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Friday, June 5, 2009

What is more important, rainforests or electric cars?

Hardi Baktiantoro

You really must read this Mongabay interview with the leader of a group of "orangutan guerrillas" who use satellite imagery, GPS, and video cameras to document destruction of rainforests for palm oil plantations. Assuming carbon credits are eventually used to buy up rainforests, the need to physically protect them will still exist.

For every article on rainforest destruction, you will find a few thousand articles about new car technology. A piece over on Huffington Post by Levi Novey sums it up nicely:

Deforestation, on the other hand, is depressing. We feel less powerful in our abilities to stop it. We can imagine ourselves driving electric cars in five years, or even visualize what wind turbines would look like in fields near to where we live. Getting a poor family in rural Peru to stop chopping down the Amazon as they make way for more coffee crops -- it seems like an impossible task to achieve given how many other factors are at play.

The comment field below that article contains your usual collection of yammering cowboys but two commenters did point out (rudely) that the author was way wrong in his assessment of Peru's ability to protect its forests. In a nutshell, without a mechanism that will direct the power of the free market to make the protection of rainforests more lucrative than their destruction, our children and grand children are going to witness terrible times. These ecosystems represent vast carbon sinks and also impact weather patterns, never mind the loss of biodiversity. Most Americans don't even know what that word means.

It has yet to be proven that carbon trading can work, but it is also yet to be proven that anything works to slow the destruction of the biosphere in our never ending quest for ever greater wealth and status. We owe it to future generations to at least try it. If only there were a way to magically make our politicians intelligent and informed, carbon trading could save the rainforests. Pundits of the environmental bent seem incapable of understanding that both carbon trading and a carbon tax can be used simultaneously where each would be most effective. It's like arguing over which tastes better, peanut butter or chocolate.

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