Forests might flip from carbon sink to source

Ecologists point to forests as important sinks for atmospheric carbon. But a new report suggests that climate change could induce environmental stresses that would chnge the role of forests into a net carbon source. The report, titled “Adaptation of Forests and People to Climate Change – A Global Assessment,” was coordinated by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) and the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF). The findings came from an analysis of how different forest ecosystems worldwide would be affected under specific climate change scenarios developed by the IPCC report. The report brings together 35 international forest scientists, some of whom contributed to the IPCC. The study reports that higher temperatures would usher in the probability of prolonged droughts, more intense pest invasions, and a host of other environmental stresses, which would lead to forest destruction and degradation. Climate change could thus create a dangerous feedback loop in which damage to forests significantly increases global carbon emissions, which then exacerbates the greenhouse effect. This scenario is likely to occur if the world warms more than 4.5 degrees Farenheit. According to Andreas Fischlin of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, a lead author of the study and a coordinating lead author with the IPCC: “Even if adaptation measures are fully implemented, unmitigated climate change would, during the course of the current century, exceed the adaptive capacity of many forests. The fact remains that the only way to ensure that forests do not suffer unprecedented harm is to achieve large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.” The report will be formally presented at the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) session taking place April 20-May 9 at the UN Headquarters in New York...

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Cleaner, better biofuels?

The promise of biofuels – fuel made from plant material – has taken a nosedive as scientists predict its generation could cause far more greenhouse gas emissions than it would make up for in preventing the use of fossil fuels.  But a Michigan State chemist has asserted in a paper in Environmental Science & Technology online that if sustainable management practices, such as no-till farming, are put to widespread use, then producing biofuels could take a fraction of the time to overcome its “carbon debt.” “”Sustainable management practices, such as no-till farming and planting cover crops, can reduce the time it takes for biofuels to overcome the carbon debt.” Bruce Dale (pictured) and his colleagues report that sustainable farming techniques, such as low- or no-till farming practices and planting cover crops, could reduce the time it takes for grassland conversion to overcome its carbon debt from the worst-case estimates of up to 1,000 years to as little as three years. It’s all a matter of assumptions, and each model of biofuel sustainability uses different ones. Dale assumes that the use of sustainable farming practices is “more than 50 percent and increasing,” which contradicts many other accounts (see the Science policy forum paper by Robertson et al., Oct. 2008).  Incentives for sustainable farming could, of course, increase the relative value of biofuels in the grand scheme of alternative...

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ESA’s letter to Obama

ESA sent a letter today to president-elect Barack Obama recommending top priorities where ecological science should inform policy decisions in the new administration. Obama has already pledged his commitment to curbing climate change during his term. ESA applauded that commitment and outlined four other priorities for the next administration: ▪ Protecting water quality and quantity, especially in conjunction with worldwide agriculture and energy production practices ▪ Preserving biodiversity, including protecting endangered species and mitigating the effects of invasive species ▪ Addressing transboundary challenges, in which large-scale ecological problems, such as climate change, span geopolitical boundaries ▪ Providing environmental education at the K-12 level and through citizen science programs You can read the letter...

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