Governor Schwarzenegger, AB 32, and Global Warming: Code Redd

When the search for truth is confused with political advocacy, the pursuit of knowledge is reduced to the quest for power.“- Alston Chase, author of “Playing God in Yellowstone.”

‘Redd’ is another ort in the acronym soup of climate-speak from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); it stands for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation.” I’ll get into the particulars shortly on how Redd relates to Assembly Bill 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006; Governor Schwarzenegger’s Executive Order S-13-08 directing state agencies to plan for sea level rise and climate impacts; and the attempt by the California Air Resources Board (Carb) to implement both. But first, the historical underpinnings of the global warming debate and why the hang-up on carbon dioxide.

The Genesis of the Greenhouse Effect

In 1895, Swedish chemist Svante August Arrhenius presented a paper to the Stockholm Physical Society titled, “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground.” Building on previous experiments by Tyndall (certain gases absorb radiation) and others, he argued that thermal radiation from the sun warmed the earth’s surface during the day; and at night, as the surface radiated that energy back into the sky, certain gases and water vapor acted as a blanket to retard the escape of heat. Thus, carbonic acid (carbon dioxide) influenced Earth’s climate, so its abundance or scarcity explained warm periods and ice ages.

About ten years later, he published “Worlds in the Making,” in which he described his “hot-house theory” in layman’s terms. The analogy of glass plates of a greenhouse allowing sunlight through and trapping heat inside was a convenient way to describe the process; hence the ‘greenhouse effect.’ Arrhenius felt that man’s contribution of CO2 to the atmosphere was beneficial because it warded off the return of an ice age.

The earth continued to warm and some thought Arrhenius might be on to something. Others continued to theorize on human-caused CO2’s affect on climate, most notably Guy Callendar and Gilbert Plass. In the 1950s, Plass calculated CO2 absorption of infrared radiation, predicting that doubling earth’s CO2 would produce a 3.6 degrees Celsius warming. Yet, scientific consensus discounted human’s contribution to the greenhouse effect, contending that natural forces exerted far greater influence. Until the 1980s, most scientists believed we were on the verge of another ice age.

The IPCC

Yet, temperatures began steadily rising in the late 1970s. In 1988, the United Nations created the IPCC to assess scientific information concerning human-induced climate change and the options for adaptation and mitigation. The IPCC has now published its fourth assessment (2007) showing that temperature has increased about one degree Celsius over the previous 100 years and a sea level rise of nearly 0.2 meters (0.56 feet). Though if the earth’s average temperature increases 3-5 degrees Celsius, as it has in previous epochs, then we might see a sea level rise of 16 feet.[i]

California Dreamin’: All the leaves are brown

Governor Schwarzenegger and California’s legislature apparently believe, along with much of the rest of the world, the appropriate response is to lower our CO2 emissions. So, about a century after Arrhenius penned his paper, Governor Schwarzenegger signed Executive Order S-13-08 directing all state agencies to develop CO2 strategies to deal with the human-caused portion of global warming. He told a crowd of dignitaries that due to ongoing climate change, “We have to adapt the way we work and plan [to] make sure the state is prepared when heavy rains cause flooding and the potential for sea level rise increases in future years.”

I am skeptical of lowering carbon is the best way to meet these potential threats, preferring direct methods such as effective flood control planning and diking to indirect methods. Nonetheless, due to the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32), Governor Schwarzenegger made Carb responsible for overseeing reductions of greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, now less than 10 years off.

This is where Redd comes in (remember Redd? “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation”). Trees do a good job of soaking up CO2 (“sequestering carbon” in IPCC jargon). So, in 2007, Carb embraced the California Climate Action Registry protocols for determining the climate benefits of forest carbon sequestration as part of a Cap-and-Trade system. The only hitch being that those protocols allowed timber harvesting and worse (in the view of some), they seemed to not expressly prohibit—gasp—clearcutting. This upset a number of environmental groups, including the Tucson-based “Center for Biological Diversity” (CBD).

They and their friends dislike timber harvesting in general and clearcutting in particular. You might recall that CBD and others brought suits against Cal-Fire for allowing Sierra Products Industries to practice even-aged management on the SPI forests saying, “A clearcut is about as beneficial to the climate as a new coal-fired power plant.” It turns out CBD and its friends have now persuaded Carb to reverse its earlier decisions.

Politics is Power

Regardless of whether you buy the argument that reducing CO2 will make any difference[i], if you care about reducing our reliance on carbon-based fuels, Carb’s reversal on the accounting protocols is counter-productive.

Tomorrow: Why.


[i] Carbon Dioxide’s Role in Climate Change Calculations

While few dispute CO2 being a ‘greenhouse gas’ (GhG), it’s CO2’s role in climate change that is debated.

The “Warmers” frame the argument this way: since we have seen a increased CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels coupled with a warming trend in the earth’s mean temperature. QED, the cause must be CO2 and therefore lowering CO2 will begin reversing global warming.

The “Skeptics” say that the argument misapplies cause-and-effect. They ask ‘what accounts for the Minoan, Roman, and Medieval Warm periods and the facts that the earth has plunged into ice ages when CO2 has been ten times greater than today? Something else forces major climate changes.’

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Forests and Climate Change, Not Clearcut

“If you don’t have the law, you argue the facts; if you don’t have the facts, you argue the law; if you have neither the facts nor the law, then you argue the Constitution” – John Adams

Poster from The Green Chain used by permission

It’s not clearcut

At Issue: Clearcutting and Climate Change

On January 27, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), a Tucson-based environmental advocacy group, filed suit against my former employer.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) regulates harvesting on California’s non-federal forests. Oddly, CBD isn’t claiming clearcutting 5,000 acres (none of harvest areas are greater than 40 acres[1]) disrupts habitat and thus endangers plants and animals. No, they’ve filed suit because clearcutting, ostensibly, increases global warming. “A clearcut is about as beneficial to the climate as a new coal-fired power plant,” says Brian Nowicki, CBD’s California climate policy director. At issue is whether Cal Fire “failed to carry out any project-specific analysis of the (greenhouse gas) emissions that would come from clearcutting projects it approved.”

“A clearcut is about as beneficial to the climate as a new coal-fired power plant “– Brian” Nowicki, CBD’s California climate policy director

Forests do a good job of soaking up carbon dioxide (CO2), a “greenhouse gas.” When harvesting removes the trees, some of the carbon in the soil, branches, litter, and leaves, escapes back into the atmosphere. It may be more than normal but it’s normal. Forests constantly exchange carbon, pulling CO2 from the air and putting it back through respiration. One textbook I consulted said of a normal forest, “Measurements have shown as much as 20 pounds [of CO2] per acre per hour being liberated from soil.”

The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) estimates 80% of the terrestrially exchanged carbon is done by forests. California’s forests pull more than 14 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 annually from the atmosphere. “Most foresters I talk to feel the 14 million metric tons gross sequestration [the incorporation of carbon into the tree] rate is an underestimate,” said Gary Nakamura, Forestry Specialist for University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Forestry and a member of the California Board of Forestry.

Fires, harvesting, insect kill, disease, and the decomposition of forest products in landfills and composting facilities, return about 10 MMT back to the atmosphere. The numbers squish when squeezed. “The uncertainty in this estimate is roughly ± 38%,” Nakamura said in an email.

While the numbers aren’t certain, CBD is. They’ve defeated others before on this issue. They may win again, despite the science, the facts, or the law; never mind the constitution. “It’s part of an ongoing philosophical struggle between the forces of preservation and the forces of conservation,” Bill Keye, Government Affairs Specialist for the California Licensed Foresters Association (CLFA) told me. “They’ve shut down national forests, now they’ve branched out to private ownerships. They don’t like even-aged management [i.e. clearcutting] and they don’t like us [the forest industry].”

“It’s part of an ongoing philosophical struggle between the forces of preservation and the forces of conservation. They’ve shut down national forests, now they’ve branched out to private ownerships. They don’t like even-aged management and they don’t like us.” – Bill Keye, Government Affairs Specialist for the California Licensed Foresters Association

“Clear-cutting is an abysmal practice that should have been banned long ago due to its impacts on wildlife and water quality,” CBD’s Senior Counsel, Brendan Cummings said in a statement. “Now, in an era where all land-management decisions need to be fully carbon-conscious, there is simply no excuse to continue to allow clear-cutting in California.”

“Now, in an era where all land-management decisions need to be fully carbon-conscious, there is simply no excuse to continue to allow clear-cutting in California.” – CBD Senior Counsel, Brendan Cummings

Different Trees, Different Needs

Yet if we want to keep a healthy mix of trees, there’s not only an excuse to allow clearcutting, there’s a place for clearcutting. Every gardener knows some plants work best in shade and some thrive in full sunlight. The same holds for trees. Some trees, such as ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir, do best in full sunlight. Other trees grow in shaded conditions.

Foresters prescribe clearcutting in order to be able to plant trees that are intolerant to shade. Selection cutting shifts the species mix toward shade-tolerant trees because the ones needing full sunlight won’t be able to compete and will get crowded out. Without major stand disturbance such as fire, logging, or extensive windthrow to create those openings, trees such as ponderosa and Douglas-fir won’t have the conditions they need to survive and will be shaded out.

So, if the desired future is to have ponderosa pines or Douglas-firs in our forests, clearcuts beat selection harvests. The only argument should be over the size of the openings allowed, and after the biological needs of a species are met, it’s a matter of policy. California’s regulations restrict clearcut size to 20-40 acres, the smallest openings allowed in the western United States.

A CBD Win Won’t Help the Environment

However well-intentioned lawsuits such as CBD’s latest against Cal Fire are, they have the power to cause unintended consequences. If Bill Keye is right and CBD’s goal is to end all harvesting, the result is far more pollution, not simply more CO2; results CBD contends they are trying to prevent.

“When the search for truth is confused with political advocacy, the pursuit of knowledge is reduced to the quest for power.”“- Alston Chase, author of “Playing God in Yellowstone.”

Such lawsuits hold the power to shift people away from California’s renewable second-growth forests, and the wood they provide, to non-renewable resources and their more energy-intensive requirements; or perhaps worse, shifting to sources where environmental policies carry little regard. “When the search for truth is confused with political advocacy,” said Alston Chase, author and former philosophy professor, “the pursuit of knowledge is reduced to the quest for power.”

Never mind the metaphorical coal-fired power plant, real coal-fired power plants will be running harder to create products from substitutes, such as concrete, steel and aluminum. These substitutes require more energy to explore, excavate, smelt, and manufacture.

Our California forests have the capacity to produce all the wood we need and export some as well, yet we import 75% of our wood. And, when we do buy wood, it may not be from places that carefully scrutinize harvests. It’s Kabuki environmentalism and the “zero-cut,” illusion of preservation, getting wood from countries with lax environmental enforcement.

The lawsuit seems to be classic NIMBYism: “think locally, pollute globally.”

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[1] 40 acres is the maximum clearcut size allowed by the Forest Practice Rules

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The Top 13 Environmental Stories of the Aughts

Here is my olio list of profound and profane environmental news of the past decade–the aughts.

  1. Hurricane Katrina From the toxic sludge left behind on the land to removal of the vegetative buffers by encroaching civilization, hurricane Katrina exposed so many of our environmental shortcomings, all in one storm.

  2. Al Gore’s Inconvenient Nobel Peace PrizeI voted for Gore in 2000 and thought he was a reasonable man. His Saturday Night Live sketch indicated he had some sense of humor. Yet, his dourness shines through in both his book “Earth in the Balance” and his PowerPoint cum film “An Inconvenient Truth,” a film filled with numerous inconvenient falsehoods. What was the Nobel Committee smoking?

  3. Bjorn Lomborg’s Copenhagen ConsensusThe Copenhagen Consensus commissions “research that analyzes the optimal ways to combat the biggest problems facing the world. “In doing so, it gores a number of Sacred Calves. Like a buyer for WalMart, the Copenhagen Consensus looks for where we humans can get the most bang for our buck. It turns out anthropogenic (a fancy way to say something caused by people) global warming wound up at #30, a fact that fries most greens and climatologists.  I think the failure of Kyoto and Copenhagen (and sites in between) underscore this fact that investing $1 and getting a 1cent return is not what we should do. You would think more politicians would get behind the Consensus’s recommendation to go after the low hanging fruit first. I guess they figure the low hanging fruit is sour grapes.By the way, if you have not yet read Lomborg’s “Skeptical Environmentalist,” published in 2001, you need to–now. Lomborg started out by trying to debunk the late Julian Simon who said, “First, humanity’s condition will improve in just about every material way. Second, humans will continue to sit around complaining about everything getting worse.” Professor Lomborg, one of the top 100 public intellectuals, according to Foreign Policy & Prospect Magazine, took a statistician’s view of the arguments used by the Environmental Lobby (and Al Gore) and found hyperbole that focused on the minuses and never the pluses. Lomborg’s book contains thousands of footnoted sources, something that’s missing from many others.

  4. TVA coal ash dam break/spillOne year after the coal ash spill near Knoxville, the Tennessee Valley Authority still has no plan of what to do with a billion gallons toxic goo from their Kingston Fossil Plant. Dredgers have been running 24 hours a day, 6 days a week (on the day 7 the oil is changed), since the spill to clean out the Emory river. The dam break indicates the extent of our life-style’s “externalities“–those obligations and costs we all bear–from abandoned cyanide pits from mining to air pollution from power plants and automobiles.

  5. Climategate–Scientists Behaving BadlyThe leaking of emails and files from East Anglia University’s Climatic Research Unit shined the light of public scrutiny into the marble towers of academia and provides a glimpse of how science gets done. Turns out that scientists are just as tribal and not above pettiness any more than the rest of us, reminding me of the squabbling politics of a homeowners’ association. Climategate defines schadenfreude.

  6. Failure of the Doha talksDoha in Qatar is the place where members of the WTO (World Trade Organization) discuss treaties for freer trade. Globalization is often a bugbear for people wanting to keep the status quo. The United States has its farm and biofuel subsidies that prove to be sticking points. But history shows when standards of living increase, birth rates decline and the quality of life increases. Economists agree that unencumbered trade raises the standard of living for for countries with the most open markets. (for more see “If words were food, nobody would go hungry” in the Economist). The Copenhagen Consensus puts implementation of the “Doha development agenda” at #2 behind combating malnutrition with Micronutrient supplements for children (vitamin A and zinc).

  7. Willie Smits and Samboja LestariIf you have never heard of Willie Smits or Samboja Lestari, you are not alone, but you should have. Smits has literally changed the climate in the district of East Kalimantan, Indonesia where he and his group have renewed the rainforest that had been cut down to make palm-oil biodiesel, all the while providing food and 3000 jobs for the locals and returning the land to them in the bargain. He gets my nomination for the Nobel Prize.

  8. 2008 Global Economic MeltdownProsperity,” the American philosopher Mark Twain said, “ is the best protector of principle.” And the opposite is true. Alligators look like the makings of a hearty meal and not an endangered species when you need to put food on the table or starve. (For more see Gallup’s “Americans: Economy Takes Precedence Over Environment”.

  9. Cell phonesCell phones have been around for more than a couple decades but texting and GPS (Global Positioning System) has catapulted them above mere phones. Cell sourcing–using cell phone to gather and disseminate information rapidly–will change everything. Farmers will get information on crop diseases and other concerns with the result being greater yields on less land and freeing up land for other (one hopes environmentally friendly) uses. People will be able to provide information to aggregators on environmental concerns and pinpoint their locations instantly.

  10. The United Nations’ Millennium Ecosystem Assessment“When we try to pick out anything by itself,” John Muir said, “we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” The MEA was the attempt by the United Nations to quantify how much of the ecosystem was hitched to us. It turns out everything is.

  11. 2004 TsunamiThe tsunami of December 26, 2004 was especially memorable to me because my firstborn (who was living in Japan at the time) had decided NOT to go to Phuket, Thailand that Christmas. He opted instead to have the North Koreans point their weapons across Korea’s DMZ at him and his friends. Had he not, he might have ended up as a statistic with the other 230,000 who died under a 100 foot wave.

  12. Anthropogenic Global Warming

    I predict AGW will be the “coming ice age” of predictions.

    In Africa, drought continues for the sixth consecutive year, adding terribly to the toll of famine victims. During [this past year] record rains in parts of the U.S., Pakistan and Japan caused some of the worst flooding in centuries.” — Time Magazine, 1972, Science: Another Ice Age?

    Conserve energy for conservation’s sake.

  13. Credit Card Reform Act of 2009 How does credit card reform qualify as an environmental story? File this one under “only in America.” It was in the CCRA of 2008, that Republicans, tacked on a rider allowing people to take concealed weapons into our nation’s parks and wildlife refuges. Where else but in America can we get squeezed at a 30% annual interest rate AND carry a concealed loaded firearm the wilderness? Look out Smoky Bear, I’m packing heat.

Happy New Year everyone.

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