Listening to President Obama speak about climate change Tuesday I was encouraged to hear him bring up the concept of “net carbon pollution” in regard to evaluating the fate of the Keystone Pipeline. I’m neither for nor against that project but it immediately made me wonder how this new evaluation process would judge other, non-fossil fuel, projects and products being imported into the U.S. “Net carbon pollution” is the entire, sum total of the gas released into the atmosphere, not just from production and consumption, but also the impacts caused by the evaluated project or product on habitat it directly degrades. In this case, the impacts of extracting the oil from the Canadian Tar Sands and the construction of the pipeline will likely have some measurable impacts to carbon sequestering, permafrost soils, peatlands and boreal forests.
Changes to the water table in drained peatlands, for instance, will expose and oxidize peat above the water line and release stored carbon and methane into the atmosphere. The lower water table will also inhibit new peat moss growth on the dry surface and impact the ability to sequester carbon away from or out of the atmosphere in the future. Any sum total of a “net carbon pollution” formula will include the directly impacted carbon and the estimated totals of carbon that would have been stored if the habitat had been maintained in a natural state.
To put this in perspective then, the “net carbon pollution” footprint of imported Canadian sphagnum peat moss calculates carbon from the 1.1 million tons of product that crosses the U.S. border annually, the gigatons of carbon oxidizing back in drained commercial bogs and any carbon that would have been sequestered if the site had been maintained in a pristine state. This would also be true of peatland impacting products like palm oil, which seems to be used in just about every consumer product on the supermarket shelves these days.
Coincidently, just a day before the President’s speech the Center for International Forest Research (www.cifor.org) reported that negotiators in Bonn agreed to put the subject of “High Carbon Ecosystems” like peatlands on the agenda for the Warsaw U.N. Climate Summit this fall. “Until recently, such high-carbon… peatlands had not been considered specifically for discussion by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)” the report stated.
Frankly, I’m not surprised peatlands have never made the official agenda until now. The totally transparent focus at nearly every U.N. Climate Summit has been addressing climate financing, which is code for a carbon tax on industrial nations for redistribution to the developing world. A UNFCCC journalist from one of those developing nations, where peatlands are currently burning to make way for palm oil plantations, recently mused in an article, “should we stop making efforts to protect our severely damaged environment, or even continue the damage to blackmail rich nations…?” Relatively common sentiment like this makes me wonder if peatland destruction is a calculated casualty of a political and financial agenda.
It’s always been my naïve opinion that if all the climate scientists, NGOs, U.N. staffers and government officials hovering about at these “Earth Summits” were truly concerned about the increasing carbon levels, then they would move to preserve and protect peatland ecosystems immediately and without equivocation. A mere 3% of the earth’s tertiary surface designated as peatlands, holding 30% of all soil carbon should merit more fervent protections. Considering these wetlands continually vacuum the greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere systematically, organically, naturally and without any funding support from the U.N. you would think it would be a priority. However, if the goal is to fan the flames of crisis, then turning a blind eye to the spewing a few million gigatons of carbon annually from burning and degraded peatlands, then documenting the higher atmospheric CO2 levels, may just be the sick, twisted and calculated means to an end.
Many speculated that a new U.S. policy based on decreasing the “net carbon pollution” was likely intended to derail coal, oil and natural gas projects but the unintended consequences could be farther reaching. If practiced with an even hand it may just provide leadership on global climate change by protecting high carbon peatlands and revealing some greenwashed projects and products as the true carbon pigs they can no longer deny being. Wind farm projects built on peat bogs, peat burning electrical generation plants, palm oil in all of it’s forms and yes peat moss, used to fill flowerpots, will all be exposed as high net-carbon polluters.