Smokescreen

Short and sweet — does exactly what it says on the can. Reputed to be directed by the Coen brothers.

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Pup friction

puppiesForget, for a moment at least, whether there is a tiger in your tank. Instead think about whether there’s an ancient tree in your puppy. Well, sort of.

piece in the New York Times yesterday drew attention to the increasing love affair that Americans have for soft toilet tissue and the threat that poses for old growth forests.

Toilet paper can be made from recycled material with ease — it uses less water to convert paper into fibre than it does to mash up wood pulp. But to get the soft, fluffy whiteness that many of us currently prefer requires the use of virgin wood pulp — the fibres are, well, softer, stronger and longer.

A spokesperson from Kimberley Clark — seemingly one of the worst culprits — said that “only” 14 percent of the wood pulp used by the company comes from the Canadian boreal forest.

This isn’t a new issue. Both Greenpeace and the WWF have been campaigning for years against the destruction of forests for the production of toilet paper. What’s changed is the current global economic slump. People have a raised awareness for the benefits of recycling and re-use: now is the time to switch to 100% recycled toilet paper. It might not be quite so luxurious an experience, but it’s a very easy way to prevent destruction of carbon storing old growth forests.

Africa sinks up

Tree measurements show that African rainforests are locking up carbon faster than ever

Tree measurements show that African rainforests are locking up carbon faster than ever

While much of the alarm over global deforestation centres on the Amazon rainforest, which continues at a shocking rate, African rainforests receive relatively little attention. Yet a study published today in Nature demonstrates the increasing size of the carbon sink these forests contain: similar to Amazonian forests in per unit area terms.

A large international team of scientists, headed up by Simon Lewis at the University of Leeds, found that across 79 plots in ten African countries, the above-ground carbon storage increased by 0.63 Mg C per hectare per year, between 1968 and 2007. Scaling up to include unmeasured material — roots, small trees, rotting trees and so on — brings the continental increase in carbon storage to 0.34 Pg C (that’s 340 million tonnes of carbon) per year. Read the rest of this entry »

Strawberry surprise

Is far flung fruit better for the environment?

Is far flung fruit better for the environment?

We’ve alluded to the idea that “food miles” need to be treated with caution elsewhere. Here’s another example: the Co-operative Group’s annual sustainability report contains details of a “life-cycle” analysis (LCA) of the amount of embedded carbon in a humble 400g punnet of strawberries.

The domestic “Ava” offering, grown at Blairgowrie farm in Scotland, contains 850g of carbon. The alternative “Sabrosa” strawberries, from Spain, contain only 600g of carbon. If you’re basing your purchase decision solely on global warming impact you should buy the Spanish version. Read the rest of this entry »

A good place to bury bad news

Lovelock proposes the world's biggest barbecue

Lovelock proposes the world's biggest barbecue. Photo (c) Peter Guess

Carbon sequestration — taking CO2 out of the atmosphere, as opposed to merely not adding to it — is the thing that will fix the mess we’ve created. Avoiding emissions is all well and good, and will ensure that things get back to how they should be, eventually. But wouldn’t it be a good idea to help things along a little?

There have been lots of suggestions about how we might be able to draw CO2 back out of the sky. Solutions range from the mechanical (e.g. the fabled carbon capture and storage beloved of coal-firing power companies), through the chemical (like iron enrichment of the oceans to promote blooming of carbon-storing algae) to the biological (such as our favourite, planting trees). Read the rest of this entry »

Out of thin air

carbon emissions from aviation are rising faster than any other sector

Up, up and away: GHG emissions from aviation are rising faster than any other sector

There’s a piece in the Guardian today highlighting the pitfalls of the carbon debate. It centres on a new web service, the oxymoronically monikered Carbon Friendly Flight Search. The site, put together by The Carbon Consultancy, Global Travel Market and FlySmart.org, lulls users into the notion that there really is a carbon friendly way to fly.

It works in pretty much the same way as all the other flight comparison websites, except that it tags each flight with a score (1-10, 1 being “best”) to indicate the relative amount of emissions that might result. The idea is that, in addition to the price of a flight, customers have its dirtiness to consider when choosing between options. Only they don’t. Read the rest of this entry »

Died in the USA

Climate change isn't just affecting the oldest trees

Trees throughout the forest age structure are affected by regional warming and drought stress. Photo © Jerry Franklin

Old growth forest on the western United States is dying back at an increasing rate, accoring to a study published this week in Science magazine. The study, led by USGS biologist Phil van Mantgem, found that background mortality rates — those not directly attributable to some catastrophic effect, such as fire — have risen rapidly in recent decades.

The study, which used census data from 67 long-term plots located in ancient forests (average age 450 years, some sites in excess of 1000 years), found that mortality rates had increased at the vast majority of sites, whereas recruitment rates — replacement of dead trees with new ones — had neither increased or decreased over the same period.

The dieback couldn’t be pinned down to any local effects, such as pollution, local competition or fire prevention measures. Instead, say the study’s authors, regional warming and the ensuing water problems it brings — faster snowmelt leading to longer summer drought — are putting the strain on the trees. Read the rest of this entry »