Peat Bogs And Peak Oil - I'm Sorry For Doubting, Mr. President
by Bill Henderson
21 August 2005

Thanks Mr. President - I'm so sorry I didn't understand what you were trying to do.

I'm sorry Mr. Bush for doubting your capacity and integrity. It took the latest science reports about melting permafrost in Siberian and North American peat bogs and their release of potent supplies of greenhouse gas for me to clue in that you were actually trying to achieve a train wreck in order to forestall possible runaway global warming and other unavoidable global-scale problems associated with our ever expanding global economy.

I remember reading Jeremy Rifkin on runaway global warming from sometime late 80's - early 90's where he predicted that methane emissions from melting tundra peat bogs could be the runaway trigger. Now if informed people stated reasonable predictions a decade ago about possible global warming paths ending in human extinction (taking most existing flora and fauna with us) and their predictions prove correct at this point (along with the other observed global warming symptoms such as increasing extreme weather events, glaciers melting, migrating or worsening otherwise natural infestation or disease outbreaks, etc) then we should finally be able to get agreement and needed change of a commensurate scale.

But no - and I would never have guessed you understood this George - you can have a reasonable, scientific cause and effect of increasing greenhouse gas from burning fossil fuels leading through well understood positive feedbacks - such as released methane and CO2 from peat bogs - to Earth having a climate like Venus. Not whether St Louis or Orlando may be a little hotter in a hundred years, but the end of all life on Earth as we know it.

You can understand the cause and effect, plot our trajectory on ever more accurate models, get almost every nation in agreement that global warming is a compounding disaster to be avoided at all cost...

And it won't make any measurable change in the historic and accelerating path of ever increasing fossil fuel use.

Recently an English demographer, Tim Dyson of the London School of Economics, wrote a paper about the reality of governmental response to global warming that has been circling the net in commentary all summer:

 

Global warming is undeniable and inevitable; "i) scientific understanding advances rapidly, but (ii) avoidance, denial, and reproach characterize the overall societal response, therefore, (iii) there is relatively little behavioral change, until (iv) evidence of damage becomes plain."

I'm a boomman, a sidewinder operator - you won't understand - but I'm also an enviro activist who with many others has been trying to get to an ecologically sustainable forestry in British Columbia's overwhelmingly public owned forests. Just as Dr. Dyson points out about societal action in regard to global warming, in the late 80's/early 90's there was a forest science revolution - Dr. Jerry Franklin and all that a forest is besides timber - and a global movement to change from historic timber management, with its ecological problems caused by inflated harvesting levels and highly mechanized logging methods, to a sustainable industry practicing 'Sustainable Forest Management' or 'Ecosystem Management'.

 

"EM (ecosystem management) technology will probably emerge as more important to people than either the technology of the communications revolution or biotechnology because of its potential usefulness in guaranteeing a livable environment."
Yale forestry professor John Gordon 1993

Throughout Cascadia, the US and Canadian Pacific Coast, there was a revolution in understanding man in forests and developing SFM / EM. In BC everybody agreed - industry, government, general public and informed publics - that we had to change. We had to at least halve bloated cutting levels predicated upon the existing multi-decade old government policy to liquidate all 'decadent and over-mature' old growth forests (and their replacement with second growth to be logged again in less than one hundred year rotations - the Liquidation-Conversion Plan).

We did nothing of the sort. We fudged it. Industry and gov't spouted greenwashing sustainability language, but cutting levels were only very minimally reduced and old growth was still clearcut.

A decade later you can zoom down using the fun new Google Mapping tool on any forest in BC and see for yourself that in the past decade we have clearcut as large a percentage of the tenured 'working forest' landbase as in any previous decade:

http://maps.google.ca/maps?ll=53.496552,
-123.386765&spn=0.451126,0.407867&t=k&hl=en

 

http://maps.google.com/maps?q=smithers,
bc&ll=54.677007,-126.139526&spn=1.013815,2.812775&t=k&hl=en

 

The lesson that the BC enviro community has to offer is that you can't get there from here.

A meaningful reduction of the level of cutting was never even remotely possible. Could any BC gov't survive the massive local economic downturn up and down the coast that would have resulted? Aren't our gov'ts restricted to policy change that impacts local economies by less than 1%? 5% at most?

And even if a brave BC gov't initiated this needed EM environmental regulation wouldn't they have been subject to tremendous outside pressures from international business? Pressures such as investment boycotts, etc. that would have quickly forced retraction? Thomas Friedman is certainly right about what he calls the 'golden straightjacket' limiting all gov'ts to business as usual paths.

The lesson is our inability to change INSIDE THE PRESENT SYSTEM.

Whether it is needed regulation for EM in forests

or a whole millennium of governmental regulation of salmon - mentioned in the Magna Carta - that has nowhere stopped the extirpation of salmon, first from continental Europe, than from most of Britain, then from New England and Canada's Maritimes, and now from Cascadia's Pacific shore;

or governmental regulation of the world's fisheries where we are headed for jellyfish sandwiches;

or protection of biodiversity in ever diminishing and threatened wetlands, estuaries, tropical forests, etc.:

The lesson is Know Thyself: this is who we are. This is so important for biodiversity, sustainability and for needed global warming action. The lesson from two decades of BC forest policy debate is that timber target forestry, the Liquidation-Conversion Plan, is unstoppable within the present gov't/economic configuration.

The lesson is that Kyoto will be fudged just like salmon or forest policies and we'll have ever increasing emissions without any real change - war, economic collapse or other catastrophes excepted.

What is needed is major innovation to our political-economic system that allows for change at the needed scale; that provides the needed precautionary framework or total cost accounting so that markets will work properly - a society governed so that putting all old growth logging off limits (and protecting second growth at the same time), for example, would be possible if this were in our long term best interest.

Something like Lester Brown's Plan B - a wartime-like coalition gov't (US and global) to enforce precautionary rational-comprehensive planning - is needed that is capable of, first of all, reducing consumption, advertising, demand management;

and then organizing investment and industry in greatly improving efficiency and alternative energy development, dematerializing growth, etc.;

and to requisition monies for what ever remediation is possible (although refreezing permafrost is probably too much for even techno-optimists).

Our increasingly unfettered market approach makes solution to local forestry problems and possible runaway global warming (as well as preparing for peak oil) impossible and we should learn this lesson.

Realistically, we should have implemented this governance revolution decades ago because of lead times and complexity.

Realistically, the powers that be want no part of even discussing such governance change; the developed world general public can't 'afford' change at this scale. Realistically, we're not going to get there with reasonable business as usual debate.

So all we're left with is war or economic collapse (or maybe Rapture?) to prevent our present economic trajectory from destroying the ecological basis for human life on Earth.

So thanks Mr. President. Some would say you are an ignorant tool of the powers that be whose actions have made our Bottleneck predicament far worse with your Administration's global warming intransigence; unilateralist militarization of foreign policy; with your corrosion of international cooperation and rule of law; for your choice of a resource war path when confronted with peak oil.

Don't listen to any of that pessimism Mr. President - trust your instincts and listen for God's instruction.

bill@pacificfringe.net


 

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