Want some cookies with that CO2?
More evidence that global warming and deforestation are linked: peat swamps in Indonesia that have been clear-cut for agriculture are releasing 50 percent more carbon than swamps that are still forested. And no, that isn’t because of decayed or burning waste from the clear-cutting; the carbon measured by Open University researchers in deforested swamps was older than carbon that came from swamps where the forest ecosystem was still intact, and appeared to come from much deeper in the sediment.
This would appear to contradict the conclusions of a 2011 study that suggested peat bogs were unlikely to release a great deal of carbon; however, that study specifically examined conditions in the Northern Hemisphere, rather than the humid tropics. If there is a difference with latitude, though, the high rate of tropical deforestation should raise even more concern in light of the OU findings. A lot of Indonesia’s forests are being cleared right now to make way for agriculture, including palm oil and paper plantations (see Asia Pulp & Paper and Girl Scout Cookies for two of many reasons why, though we’re making some progress there). This is not only bad news for carbon storage, but also a culprit in the rapid disappearance of iconic species like Sumatran tigers and orangutans.
Now here is a situation where carbon markets could make a huge difference. Destroying rainforest and releasing peat gases should be hurting somebody’s pocketbooks, not making them more money. As with so many environmental issues, the global/public costs (increased global warming, loss of beloved species and their less-well-known supporters, and probably pollution/runoff issues too) don’t count for much against private revenues. Not that we can chide Indonesia (or its businesses and small farmers) for this when we’re the ones consuming so much palm oil and paper. Carbon trading would be nice, but let’s face it: we’re already trading whenever we buy a candy bar.