Forests: More Than Carbon Sinks

Good article-but this person also forgets that-even just in terms of climate stability-forests are more than carbon sinks. They serve as sponges, slowing the hydrological cycle & cooling the planet. Biodiversity itself also contributes to climate stability…

We need to connect ALL these dots-especially where ecosystems are concerned…some of us KNEW the damn timber beast was going to start arguing for liquidation of old-growth stands as a “green” capitalistic false solution…

Selective logging in old-growth stands as acceptable? Maybe-i have my doubts…but if it is to happen, we don’t need to big timber firms to move into Brazil, Indonesia, or Cascadia to do it.


—————————- Original Message —————————-
Subject: Indonesia: more than just a carbon sink
From:    “Lance Olsen” <>
Date:    Tue, May 13, 2008 3:25 pm
To:      “cmcr-outreach” <>

“They must not convert good-quality natural
forest into tree plantations. …. Natural forest
stands in conservation forest areas must be
preserved …. Forests have many functions, one
of which is preserving biodiversity. In our rich
natural forests exist a great multitude of living

May 13, 2008


Indonesian forests should be more than just carbon sinks
Wiryono, Bengkulu

In the last five decades, environmental awareness
among people has increased worldwide, but the
focus of attention has shifted from time to time.
In the 1960s and 1970s, pollution got the most
attention from the public, especially in Western

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962,
which depicts the effects of pollution on animals
and humans, was one of many books inciting
environmental awareness among Americans. A few
years later, the world was horrified with the
news of deadly diseases occurring in Minamata Bay
in Japan caused by mercury pollution.

The first United Nations Environmental Conference
was held in Stockholm in 1972, in response to
environmental problems. The opening day of the
conference, June 5, was then made World
Environmental Day.

In the 1980s, global warming, acid rain, ozone
depletion and biodiversity loss gained wide
recognition among scientists, but biodiversity
came out the hottest issue in the 1990s. A new
field of science, conservation biology, emerged
in the 1980s. The renowned biologist from Harvard
University, Edward O. Wilson, may be the most
prominent person in popularizing biodiversity.

In the American North Pacific, the presence of
the spotted owl in old growth forests created a
fierce debate between environmental activists,
who wanted to preserve the forests, and loggers,
who wanted to harvest the timber. The rapid
depletion of tropical rain forest in Latin
America and Southeast Asia sparked serious
worldwide concern over the possible extinction of
many species of plants and animals.

While many environmental problems still get the
attention of scientists in the first decade of
the 21st century, none is more popular today than
global warming and climate change. Not only
environmental activists, but also politicians
have serious concern over this issue.

The main cause of global warming is the increase
of carbon dioxide concentration in the
atmosphere, and deforestation is one source of
carbon emissions. With its annual forest fires,
Indonesia has been branded the third largest
carbon polluter in the world. At the
International Conference on Climate held in Bali
in December last year, the delegates agreed on a
plan to reduce carbon emissions by preventing
deforestation and forest degradation.

The emphasis on global warming may shift the view
on the role of forest. While a few years ago, the
forest was perceived by environmental activists
as habitat for wild animals and plants, it is now
seen mostly as a carbon sink. A few years ago,
the reason for preserving natural forests was to
protect biodiversity, now it is to prevent the
release of carbon retained in the timber.

This reason is, however, easily challenged by
forest companies that want to harvest more
timber. While old growth forests do retain a
large amount of carbon, they do not absorb much
carbon from the atmosphere. As the forest reaches
climax stage, it no longer grows. The amount of
carbon absorbed from the atmosphere through
photosynthesis is equal to that released through
respiration. If we just want to absorb carbon
dioxide from the atmosphere, replacing old
forests with new tree plantations is the answer.

When an old forest is harvested, not all the
carbon in the wood is released into the
atmosphere. Some is still retained in the form of
furniture and other wood products. Meanwhile, the
new fast growing tree plantations will absorb
carbon in larger amounts than old forest. The net
rate of carbon absorption slows down as trees
reach the mature stage.

If the shift of “biodiversity paradigm” to
“carbon sink paradigm” gains more support among
foresters, the pressure from forest industries to
harvest more timber in natural forests will get

Forest industries are very willing to promote the
controversial idea of Patrick Moore (a former
Greenpeace activist who established Greenspirit,
a consulting firm on the environment and natural
resources) to use more wood because a rise in
wood demand would supposedly trigger the market
to plant more trees.

Local government officials and parliament members
will be very happy to hear this idea because they
will have a strong argument to clear-cut natural
forests and get a lot of money from the timber.
Not only natural forests in production forest
areas, but also in conservation forest areas will
likely be harvested since the central government
has little power to protect it.

These companies just want to get money from the
timber and not to make plantations. The
government has little power nor political will to
punish these companies.

If the forest companies want to make tree
plantations in order to get more wood and absorb
carbon at the same time, they can do so in
degraded forest areas, which account for about 60
million hectares, and in critical land within and
outside forest areas, which is 41 million

They must not convert good-quality natural forest
into tree plantations. The remaining natural
forest stands in production forest areas should
be harvested using the existing selective cutting
methods, but with better control.

Natural forest stands in conservation forest
areas must be preserved. Climax forest is, of
course, not a net carbon absorber. But we must
not reduce the function of forests just as a
carbon sink. Forests have many functions, one of
which is preserving biodiversity. In our rich
natural forests exist a great multitude of living

They provide a gene bank that will save
agricultural crops when pest and disease
outbreaks occur, because the wild relatives of
our crop species, usually more resistant to pest
and diseases, can be used to create new resistant

Our natural forests also contain countless
species of plants and animals having
pharmaceutical potential that someday will
provide medicines to save humans from currently
incurable diseases.

Forests serve many functions and not just a
carbon sink. Our wonderful species-rich natural
forests are definitely much more valuable than
the species-poor, man-made forests. We must do
our best to protect this precious heritage.

The writer holds a PhD in ecology from The Ohio
State University and is currently serving as head
of the Department of Forestry, University of
Bengkulu. He can be reached at

May 13,

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