Deforestation: The hidden cause of global warming
In the next 24 hours, deforestation will release as much CO2 into the atmosphere as
8 million people flying from London to New York. Stopping the loggers is the fastest
and cheapest solution to climate change. So why are global leaders turning a blind
eye to this crisis?
By Daniel Howden
Published: 14 May 2007

The accelerating destruction of the rainforests that form a precious cooling band
around the Earth’s equator, is now being recognised as one of the main causes of
climate change. Carbon emissions from deforestation far outstrip damage caused by
planes and automobiles and factories.

The rampant slashing and burning of tropical forests is second only to the energy
sector as a source of greenhouses gases according to report published today by the
Oxford-based Global Canopy Programme, an alliance of leading rainforest scientists.

Figures from the GCP, summarising the latest findings from the United Nations, and
building on estimates contained in the Stern Report, show deforestation accounts for
up to 25 per cent of global emissions of heat-trapping gases, while transport and
industry account for 14 per cent each; and aviation makes up only 3 per cent of the

“Tropical forests are the elephant in the living room of climate change,” said
Andrew Mitchell, the head of the GCP.

Scientists say one days’ deforestation is equivalent to the carbon footprint of
eight million people flying to New York. Reducing those catastrophic emissions can
be achieved most quickly and most cheaply by halting the destruction in Brazil,
Indonesia, the Congo and elsewhere.

No new technology is needed, says the GCP, just the political will and a system of
enforcement and incentives that makes the trees worth more to governments and
individuals standing than felled. “The focus on technological fixes for the
emissions of rich nations while giving no incentive to poorer nations to stop
burning the standing forest means we are putting the cart before the horse,” said Mr

Most people think of forests only in terms of the CO2 they absorb. The rainforests
of the Amazon, the Congo basin and Indonesia are thought of as the lungs of the
planet. But the destruction of those forests will in the next four years alone, in
the words of Sir Nicholas Stern, pump more CO2 into the atmosphere than every flight
in the history of aviation to at least 2025.

Indonesia became the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world last
week. Following close behind is Brazil. Neither nation has heavy industry on a
comparable scale with the EU, India or Russia and yet they comfortably outstrip all
other countries, except the United States and China.

What both countries do have in common is tropical forest that is being cut and
burned with staggering swiftness. Smoke stacks visible from space climb into the sky
above both countries, while satellite images capture similar destruction from the
Congo basin, across the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic
and the Republic of Congo.

According to the latest audited figures from 2003, two billion tons of CO2 enters
the atmosphere every year from deforestation. That destruction amounts to 50 million
acres – or an area the size of England, Wales and Scotland felled annually.

The remaining standing forest is calculated to contain 1,000 billion tons of carbon,
or double what is already in the atmosphere.

As the GCP’s report concludes: “If we lose forests, we lose the fight against
climate change.”

Standing forest was not included in the original Kyoto protocols and stands outside
the carbon markets that the report from the International Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) pointed to this month as the best hope for halting catastrophic warming.

The landmark Stern Report last year, and the influential McKinsey Report in January
agreed that forests offer the “single largest opportunity for cost-effective and
immediate reductions of carbon emissions”.

International demand has driven intensive agriculture, logging and ranching that has
proved an inexorable force for deforestation; conservation has been no match for
commerce. The leading rainforest scientists are now calling for the immediate
inclusion of standing forests in internationally regulated carbon markets that could
provide cash incentives to halt this disastrous process.

Forestry experts and policy makers have been meeting in Bonn, Germany, this week to
try to put deforestation on top of the agenda for the UN climate summit in Bali,
Indonesia, this year. Papua New Guinea, among the world’s poorest nations, last year
declared it would have no choice but to continue deforestation unless it was given
financial incentives to do otherwise.

Richer nations already recognise the value of uncultivated land. The EU offers €200
(£135) per hectare subsidies for “environmental services” to its farmers to leave
their land unused.

And yet there is no agreement on placing a value on the vastly more valuable land in
developing countries. More than 50 per cent of the life on Earth is in tropical
forests, which cover less than 7 per cent of the planet’s surface.

They generate the bulk of rainfall worldwide and act as a thermostat for the Earth.
Forests are also home to 1.6 billion of the world’s poorest people who rely on them
for subsistence. However, forest experts say governments continue to pursue science
fiction solutions to the coming climate catastrophe, preferring bio-fuel subsidies,
carbon capture schemes and next-generation power stations.

Putting a price on the carbon these vital forests contain is the only way to slow
their destruction. Hylton Philipson, a trustee of Rainforest Concern, explained: “In
a world where we are witnessing a mounting clash between food security, energy
security and environmental security – while there’s money to be made from food and
energy and no income to be derived from the standing forest, it’s obvious that the
forest will take the hit.”

NATURE – the best science journalism on the web

Published online: 17 May 2007; | doi:10.1038/news070514-18

Polar ocean is sucking up less carbon dioxide
Windy waters may mean less greenhouse gas is stored at sea.

Michael Hopkin

The ability of the Southern Ocean to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is being eroded by climate change, say environmental researchers. If the trend continues, then the ability of this ‘carbon sink’ to deal with humankind’s greenhouse emissions will be impaired.

Roughly half of the carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere is absorbed by the world’s oceans, so as greenhouse emissions increase, the amount taken up by the oceans should increase in proportion. But the new research suggests that the Southern Ocean is not keeping pace with rising emissions. These Antarctic waters are an important sink for carbon dioxide, thanks to ocean currents and cold temperatures – they are thought to account for some 15% of the world’s oceanic carbon-storage capacity.

Researchers led by Corinne Le Quéré of the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried, Germany, took data from 11 coastal monitoring stations in Antarctica and on islands in the Southern Ocean to measure the amount of carbon dioxide being stored and released by the ocean. They then compared this measurements of global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to work out the change in the performance of the carbon sink.

Since 1981, the percentage of atmospheric carbon dioxide that the Southern Ocean can hold has decreased, the researchers report in a study published online by Science (1). The trend suggests that, for each decade, the annual capacity of the ocean to store carbon has gone down by 0.08 gigatonnes compared with expectations. On average, the ocean stores between 0.1 and 0.6 gigatonnes a year.

This is a small amount compared with the roughly 8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide pumped out each year by human activities such as energy generation. But any decline is important, as oceans are an important long-term sink. If humans can bring carbon dioxide emissions under control in the long term, the world’s oceans are predicted to sequester between 70% and 80% of the total net anthropogenic emissions of the industrial era.

Winds of change

The main cause of the changes seems to be a relatively rapid increase in average wind strengths over the Southern Ocean, Le Quéré and her team report. These stronger winds, thought to be driven by the depletion of the ozone layer over Antarctic regions, churn up the ocean and bring more dissolved carbon up from the depths.

This was unexpected, says Le Quéré. But when the researchers plugged their data into a computer model and removed these stronger winds, they did indeed find that much of the observed reduction in the carbon sink disappeared.

An increase in global temperature is predicted to worsen the effect, since warmer waters hold less gas.

South to north

“The possibility that in a warmer world the Southern Ocean – the strongest ocean sink – is weakening, is a cause for concern,” comments Chris Rapley, director of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK.

The Southern Ocean is the only body of water for which this trend has been definitely spotted and quantified, says Le Quéré, although shorter-term studies suggest that a similar process may be occurring in the North Atlantic.

If the phenomenon is happening world-wide, this would undoubtedly affect efforts to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gases.

A reduction in sink capacities will make it harder for international efforts, such as carbon trading and changes in methods of energy generation, to set achievable targets for stabilizing greenhouse-gas levels. But Le Quéré says that such efforts now need to be redoubled, rather than accepting that greenhouse gas levels will be higher in future. “Targets should depend on the level of danger [from global warming],” she says.


1. Le Quéré C., et al. Science, doi:10.1126/science.1136188 (2007).

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Animals depend on plants. Large-scale extinction of plants is certain to topple the numbers of animals.
Lance Olsen

“The group argues for a re-definition of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC), adopted by the UN in 2000, to respond more effectively to the realities of climate change.”

” … as environments change faster than plant species can migrate, scientists estimate that in less than 80 years up to half of Europe’s plant species could be under threat and a massive 60% of mountain species may have vanished.”

people and biodiversity

Botanists sound plant extinction alert
Posted: 19 Sep 2006

Location of this document:

With fears that one in four of the world’s plant species could already be on the brink of extinction from the effects of global climate change – and as many as half of the planet’s estimated 400,000 plant species facing a similarly bleak future – a group of leading plant scientists have called for a global action plan to tackle the impending crisis.

“While the impact of climate change on iconic animal species, such as polar bears, is well recognised,” says Sara Oldfield, Secretary General of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), which is co-ordinating the initiative, “the threat that global warming poses to plant diversity is often overlooked and this could have serious consequences for the future of the planet.”

This new declaration from The Gran Canaria Group, whose membership is drawn from biodiversity conservation organisations around the world, calls on the international community to take urgent action to protect global plant diversity.

It sets out guidelines for action and stresses the role of botanic gardens in delivering the conservation message to their over 200 million annual visitors and in safeguarding their collections of wild plants as native habitats vanish.

Climate change concerns include the use of natural vegetation in water management and carbon offsetting and the vital defensive work of coastal ecosystems in the face of rising sea levels and extreme weather events.

Climate models

The declaration calls for immediate conservation action to protect plant species most at risk from climate change. Priority must also be given

* Development of more detailed climate change models to detect potentially threatened species
* Use of adaptive management strategies in vulnerable ecosystems
* Management of existing natural vegetation to maintain carbon stocks and the monitoring of new plantings intended to offset carbon emissions to ensure their ecological suitability.

The group argues for a re-definition of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC), adopted by the UN in 2000, to respond more effectively to the realities of climate change. And it wants the Global Partnership for Plant Conservation (GPPC)to be closely involved in this process.

Food crops

The terrifying implications of plant extinctions for the future of humankind and the wellbeing of the planet simply cannot be underestimated, the scientists believe and time, they argue, is running out.

A recent study of four of the worldí¨s most important food crops, rice, potato, peanut and cowpea, predicts that climate change over the next fifty years will have a devastating impact on their wild relatives, which harbour the genetic diversity that may enable cultivated crops to adapt to changing climatic conditions. By 2055, says the research, up to a quarter of all potato, peanut and cowpea species could become extinct and over 50 per cent of the land area currently suitable for their cultivation could be gone.

“Maintaining the genetic diversity that exists among the wild plant population is absolutely essential if we are to have any chance of mitigating the effects of climate change,” says Emile Frison, Director General of the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), a co-signatory of the declaration. “And this is not just a plant problem, but a human one too. Plants are key to human survival, not just for food, but medicines and many other essential materials.”

And as environments change faster than plant species can migrate, scientists estimate that in less than 80 years up to half of Europe’s plant species could be under threat and a massive 60% of mountain species may have vanished.

“We have to step up to the challenge now, at every level, if we are to make a difference,” warns BGCI’s Sara Oldfield. “The impact of global climate change on plants and habitats is already being felt and unless we do something about it urgently, the implications for all life on earth are bound to be severe.”

Source: BCGI, September 7th 2006

A PDF of the Gran Canaria Declaration II on Climate Change and Plant Conservation is available at

© People & the Planet 2000 – 2006


Support is needed at the site of the recent occupation of Forest Service land at Slim Buttes South Dakota near the town of Reva. The occupation began on May 13 to call attention to the numerous leaking uranium mines in the area that have been abandoned since the mid 1960’s. The occupation is being led by Indigenous People from the Standing Rock Reservation. Uranium was mined from coal and rock formations at Slim Buttes and Cave Hills during the 1950’s and 60’s. Coal was burned on site and the ashes shipped off site for further processing. Contamination and health problems continue to be a major concern at Standing Rock Indian Reservation communities along the Grand River, downstream from the mines.

More information can be found at

Assistance is needed in the form of more people on site as well as letters and phone calls to U.S. Forest Service Supervisor in Billings and South Dakota Congressional representatives. For those who wish to join the effort at Slim Buttes, from Reva, South Dakota, go about a mile west on highway 20 and turn north at the Forest Service sign that points you towards Reva Gap. Follow the red flags. Take enough camping equipment and supplies to be self-sufficient for several days. Letters and phone calls are also needed to compel U.S. Forest Service and legislators to initiate comprehensive clean-up and closure of all the uranium mines at Slim Buttes and Cave Hills South Dakota. There is some clean up activity going on at the Riley Pass mine site. At this point, we are unable to find anybody in Region 8 EPA (Denver) that knows about recommendations in a 2003 report for CERCLA action at numerous other abandoned uranium mine sites in the region of concern. State your concerns to;

Nancy Corriden
Supervisor U.S. Forest Service
Custer National Forest
1310 Main Street
Billings Montana 59105
P. 406-657-6200
F. 406-657-6222

Senator Tim Johnson
SH-136 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-4104
P. 202-224-5842
F. 202-228-5765

Senator John Thune
383 Russell Building
Washington, DC 20510
P. 202-224-2321
F. 202-228-5429

Representative Stephanie Herseth
1504 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
P. 202-225-2801
F. 202-225-5823

Tell the above listed officials that all the abandoned uranium mines in the Slim Buttes and Cave Hills must be cleaned up and that a comprehensive human health study of health issues must be undertaken in the Grand River Watershed of South Dakota.

Scientists Say Deserts Are Expanding As Jet Streams Move Toward the Poles
Associated Press Writer
(AP) 03:34:41 PM (ET), Thursday, May 25, 2006 (WASHINGTON)

Deserts in the American Southwest and around the globe are creeping toward heavily populated areas as the jet streams shift, researchers reported Thursday.

The result: Areas already stressed by drought may get even drier.

Satellite measurements made from 1979 to 2005 show that the atmosphere in the subtropical regions both north and south of the equator is heating up. As the atmosphere warms, it bulges out at the altitudes where the northern and southern jet streams slip past like swift and massive rivers of air. That bulging has pushed both jet streams about 70 miles closer to the Earth’s poles.

Since the jet streams mark the edge of the tropics, in essence framing the hot zone that hugs the equator, their outward movement has allowed the tropics to grow wider by about 140 miles. That means the relatively drier subtropics move as well, pushing closer to places like Salt Lake City, where Thomas Reichler, co-author of the new study, teaches meteorology.

“One of the immediate consequences one can think of is those deserts and dry areas are moving poleward,” said Reichler, of the University of Utah. Details appear in Thursday’s Science Express, the online edition of the journal Science.

The movement has allowed the subtropics to edge toward populated areas, including the American Southwest, southern Australia and the Mediterranean basin. In those places, the lack of precipitation already is a worry.

Additional creep could move Africa’s Sahara Desert farther north, worsening drought conditions that are already a serious problem on that continent and bringing drier weather to the countries that ring the Mediterranean Sea.

“The Mediterranean is one region that models consistently show drying in the future. That could be very much related to this pattern that we are seeing in the atmosphere,” said Isaac Held, a senior research scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He was not connected with the research.

A shift in where subtropical dry zones lie could make climate change locally noticeable for more people, said Karen Rosenlof, a NOAA research meteorologist also unconnected to the study.

“It is a plausible thing that could be happening, and the people who are going to see its effects earliest are the ones who live closer to the tropics, like southern Australia,” said Rosenlof. Her own work suggests the tropics have actually compressed since 2000, after growing wider over the previous 20 years.

Reichler suspects global warming is the root cause of the shift, but said he can’t be certain. Other possibilities include variability and destruction of the ozone layer. However, he and his colleagues have noted similar behavior in climate models that suggest global warming plays a role.

Moving the jet streams farther from the equator could disrupt storm patterns, as well as intensify individual storms on the poleward side of the jet streams, said lead author Qiang Fu, a University of Washington atmospheric scientist.

In Europe, for example, that shift could mean less snow falling on the Alps in winter. That would be bad news for skiers, as well as for farmers and others who rely on rivers fed by snowmelt.

“This definitely favors or enhances the frequency of droughts,” Fu said of such a shift.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.”
Albert Schweitzer

Sample quote:
“Short-term climate fluctuations give rise to an El Niño event every few years. But an overall weakening of the Walker system could cause an increase in the severity or frequency of these events, and some experts even fear that the Pacific could be plunged into a permanent El Niño.”

news@… the best in science journalism

Published online: 3 May 2006; | doi:10.1038/news060501-5

Global warming weakens Pacific winds
Dwindling circulation could worsen El Niño effect.
Michael Hopkin

Climate change is weakening a vast system of circulating winds that traverses the Pacific Ocean from coast to coast, say climate experts. Global warming has caused the system, which is crucial for monsoon rains in Southeast Asia and fisheries in South America, to decline since the advent of industrial times.

The system, known as the Walker circulation, has weakened by more than 3% since the mid-nineteenth century, report climate modellers led by Gabriel Vecchi of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Princeton, New Jersey. The cause, they say, is greenhouse gases. And with emissions still climbing, Pacific winds could potentially decline by more than 10% by the end of the century, they predict.

The observations, reported in Nature (1), back up climate model predictions that these winds should weaken, says Vecchi. “This is one of the most robust predictions of climate research,” he says.

Variations in the Walker circulation are one of the factors that lead to El Niño climate events. These periodic events, which feature a weakening of the easterly winds that blow from the Americas to Southeast Asia, have a range of effects, from droughts in Indonesia to poor fish harvests in Chile.

Short-term climate fluctuations give rise to an El Niño event every few years. But an overall weakening of the Walker system could cause an increase in the severity or frequency of these events, and some experts even fear that the Pacific could be plunged into a permanent El Niño.

Wet and wild

Global warming can disrupt winds because the rate of evaporation from the ocean increases more rapidly with increasing temperatures than does the rate of precipitation. Usually, in the Walker circulation, water evaporates from the warm waters of the eastern Pacific and travels across on the trade winds to Southeast Asia, where it rises and feeds rain. The dry air then heads east again at a higher altitude, completing the cycle (see graphic).

But as sea temperatures rise, the increase in rainfall cannot keep pace with the increase in evaporation. This means that moist air gets stalled, and the winds in both directions weaken.

Vecchi and his colleagues studied records of sea-level atmospheric pressure from 1861 to 1992. Because winds are driven by differences in atmospheric pressure, the difference between pressures on the two sides of the Pacific indicates the strength of the winds. The data show a decline in winds of around 3%, they found, with the trend most marked over roughly the last 50 years of the study.

They also used computer climate models to simulate the past and future performance of the Walker circulation, helping to work out how much of the effect is due to man-made greenhouse emissions. The answer, says Vecchi, is pretty much all of it. “At least 80% of this is attributable to human activities,” he says.

When the researchers ran the model without including human factors such as industrial greenhouse emissions, the change in wind strength all but disappeared. “Over the past 140 years, there should have been next to no trend,” Vecchi says.

Winds of change

It’s unclear exactly how this change to the Walker circulation will affect El Niño patterns, because weakening of winds is both a cause and an effect of this weather event, says Mick Kelly, a researcher at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK. “You can’t separate the chicken and egg,” he says.

Models run in Kelly’s lab have predicted slightly more subtle effects on the Walker circulation, such as more local eddies, which could shift the areas that experience the most drought and flooding. All the flood-vulnerable coastal villages and communities that depend on Pacific fisheries should be prepared for change, Kelly says. “At the moment we can’t have enough confidence in any individual model’s projections. But we can’t afford to wait until the science is absolutely certain; it will be too late.”

1. Vecchi G. A., et al. Nature, 441. 73 – 76 (2006). | Article |

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“At least 85% of intense hurricanes and two-thirds of all Atlantic hurricanes in the study developed from AEWs that formed after thunderstorms in eastern Africa, the researchers found.”

11 May 2007;

Lightning spurs hurricanes
Link shows storms in Africa can cause havoc in the United States.

Harvey Leifert

Heavy lightning in eastern Africa apparently perturbs the westward trade winds across the African continent.


What creates an Atlantic hurricane? The most devastating ones are spurred by intense thunderstorms in the Ethiopian highlands, according to new research.

The link between lightning strikes and hurricane formation should give researchers a heads-up about when a nasty hurricane might form, weeks before it could make landfall in the United States, says Colin Price of Tel Aviv University in Israel. Today, scientists apply various models to predict storm tracks and strength, but only once they form over the Atlantic Ocean. “This is what is unique about our work,” Price says. “We look at the initial stages of these devastating storms before they have become hurricanes.”

Price and his colleagues at Israel’s Open University studied the 2005 and 2006 hurricane seasons, which were markedly different from each other. In 2005 there were a record 28 named storms, including the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina, while 2006 brought only 10 named storms – a 64% reduction. Summertime lightning activity in eastern Africa, mainly in the Ethiopian highlands, was also quite different in each of the years, the researchers found, with 23% less activity in 2006 over 2005.

The two phenomena are linked, says Price, an atmospheric scientist who has long studied lightning.

Wind interrupted

Heavy lightning in eastern Africa apparently perturbs the westward trade winds across the African continent, Price writes in Geophysical Research Letters (1). He likens the process to the effect of boulders in a stream: “The boulder produces undulations and turbulence downstream, and the bigger the boulder, the larger the turbulence. Over Africa, thunderstorms act as our boulders.”

So the larger the thunderstorm, the greater the atmospheric turbulence, says Price. This turbulence, in turn, creates low-pressure areas known as African easterly waves (AEW). About half of these systems are known to generate tropical storms as they head westwards over the Atlantic. Various factors, including sea surface temperature, dust and wind shear above the Atlantic, then determine whether those storms strengthen into hurricanes.

The team mined data about lightning strikes from the World Wide Lightning Location Network, whose ground stations monitor the very low-frequency electromagnetic signals that lightning emits. They found that all periods of intense lightning in eastern Africa monitored in both 2005 and 2006 were followed by an AEW low-pressure area.

Striking impact

Only a fraction of these AEWs go on to make hurricanes or cause damage in the United States. But of the big hurricanes that do form, the vast majority seem to have been born of lightning.

At least 85% of intense hurricanes and two-thirds of all Atlantic hurricanes in the study developed from AEWs that formed after thunderstorms in eastern Africa, the researchers found.

Price suggests that forecasters and emergency response personnel keep an eye on major thunderstorms in eastern Africa during the upcoming hurricane season, in order to gauge its likely severity.

Earle Williams, a lightning expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who was not involved in the study, says the study highlights the benefits of having global lightning data available on a continuous basis.

1. Price C., Yair Y. & Asfur M. Geophys. Res.
Lett. 34 , L09805 doi:10.1029/2006GL028884 (2007).

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