Binding the great global threats with sustainable land use
Climate change's predicted geopolitical chaos
Since 2002-2004, food prices have more than doubled. An unprecedented cascade of droughts, floods and extreme storms induced predominantly by global climate change have driven harvests down and food prices up. The world's poor, who spend over half of their time on food, have been hard hit. In an era of real-time electronic networks, large groups of now-desperate youth self-organize to overthrow the most obvious obstacle to opportunity, corrupt power elites. But the 'geopolitical chaos', a phrase used in a 2004 Pentagon climate change report, will reach beyond the domino collapse of Arab dictatorships.
A challenge for silviculture & agriculture practitioners
By December 2011, the hundreds of millions of the world's poor will find their new leaders are helpless without massive industrial country aid, which cannot be food aid alone. The global pandemic of revolutions is also a call on industrial nations' promise at COP16 in Cancun to fund the developing world's climate solutions up to $100 billion by 2020. The world's initiative to restore degraded soils, wetlands, grasslands and forests and to conserve what is still intact - REDD+ is needed now, as are silviculture and agriculture practitioners.
Navigating the new bioethical pathway
Every forest climate project, even bioenergy, will have to improve or be neutral to food security. Germany legislated gradually limiting its biodiesel production to the non-food feedstock, Jatropha and Lister oil in 2011, which grow on degraded arid soil with a marginal capacity for food production. Compared to burning feedstock grown on natural soils, feedstock grown using fertilizer-intensive agriculture practices cause power plants to emit excessive quantities of chlorine, chlorinated compounds and contaminants. The inorganic fertilizers of conventional agricultural destroy soil health and result in excess nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen leaching into aquatic ecosystems. Consequent air and water quality deterioration impacts regional human health, wildlife, fisheries and ecosystem degradation. These factors increase the demand for natural forest feedstock whose excessive removal will risk eventually stripping soil wealth from every forest ecosystem.
Vulnerable earth systems put humans' future at risk
Like climate, soil is a disrupted global system, affecting the poor immediately and food security in the long term. David Montgomery's recent book Dirt, The Erosion of Civilizations traces how soil began to form through chemical processes as atmospheric oxygen levels increased about 500 million years ago. Since then, soil formation and erosion loss came gradually into balance, and soils became the key factor in the rise of new civilizations. Since the advent of agriculture - first ploughing, and now fertilizers - the balance has tipped; the net loss of healthy soils contributes to today's food crisis.
Nine vulnerable earth systems
Vulnerable climate and soil systems are not the only critical earth systems on which the future of human civilization may depend: the Stockholm Resilience Centre identified nine interdependent systems on which the future of human life may depend, the destabilization of each threaten human survival:
- Biodiversity (loss) in ecosystems
- Toxic chemicals dispersion
- Climate Change
- The global hydrological cycle and freshwater consumption
- Land change: ecosystems, agriculture, urban development
- Nitrogen and phosphorus inputs to the biosphere and oceans
- Atmospheric aerosol loading
The two less likely to be impacted by forest related projects are
- Ocean acidification
- Stratospheric ozone layer
Seven systems can benefit from good silviculture. Taking all systems together highlights that it is not only the poor, but all of us who are vulnerable to an earth systems' collapse.
The IPCC built bioethical pathway
Forest project design must navigate this labyrinth of sustainability decisions that have not been considered together before. Thankfully, the structure for designing terrestrial climate projects developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists also applies to analyzing a projects impact within any earth system. Whether for water quality, biodiversity or soil, practitioners can begin by identifying a business-as-usual scenario without the project, against which they can demonstrate project benefits, measurable by identified quantities, less 'leakage' or effects outside of the project, adjusted by project risks—a set of well-established principles for climate accounting.
One local ring to bind all global risks
Forging an integrated toolbox to measure and fix all vulnerable earth systems is the next challenge. But global land use change problems require long term local community adaptation planning. The world's poorest live on some of the most degraded lands. Community adaptation, can yield land use plans that combine forest conservation, restoration and enhancement with more sustainable agriculture and agroforestry practices and can bind benefits for all vulnerable earth systems into one local land use change 'ring'.
Restoring the poor one tree at a time
At COP 16 in Cancun, Sir Nicolas Stern declared that two thirds of the 25% of the world's land that has been degraded lands are reclaimable. Reforestation, grassland and wetland restoration and improved farming on these lands could remove enough greenhouse gases to make up for delayed emission reduction actions of industrial nations. Restoring one seventh of the earth's surface and solving climate, food security and perhaps even geopolitical chaos seems daunting, until we all look around locally and think one tree at a time.