Trees, Copenhagen, and Climate Change

Carolyn Blair, Executive Director of the SF Tree Council (contact details below), added a comment to this website yesterday mentioning an article about the meeting at Copenhagen. We felt it deserved a separate post.

“Did anyone see this important article?” she asked. It was an op-ed piece by Bernd Heinrich, “Clear-cutting the Truth About Trees” in the New York Times of Dec 20. (Bernd Heinrich is a professor emeritus at the University of Vermont.)

The article advocates “..a new definition of earth-friendly reforestation. These new stands of growth — if managed as true forest rather than as a single-species, single-aged crops — would contain a mixture of mature and transitional-growth trees. Any tree cut down would immediately generate a race of others to replace it at that spot, and the winner will emerge from a natural selection of seeds and seedlings most suited to grow there.”

We’d like to point out that this describes Sutro Forest rather well. In the last 70-80 years, it’s been managed by natural selection – by not interfering with it. It’s 80% eucalyptus because eucalyptus is best-suited to the environment there, not because someone is trying to grow a eucalyptus plantation.

(Excerpts from the article are given below.)


“Part of the problem is the public misunderstanding of how forests and carbon relate. Trees are often called a “carbon sink” — implying that they will sop up carbon from the atmosphere for all eternity. This is not true: the carbon they take up when they are alive is released after they die, whether from natural causes or by the hand of man…. planting more trees is decidedly not the same thing as saving our forests. Instead, planting trees invariably means using them as a sustainable crop, which leads not only to a continuous cycle of carbon releases, but also to the increased destruction of our natural environment…”

“…Since planting new trees does get one credits, Kyoto actually created a rationale for clear-cutting old growth…This is horrifying. The world’s forests are a key to our survival, and that of millions of other species. Not only are they critical to providing us with building material, paper, food, recreation and oxygen, they also ground us spiritually and connect us to our primal past. Never before in earth’s history have our forests been under such attack….To preserve something it first has to be valued, and the most effective means of valuing it is to have a practical use for it. If the discussions in Copenhagen were any indication, mankind sees little value in forests, but much in tree plantations.”

Instead, Heinrich advocates natural selection as a way to build forests: “Any tree cut down would immediately generate a race of others to replace it at that spot, and the winner will emerge from a natural selection of seeds and seedlings most suited to grow there. No, this isn’t the fastest way to build up carbon credits. But it is the only real way to preserve the planet, and ourselves.”


The comment also referenced another article, in the San Francisco Chronicle, called ” Climate Change Agreement / Copenhagen becomes Hope-nhagen for the Earth.” It was written by Daniel Kammen, a professor at the UC Berkeley and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. His conclusion: Despite an agreement “long on promise and short on specifics,” it is still an important step forward, drawing countries like China, India, and Brazil into the discussion, and setting a “2-degree Celsius maximum climate change target.” Now, he says, “…the hard work really begins: To create the clean-energy economy and grow those green jobs; to invest in human capital and innovation, not just burning a legacy of often-dirty fuels; and to operate in a framework where the longest holdouts on our climate future are suddenly finding ways to innovate.”


The contact details for the San Francisco Tree Council:

Carolyn Blair, Executive Director
2310 Powell Street, #305
San Francisco, CA 94133
415 982 8793

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