Green Economy – does it include you?

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It is commendable that the the government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) has plans for a green economy as was shown in the supplementary spread in the Post Courier to commemorate the World Environment day on June 5, 2012.  It is an ambitious plan for PNG to boldly state that she will reduce her in-country emission by 50% in the year 2030, but I guess having an ambitious plan is better than having no plan at all.

I read the supplement from cover to cover but to my disappointment there were no options for green development for me and my household. Being conscious of my carbon footprint an wanting to reduce it, I am eager to participate in the green development. After all, forestry and agriculture is the biggest source of emission in PNG with subsistence agriculture contributing 28-43% of emission. My family still depend to some extent on landuse activities to support our livelihood.

That got me thinking, what would the compounded energy use of average PNG families like mine be like in 2030?  The PNG population has doubled in just twenty years between the year 1980 and 2000. From that, let us assume that population doubles every 20 years for PNG. By 2030, population would have more than doubled from the current 6/7 million. What percentage of the families in the year 2030 would have access to green energy and what percentage would be still depending on nature for their energy needs? The low carbon activities encouraged by the government though commendable are still too technology-intensive for individual families.

So how can families be meaningfully included in a green economy? One option is for families to bring back the three R’s. Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Searches on the internet revealed that recover and rebuy have been added to the list of the R’s bring the R’s to 6.

Reducing consumption prevents wastage in the first place. It is the most preferred method of waste management and goes a long way toward protecting the environment. Waste prevention means consuming and throwing away less.

Items can be reused by repairing them, donating them to charity, or selling them. This also reduces waste. Reusing products, when possible, is better than recycling because the item does not need to be reprocessed before it can be used again.

Recycling transforms materials that would otherwise become waste into valuable resources. Furthermore, recycling generates environmental, financial, and social benefits. In other countries, materials like glass, metal, plastics, and paper are collected, separated and sent to facilities that can process them into new materials or products.

In order to make recycling economically feasible, we must buy recycled products and packaging. When we buy recycled products, we create an economic incentive for recyclable materials to be collected, manufactured, and marketed as new products. Remember, you’re not recycling unless you’re buying recycled products.

At the same time, as we plan for emission reduction activities for industries, we should not underestimate the power of little changes that families can participate in. After all families are at the base of the pyramid from where businesses are built. A changed mindset starting from families can pay great dividends in business as individuals make decision based on what is good for them as well as for the environment.

Help. Forests needs protection

With greed in his heart and chain saw in his hand, man has within a few years, reduced to a wasteland the majestic forests which had taken thousands of years to grow.

The experiences from numerous logging projects is sufficient evidence that commercial logging can never deliver benefits on long-term agreements to forest owners, yet, destroy the environment people derive their livelihood from.

The impact of logging is a liability to all the future generations who are connected to this forest through the streams and creeks all the way to the ocean.

Forest are support systems

Trees in a forest are like the support beams of houses. These beams anchor the house and make it stable, on these beams other structures are built upon.

These structures include complex systems like the water cycle and the nutrient cycles. This complex systems have developed over time and science is just scratching the surface of the vast interdependence of life on this self maintaining system.

The impact of removing these support beams is a house that is destabilized.

Removal of trees through logging also disrupts numerous mutual relationships widespread in the forest – the loss of one species has a negative impact on others.  For instance, the loss of a fruiting tree depend on the animal that feeds on it to disperse their seeds and these tree species may fail to recruit seedlings if these frugivores disappear because of loss of their food source.

Removing forests also opens up the canopy and simplifies the vertical stratification of the forest. Each canopy level is structured according to the distribution of pollinators. A simplification of strata allows more sunlight into the forest floor which in turn encourages the growth of more pioneer species and weeds. Such generalist species are more adaptable and can cope with the effects of changed forest stratums, but not so for most primary forest birds and mammals that are specialists with narrow niches.  Removing the different strata also removes the natural moisture held by the trees, compounded with increase in the wooden debris, the incidence for bush fire is increase.

Forest fragmentation through logging also disrupts the connectivity in the landscape. The fragmentation of the forest isolates patches of vegetation resulting in increased isolation and the separation of small populations which increases the distances between similar species. This reduces the inter-tree movement of pollinators and seed dispersers. Even the pool of available pollinators is reduced as an effect of habitat change, further reducing between-plant pollen flow leading to an insufficient regeneration of forest trees due to reduced seed production from the disruption of plant-pollinator interactions.

Furthermore, removing only the specially selected trees reduces the genetic pool of this particular tree species. Selectively removing the biggest trees also delays the seed producing potential of the forest.

Protect forest to protect water

Nature has an efficient system of recycling water. Logging, however, destroys the system that ensures there is fresh, clean water for both wildlife and human beings. The removal of trees results in the groundwater tables getting depleted because the trees lose their function of helping the soil absorb flowing water. When there are no trees, water just runs off, leaving no chance for the groundwater tables to absorb more water. The land then becomes unproductive as soil properties responsible for supplying soil nutrients are leached from rain falling freely on the soil when the canopy is removed. The large quantities of sediments washed away from deforested areas end up in streams and river cause high turbidity and siltation, combine this with run-off from diesel and other petroleum oils used by loggings machinery and chemicals employed to treat the timber, and fisheries downstream as far as the reefs is threatened.

Furthermore, deforestation disrupts the water cycle by changing weather patterns. Intact forests  play an important role in how rainfall is formed.

Water quality is a good predictor of human health.

Forest have potential value for future

The forest is a store-house of products yet to be discovered that may have vital use for humans in the future. However, this storehouse is getting lost when loggers are allowed to indiscriminately rape the forest. We are yet to document plant and animal life that live in tree canopies as well as on forest floors, and those hidden under litter. A systematic research on what we have in our forests may reveal potential products that may become a sustainable source of revenue in the future. The loss of this undiscovered value can be prevented.

REDD+ is a potential source of revenue in the near future for forested communities. REDD+ can only be realized on unfragmented, intact forest. The advantage of REDD+ is that, forest owners can still benefit from the services that a forest renders while still making money. This is unlike what happens with commercial logging where the loss of ecosystem services is the price paid for the royalties. Money cannot bring back the ecosystem services, because only an intact forest that maintains ecosystem services.

Large intact forests: best climate change adaptation strategy

The impact of climate change is another challenge imposed on humans by nature. The impact is unpredictable and is happening at a very fast rate that even nature has no time to adapt to the changes. A large intact ecosystem is more resilient to the impacts of climate change, so protecting the forest is the best climate change adaption strategy.

A forest untouched by commercial loggers is insurance for forest dwelling people as a source of maintaining a livelihood in the face of the changes affecting the climate. Therefore, forests need to be protected from the loggers just because money from commercial logging cannot buy services rendered by large intact forests.

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