Mitigating Climate Change: Forest Policy in NB

28 04 2014

 

By Sam Arnold

Climate change must surely be the biggest threat yet to face the world. It’s time to stop procrastinating, and take all possible preventive actions. Why?

As early as 1972, Meadows, Randers, and Meadows warned in their book Limits to Growth, “If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next 100 years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrolled decline in both population and industrial capacity.”

Forty-two years later, the March 31, 2014 report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns of a world wracked by hunger, violence, and extinctions in the coming decades. “Climate change will pervade every corner of the globe and will affect every inhabitant.” This is the strongest warning yet from the IPCC and the latest in a string of warnings about the need to radically and immediately reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Climate change is a global problem that will require all of us to do our part to mitigate it.

Canada and other countries involved directly in the fossil fuel industry must do their utmost to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Chris Nelder, an energy analyst and consultant who’s written about energy and investing for over a decade, reports, “Since conventional oil production peaked in 2005, the soaring cost of producing oil has far outpaced the rise in oil prices, and the world has relied on these sources to keep production growing. The big companies such as Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell have declined [in production] during the past five years even as the companies spent more than a half-trillion dollars on new projects. Chevron’s costs alone have jumped 56 percent since 2010. This is not a good sign for an industry that’s on the ropes.”

And Michael E. Mann wrote on March 14, 2014 in Scientific American, “If the world keeps burning fossil fuels at the current rate, it will cross a threshold into environmental ruin by 2036.”

That’s only twenty-two years away, meaning that environmental damage could be unstoppable unless drastic measures are taken now. Mann can’t be dismissed as a scaremonger because he is using a model created by the IPCC to measure and predict climate changes, and their predictions have been very accurate to date.

IPCC’s model is based on limiting CO2 emissions below 450 parts per million to prevent global warming beyond two degrees Centigrade. It’s a conservative definition of climate sensitivity that considers only the so-called fast feedbacks in the climate system, such as changes in clouds, water vapor and melting sea ice. Some climate scientists, including

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James E. Hansen, former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, say we must also consider slower feedbacks such as changes in the continental ice sheets. Hansen and others maintain that when these are taken into account, we need to get back down to the lower level of CO2 emissions that existed during the mid-20th century – about 350 ppm. “That would require widespread deployment of expensive ‘air capture’ technology that actively removes CO2 from the atmosphere,” says Hansen.

Does this mean that we’re toast? Hopefully not if we can quickly change our priorities from making large profits to saving the environment.

Fortunately, forests are a great natural means to capture CO2. This provides a key rationale for developing a sustainable forest management policy to end clear-cutting practices while allowing diverse natural forests to flourish using select harvesting and thinning practices that promote better growth and biodiversity in New Brunswick. A properly managed Acadian forest can provide for the needs of everyone – Indigenous people, private woodlot owners, the forest industry, and future generations – while maintaining a healthy ecosystem that sequesters carbon emissions.

New Brunswick must transition from fossil fuel hydrocarbon energy to a clean renewable energy economy as soon as possible. Doing so won’t harm the economy because it will save valuable time and expense, create many new jobs while improving the quality of life for everyone. Additionally, it won’t require elaborate environmental impact assessments and isn’t likely to be challenged in the courts by Indigenous people or environmentalists.

When the welfare of people and the environment are given priority, the biosphere can help both. One would think this to be obvious, but man – perhaps only man who is obsessed with monetary wealth or is out of touch with nature – may regard himself to be apart from the biosphere, the result of confused priorities and the fact that most people now live in urban settings where the natural world is alien to them.

Man’s tendency is to ignore the warnings and to disregard the vital indicators that the biosphere provides. This has been the case regarding climate change so far. Looking after the commons has not been a priority for modern man, and the price for this neglect may soon become obvious.

While jobs are in short supply and projects such as resource development and building pipelines are tempting for government and industry to exploit, they appear to be ignoring all warnings from both scientists and from nature that doing so will exacerbate severe environmental and economic misfortune.

The amazing thing is that there are alternative solutions that will not damage the environment. New Brunswick can change direction and can gain from it by abandoning hydrocarbon energy and investing instead in renewable energy tied to energy efficiency, conservation, and a locally based economy. This would result in creating more jobs and

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Healthier jobs all around the province. New Brunswick can be a leader in environment adaptation, and become one of the most attractive provinces in which to live in eastern Canada as well.

The Alward government’s eagerness for shale gas development and the Energy East pipeline, as well as its new policy reversal and capitulation to forestry industry demands, will ultimately fail the province as these strategies will exacerbate climate change, increase health costs, and reduce future timber yields while harming the ecosystem. These shortsighted plans, if they proceed, will make New Brunswick poorer, less healthy and less attractive in many ways.

The underlying quandary is that the primary interests of government and industry are short-term goals, while trustworthy planning must include the longer term. To be considered “responsible,” as both are claiming to be, they must extend their planning to include the interests of the next three generations in their strategies, at least.

To that end, New Brunswick is favourably positioned to tackle climate change and improve its economic fortunes. It can create a sustainable forestry plan and invest in renewable energy development and energy efficiency simultaneously. With the cost of fossil fuels rising sharply in the coming years while renewables are steadily declining, the wise way forward is to switch to a clean energy economy. This may not be enough to avert the catastrophe that scientists have been forecasting for over four decades, but at least it can give our descendants hope for their future. The fact has become clear, that climate change won’t allow us any more time to procrastinate – absolutely none.

Sam Arnold is a member of the Woodstock Sustainable Energy Group

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One response

28 04 2014
Margo Sheppard

You rock, Harbinger!!! Thanks so much!

Margo

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