Scientists prove some forest is better than no forest! Plus Californians defeat Big Utility! Peatland Action Project: restoring Scotland’s peat bogs, and restoring Russia’s peatlands.
Californians Beat Back Big Utility! Scientists Prove Some Forest Is Better Than No Forest! Restoring Scotland’s Peat Bogs and Russia’s Peatlands
SCIENTIST PROVE SOME FOREST IS BETTER THAN NO FOREST
A study published this month in Science Direct, an online science journal, conducted research in Malaysian Borneo into whether tropical forests in that region, labeled as ‘degraded’ as well as timber plantations were still still had value in terms of helping stop climate change.
Forest degradation occurs when forest ecosystems lose their capacity to provide important goods and services to people and nature. It can happen from climate change or from human intervention, like logging and clearing to establish farms. A timber plantation is a human-made forest consisting of one species of tree grown specifically for timber production. Timber plantations are considered degraded forests because they sequester carbon naturally 40 times less efficiently than biodiverse, naturally occurring forests do.
According to the study, “degraded tropical forests still regulate the surrounding temperature, filter pollutants from air and water, and otherwise provide benefits valued by local communities.” In other words, having some forest is still better than having no forest at all.
The findings were a surprise to researchers, and confirmation of the value indigenous communities place on degraded forests. Another aspect of the survey which surprised researchers is the existence of a generational divide. Younger respondents assigned higher value to protection of the natural forests and the services they provide than the older respondents. Almost counterintuitive.
Said Boul Lefeuvre, researcher at ETH Zurich in Switzerland and an author of the study, “What’s happened is that the younger generation has really felt, over the past 20 years, drastic change, especially in decreasing biodiversity around the land because it’s been degraded.”
Why does this study matter to us? Two reasons really. “Science and traditional knowledge are clearly capable of working together,” said Lefeuvre. And, because forests and their soils store about 45% of the earth’s carbon, even a degraded forest is important to our current need of carbon sequestration.
DEEPER DIVE: Mongabay, Nature Communications, Science Direct
CALIFORNIANS BEAT BACK BIG UTILITY, AGAIN!
Last December the staff of the California Public Utilities Commission released a plan to slash the credit paid to homeowners for the excess electricity generated by their rooftop solar panels.
According to the plan, in addition to getting paid less for the excess power they ship to their utility company, these homeowners would also have to start paying monthly connection fees of $40 or more. Solar advocates have complained bitterly that the plan would cripple the rooftop solar movement, which has put solar panels on 1.3 million California homes.
Pointing to the absurdity of the fixed monthly charge, economist Dr. Ahmad Faruqui said, “Why should someone buying carrots at the grocery store have to pay more because they also grow carrots at home?”
Working Californians, environmentalists, and clean energy advocates quickly learned of the proposal, and with the help of organization by the California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA), thousands took to the streets to protest. Over a thousand workers in front of the The California Public Utilities Commission, and nearly 2000 in Los Angeles demonstrated, calling upon the Commission and Governor Newsom to throw out the proposal and save the state’s distributed solar future.
Now, it appears the Utilities Commission decided to delay the much-maligned Net Energy Metering (NEM) 3.0 proposal indefinitely. The proposal was pulled from the January 27th meeting after Gov. Newsom said there was still “work to be done” on the proposal. It was then not added to the February 10th meeting, either.
CPUC president Alice Reynolds requested more time to consider changes. Why does this matter to us? It’s proof that the voices of concerned citizens who want their states to catch more solar energy from their rooftops have been heard.
DEEPER DIVE: SacBee, PV Magazine, Reuters
PEATLAND ACTION PROJECT: RESTORING SCOTLAND’S PEAT BOGS
Flanders Moss is a peat bog in the south of Scotland near Edinburgh. It’s one of the largest lowland raised bogs in the United Kingdom. Peatlands in good health are valuable carbon stores and have many benefits for people and nature. The carbon in the peat makes it very fertile. That’s why Scottish farmers cleared and drained much of Flanders Moss to make way for fertile farmland beginning in the 1800s. Today, the bog is now 60% of its original size.
Despite its reduced size, Flanders Moss is one of the most intact raised bogs in Europe. An active raised bog is an important carbon and water store – and contributes to natural flood management. It’s an example of degraded peat bogs, or peatlands, throughout Scotland. Biologists now understand the need to preserve and restore peat bogs, particularly because of the role they play in biodiversity and climate change mitigation.
And that’s why the Scottish government in 2012 funded the creation of the Peatland Action Project. According to its website, over 25,000 hectares of peatlands (about 62,000 acres) “have been put on the road to recovery with funding provided by the Scottish Government.”
How does the project work? It uses the latest satellite technology to measure the size and depth of Flanders Moss. Then that data is used to estimate the sequestered carbon. The satellite can detect even a few millimeters change in the size of the bog by measuring its “breathing”.
The Peatland Action Project was the Royal Society of the Protection of Birds’ 2015 Innovation Award Winner. It also won the 2016 Best Practice Large Scale Nature Conservation Award from the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management. PAP was also a 2020 finalist for the RSPB’s Nature of Scotland Awards–Nature and Climate Action.
In 2020, the Scottish government committed almost $340 million in funding over 10 years to bog restoration in a bid to lock carbon in the land. Why do peat bogs matter to us? Well, according to Scientific American, “Existing peatlands store as much as 500 billion metric tons of carbon—or twice as much as is incorporated into all the trees in all the world’s forests.” Imagine their restorative powers!
Fun fact, peat bogs act like a single organism, swelling and contracting. They can even bear the resemblance of jelly fungi.
DEEPER DIVE: The Guardian, Scientific American, IUCN, Twitter
RESTORING RUSSIA’S PEATLANDS
Scotland’s not the only country with peatlands. Just over 2200 miles to the east of Scotland lies the Russian peatland bog in the Tver region, north of Moscow. It represents one of the largest ground peatland projects in the world.
These peatlands have been damaged or eliminated by various human activities like clearing land for fuel, forestry, agriculture, or home building, or for recreational purposes. Degraded peatlands paradoxically emit more carbon into the atmosphere than they actually hold.
One way peatlands emit carbon is when they catch on fire. Contrary to popular belief, peatlands are not all moist, or wet. They dry up when drained or from climate change. Dried bogs become highly flammable and are particularly fire prone then. In 2010, desiccated bogs in Russia’s Tver region caught fire. That’s why a year later, the Russian peatland restoration project –organized by The Wetlands International Russia Program– was launched
The Program is funded by German development bank KfW on behalf of Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Building and Nuclear Safety. How does Russia restore its peatlands? By restoring natural water channels to rebuild the ecosystem.
So Why does this matter to us? Russia is covered in approximately 8 percent peatlands. Not restoring Tver peatland results in the outgassing of an estimated 175,000 to 220,000 tons of carbon per year. All that carbon ends up circling the globe and affecting our climate too.
DEEPER DIVE: Wetlands International, AZO CleanTech, UNEP