nepstad, one of the world's foremost experts on the Amazon rainforest. Now head of the Woods Hole Research Center's Amazon program in Belem, Brazil, Nepstad has spent more than 23 years in the Amazon, studying subjects ranging from forest fires and forest management policy to sustainable development. Nepstad says the Amazon is presently at a point unlike any he's ever seen, one where there are unparalleled risks and opportunities. While he's hopeful about some of the trends, he knows the Amazon faces difficult and immediate challenges.

Commentary by Rhett A. Butler, (May 27, 2011).

Congressman Rohrabacher believes chopping down rainforests will solve global warming.