Kyoto causes rainforest cutting and food-price hikes
<a href=http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/financialpost/comment/story.html?id=4ef9edf4-137c-4b8c-8b7e-88f6f9653ae3>Financial Post </a>
Friday, October 19, 2007
Four environmental catastrophes loom large, all due to sweeping changes to the world economy in the wake of the Kyoto Treaty.
The first is the threat to the world's forests, especially old-growth forests which do not soak up carbon from the atmosphere. By seizing these forests, cutting them down, and converting them to carbon-intensive plantations, Third World governments and their cronies can cash in on carbon credits, to the dismay of the old-growth forests' inhabitants. As expressed in a Declaration by the Forest Peoples Programme, a gathering of tribal peoples in India's North Eastern Region of Guwahati in 2003, "The climate change debate has turned forests into a carbon commodity, which will have to provide carbon credits for a lucrative carbon market that will allow industrialized countries to continue emitting greenhouse gases."
The declaration, designed to protest an upcoming Kyoto meeting in Milan, objected to the technocratic mind-set that valued their communities on their potential to capture carbon. "The Kyoto Protocol's focus on carbon sequestration means that more credits can be gained the faster a tree can grow, which in turn leads to an incentive for large-scale tree plantations and ignores the role of forests, particularly old growth forests."
The indigenous peoples feared Kyoto-caused devastation that they were seeing around the world, such as the Plantar carbon sequestration project in Brazil's Minas Gerais, opposed by more than 50 Brazilian NGOs, citizens' movements, churches and trade unions, as well as the World Rainforest Movement. The Plantar project - financed by OECD governments and run by the World Bank's Carbon Finance Unit - is converting 23,100 hectares of natural forest to eucalyptus tree plantations to produce wood for charcoal, for use in pig iron production instead of coal. The Plantar project, like numerous others in the Third World, are at the other end of the carbon credit schemes that have become so popular with Westerners. Every time we buy carbon offsets to salve our consciences at flying in a jet, we are helping to dispossess someone, somewhere, by boosting the carbon-credit value of their land.
The second looming catastrophe, also caused by Kyoto carbon credits, again affects the poorest of the poor -- a widespread food shortage, accompanied by rising prices, as agricultural lands are turned to ethanol and other bio-fuels rather than nourishment. In Mexico City in February, some 75,000 marched in protest at the dramatic rise in the price of tortillas, a corn-based staple of their diet that typically consumes one-third of a poor family's income. Indonesia, Egypt, Algeria, and Nigeria have also seen protests, leading to growing alarm at Kyoto's implications for the Third World, as seen by opinion pieces in the Third World press predicting "worldwide famine affecting billions of people" and "political instability, social unrest and general chaos."
While worldwide famine is unlikely to materialize, an increase in hunger is entirely plausible: Goldman Sachs describes the food price increases as part of a structural change in world agricultural markets, with high-cost marginal lands brought into
production to produce fuel. The social and environmental costs will be prohibitive, and not only because wilderness and all manner of ecosystems will be converted to monoculture farming. Ethanol production is water-intensive, requiring 1700 litres of water per litre of ethanol produced, according to David Pimental of Cornell University. To meet this demand, aquifers are being drained and disputes over watercourses increasing.
The perversity of this wholesale re-engineering of the world's natural resources becomes complete with two additional revelations. Earlier this year, Stanford's Mark Jacobson discovered that, if all cars in the United States converted to E85, a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, smog deaths would increase significantly. Los Angeles would disproportionately suffer because of its airshed, with 120 additional deaths per year, a 9% increase, along with 650 more hospitalizations and 1,200 additional asthma-related emergency visits. Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen, meanwhile, discovered that ethanol production actually increases the amount of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere.
The third and fourth environmental catastrophes involve the resurrection of large hydro-electric dams and nuclear reactors. Before the Kyoto mind-set took hold, these grandiose government-backed relics of yesteryear were struggling to get off the drawing boards of energy planners. With Kyoto's low-carbon chic restoring their respectability, and carbon credits making them less ruinous financially, both are back with a vengeance.
The vengeance could be harsh. The recently completed Three Gorges Dam in China, the world's largest, is proving so dangerous that Chinese officials themselves acknowledge trouble. Fifty-metre high waves in its reservoir and shoreline collapses of Biblical proportions are leading to the relocation of one to two million Chinese from its banks, in addition to the 1.3 million already moved. The worst-case scenario of a dam failure -- no longer laughed at -- could lead to a tsunami that would take out downstream Wuhan, a city of 10 million people.
Neither would a nuclear Armageddon be remote if reactors proliferated around the world, as many energy planners consider inevitable if Kyoto-scale cuts in carbon emissions are to be achieved. Safety systems have failed dramatically in Ontario, Pennsylvania, and other western jurisdictions that have high engineering standards, little corruption, and meaningful regulation. Should reactors in large numbers be built in countries where corruption permits shoddy construction materials, and where regulation is non-existent, the chance of avoiding future Chernobyls or worse are poor. Even if reactors don't fail due to a design fault, they are subject to catastrophe from terrorism. The worst-case scenario of a nuclear accident is unthinkable -- the accident at Chernobyl, which was far from a major city, cost an estimated $350-billion. A worst-case accident in North America near a pricey financial centre like New York or Toronto would wipe out much more than that in property alone, and very much more with human suffering factored in.
One, two, three, four. Which disaster do you fear more?
-Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute, and a founder of the World Rainforest Movement.