California Carbon Trading Allows Timber Companies to Sell CO2 Credits for Their Worst Logging Practices
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SPI argues that clearcutting actually benefits forest carbon sequestration. It's a cynical argument. Clearcutting releases more carbon than a forest fire, while destroying wildlife habitat and water quality along with it. The intensity of clearcutting – and the disturbance of carbon-storing soils and biomass – releases carbon at levels far greater than less-intensive forms of timber harvesting, such as commercial thinning. However, the CAR trading program ignores these emissions, putting them on a ‘punch list' for future study. Without an accurate accounting of how much carbon is sequestered, the CAR carbon trading policy lacks integrity and is simply a new revenue stream for logging companies that fails to reduce greenhouse gases.
Even though some CAR and ARB board members acknowledged problems with the clearcutting provision this fall, both bodies refused to delay action on the protocols. The reason became apparent soon after the protocols were adopted. In October, Governor Schwarzenegger and SPI jointly announced that the company was embarking on what they described as the largest forest carbon project in the nation's history. The deal, made possible by the new forests protocol, involves 60,000 acres of SPI land in California and will purportedly sequester 1.5 million tons of CO2. The LA Times estimated that the carbon sale could be worth as much as $10 million to SPI.
Supporters for California's carbon trading policy refer to it as the "gold standard" and hope to export it around the nation and around the world. But, in the end, California's carbon-trading policy delivers logging companies a new revenue stream without requiring any changes in their worst forestry practices. What we get is more clearcutting, less carbon sequestration, and a trading policy that discredits the entire concept of carbon offsets. We cannot clearcut our way out of climate change. In fact, we shouldn't allow clearcutting at all.
Eddie Scher is a longtime environmental advocate, writer, and former editor of Waterkeeper magazine.