NEW YORK’S TROPICAL FORESTS – THE CLIMATE CHANGE CONNECTION
COOLER STREETS, HOTTER PLANET: HOW MAYOR BLOOMBERG CAN’T SEE THE RAINFOREST FOR THE TREES
The choices and policies of City officials play a significant role in the climate crisis. We can either can play a leading role in solving the biggest problem to ever face humanity–or we can ignore this catastrophe, place Band Aids on gaping wounds, and, perhaps even worse, sell false solutions with slick promotional materials.
If Mayor Bloomberg is to be believed, we’re doing pretty well in our response to the alarming prospect of worldwide climate instability. PlaNYC2030 calls for wiser land use, cleaning the harbors to ensure a thriving estuary, advocating for mass transit, investing in renewables and repowering inefficient power plants, and planting a million trees to help contribute to cleaner air and cooler streets.
While we can’t speak to the effectiveness of the rest of the Mayor’s Plan, but we do know that he intends to continue using rainforest wood until 2030. The ecological impacts of his plan makes a mockery of the million-tree target.
Let’s consider what happens when, as often takes place, 1500 board feet of ipê is ordered so that a section of boardwalk can be patched. As the logging sleds drive their way into the Brazilian wilderness, seeking the one or two ipê trees that grow per acre, they topple “useless” species of trees. As the majestic ipê is located and cut down, only the heart of the trunk is harvested, and the other trees that stand in the way are also left lying on the ground to rot. Now lifeless, they no longer exhale oxygen nor take up carbon dioxide. Instead, their dead carcasses exude a heavy load of carbon back into the air. The release of carbon from deforestation is only partly due to the logging itself. The rest comes when the forest is cleared and burned – 8 times more likely to happen in the tropics after a forest has been logged.
When there is an incursion into the rainforest, the gash grows like a spreading wound, as others take the opportunity to decimate the area for their own purposes. After a few years, the land is barren. And in the remaining forest, ancient and evolved to a dynamic and exquisite state of balance, the trees, animal life, plants, fungi and micro-organisms that comprise this ecosystem are suddenly exposed to drying heat and winds. They have no defenses against this new and unforgiving environment. The edges of the remaining forest wither and die. And, of course, the losses are irreplaceable: countless, indeed uncountable, species lost, and catastrophic changes in other parts of the world: the cloud systems and air and oceanic currents disrupted, rainfall increasing to record levels, human lives altered.
YOU GIVE ME FEVER
What would happen if Earth’s climate were to rise another two degrees – and how could that slight change affect all life on the planet?
A change in the average global temperature by even that amount is comparable to what happens when a human body runs a fever and heats up to 100.6º F. That’s when our body fights to regain balance, to reach a new homeostasis.
On planet Earth, this fever is causing the great cooling and circulating systems to go into disarray. So far we’ve seen an increase in torrential rains, giant hurricanes, tsunamis, blistering heat spells, and droughts.
But now lets consider what happens in the human body if a fever spikes especially high, let’s say to 104º? Certainly we’d need to give immediate emergency medical support as the patient’s life would be imperiled. This six-degree leap is the conservative estimate for global temperatures at the turn of the century–if we continue for even a handful of years more without initiating our own global emergency intervention.
DEFORESTATION AND CLIMATE CHANGE: REPORTS FROM THE EXPERTS
- Daniel Howden writes in the May 14, 2007 Independent that carbon emissions from deforestation far outstrip damage caused by planes and automobiles and factories.
- Other leading scientists with the Global Canopy Programme (based at Oxford University) inform us that our destruction of tropical rainforests by slashing and burning is the SECOND-highest cause of greenhouse gases, only outstripped by the burning of fossil fuels. In other words, 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide are let loose into the air every year from deforestation.
- Former World Bank economist Sir Nicholas Stern writes on the economics of climate change in the “Stern Report.” On pages 25-26 of the Executive Summary, he says that halting deforestation is one of the world’s “largest opportunities for cost-effective and immediate reductions of carbon emissions.” Commissioned in 2005 to determine the relative costs and benefits of shifting to a low-carbon economy, the Stern Report was a startling warning against further deforestation, declaring that the carbon locked up in the biomass of the world’s forests is double that already in the atmosphere. In the spring of 2009, Sir Nicholas announced that the warming is happening much faster than he had predicted four years previously in this report.
- According to the Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative, a coalition of of UN- and government-funded research organizations, rich countries should try to cut the greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation. And on Prince Charles’ website, he states, “When it comes to climate change, the destruction of rainforests has a double whammy effect for everyone.”