Category Archives: Climate change

Mangroves save one Philippine coastal town from the worst of Typhoon Haiyan

From PRI’s program The World, Michael Holtz reports:

Mangroves form low-lying thickets that hug the shore of coastal areas in tropical regions around the world. They serve as natural barriers that help dissipate swelling storm surges. Mayor Jamie Ty says that protection, combined with a well-executed evacuation plan, meant not one person in MacArthur died in the typhoon.

“We are lucky” Ty says. “We don’t have casualties, although we have a few injuries. But those are just superficial injuries.”

The storm killed at least 64 people in the next town to the north and more than 5,000 across the Philippines. It’s impossible to know how many of those deaths could have been avoided if other places still had the same natural protective barriers as General MacArthur.

Rough estimates show more than 70 percent of the country’s original mangrove forests were destroyed between 1918 and 1994. Many were replaced with fishponds, resorts and other kinds of coastal development.

But at least some of the mangroves near MacArthur were spared.

“Here, here, and here. The storm surge also hits here,” says University of the Philippines professor Rene Rollon, clicking his mouse over a satellite image of MacArthur and the surrounding islands.

Rollon has studied mangroves for more than 20 years, and he says MacArthur residents are right to thank their humble trees.

“That’s a huge amount of mangroves,” he says. “It dissipates a lot of energy. So, actually, it’s protecting the town.”

Read (or listen to) the rest.

Indonesia extends its forest moratorium

Hats off to Indonesia’s president for showing the kind of leadership that’s sorely lacking from most nations in the global North. As WRIInsights reports:

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a bold and courageous decision this week to extend the country’s forest moratorium. With this decision, which aims to prevent new clearing of primary forests and peat lands for another two years, the government could help protect valuable forests and drive sustainable development.

Enacted two years ago, Indonesia’s forest moratorium has already made some progress in improving forest management. However, much more can be done. The extension offers Indonesia a tremendous opportunity: a chance to reduce emissions, curb deforestation, and greatly strengthen forest governance in a country that holds some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.

Do read the rest, which includes suggestions for ways in which the forest moratorium could be strengthened.

How forests fight back against global warming with chemical warfare

A new study finds that the terpenes, isoprenes and other chemicals that trees release into the atmosphere help ameliorate the worst effects of global warming. Climate News Network has the story.

The warmer the weather, the greater the likelihood that gas emissions from plants would create conditions for the formation of clouds, which in turn would reflect more sunlight back into space, and thus help damp down global warming.

That is the good news. The not-so-good news is that these plant gas emissions won’t make a great deal of difference – on a global scale they might counter about 1 percent of global warming.

On a regional scale, however, the effect might be much greater: in heavily forested areas – Finland, Siberia and Canada, for instance – where human emissions of aerosols are anyway relatively slight, plant gas releases might counter as much as 30 percent of warming.

New studies: world’s biggest trees are dying off

We tend to pass on newspaper stories in favor of blogs here, but this Guardian story is too important to ignore.

The biggest trees in the world, known as the true ecological kings of the jungle, are dying off rapidly as roads, farms and settlements fragment forests and they come under prolonged attack from severe droughts and new pests and diseases.

Long-term studies in Amazonia, Africa and central America show that while these botanical behemoths may have adapted successfully to centuries of storms, pests and short-term climatic extremes, they are counterintuitively more vulnerable than other trees to today’s threats.

“Fragmentation of the forests is now disproportionately affecting the big trees,” said William Laurance, a research professor at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia. “Not only do many more trees die near forest edges, but a higher proportion of the trees dying were the big trees.”

“Their tall stature and relatively thick, inflexible trunks, may make them especially prone to uprooting and breakage near forest edges where wind turbulence is increased,” said Laurance in this week’s New Scientist magazine.

Read the rest.

Fire, water, and the box-ironbark forest

box-ironbark forest by Ian LuntAustralian blogger and vegetation ecologist Ian Lunt muses about the features that make a forest tick. How important are rain and flames in influencing how ironbark forests  function in Southeast Australia? As global warming intensifies, it will be increasingly important to help these forests retain every drop of water they can, he suggests.

Even though my own home forest in the northeastern United States is very different, I was struck by Ian’s lead-in questions: “Which ecological process has the biggest impact on how your ecosystem changes over time?” And: “What if you’re wrong?” Do take the time to read this important think-piece.

The once and future forest of Sebangau National Park

Mike at Under the Banyan Tree reports on the seemingly daunting but ultimately encouraging struggle to recover a forest devastated by loggin in Borneo.

The national park managers showed us before and after photographs that revealed how they were slowly turning a wasteland into something that once more resembled a forest. Since 2005, they have planted more than a million trees on 5,000 hectares of the burnt and deforested land. In 2012, they aim to plant trees on another 2,000 hectares.

This is just a start. Because forests like that at Sebangau store vast quantities of carbon below ground in their buried peat and above ground in their trees, they can play an important role in limiting climate change.

It means that efforts to reforest Sebangau could be among the first projects in line for funding under an international scheme called REDD+ that will allow polluting companies and countries to offset their carbon emissions by paying to plant trees and protect forests.

Read the rest of the post to learn how this could help save one of our closest animal cousins from extinction.

The trouble with leaf blowers

An eye-opening post from European Trees makes it clear that leaf-blowers are far more than an auditory annoyance.

The threat from existing pathogens and non native invasive species, the threat from climate change factors and the stresses placed upon trees, particularly urban trees by way of human detritus, including domestic pet excrement or urine is compounded by the use of these machines.

Wow. Who knew?

Palm trees no longer in favor for urban plantings

When it comes to reducing the urban heat-island effect, not all trees are created equal — and palm trees, in particular, aren’t much help. In an article at The Atlantic Cities, Joshua Davidovich explains “The Problem With Palm Trees,” and why more and more southern cities are phasing them out.

When is a forest not a forest?

Under the Banyan: palm-oil plantationIn a recent post at Under the Banyan, Mike rails at the FAO’s definition of “forest” and the poor policy decisions that can lead to:

Scientists have tried to explain how important real forests are for limiting climate change, tackling poverty and creating green economies based on timber and other forest products.

But the fate of forests gets decided in concrete capitals where policymakers pour over green-tinged maps and financial spreadsheets that only show some of the costs and benefits of changing a real forest into anything else.

Right now, somewhere in the world, one of these policymakers is reading a technical document about forests — they are reading small black print on a dull pale page and they are probably wishing the document or the day was shorter.

It makes me wonder how many of the bureaucrats who will decide the fate of the world’s tropical forests have actually walked in one. And how the protectors of the forests can encourage more policymakers to take that journey.

Read the rest.

Reforestation “tree-preneurs” in Durban, South Africa

Mike at Under the Banyan reports:

Busisiwe Ndlela was radiant when I met her yesterday. Just this month, and with money she earned selling tiny trees, she has bought a new cupboard and an electric stove and she is proud as can be.

I met this 60-year old mother of seven on the outskirts of Durban, South Africa where she and hundreds of other women are helping to transform their communities and the landscape around them, one seed at a time.

Be sure to read the rest of this very encouraging post.

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