Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Methane Releases in the Arctic

So when I was in Copenhagen, I was watching the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) science on a sphere at the US pavilion. I saw a video made by Alaskan researcher Katey Walter from University of Alaska at Fairbanks. It shows methane bubbling out of a lake, and then how they returned there in the winter and lit the methane release on fire. They laugh in the video because they almost blew themselves up, but this is not a laughing matter.

The breakdown of methane hydrates or clathrates, as they are known to science, that are embedded in the arctic tundra and sea floor is something that many climatologists said may happen later this century. Methane is 27 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon. There is a large but unknown amount of methane entrained in the permafrost, but estimates are that there is enough to drastically warm our entire planet.

These crystals "melt" as warming occurs in the arctic circle. Massive methane plumes erupt into the arctic ocean in the summer months, but what is scary is that Katey Walter and her team are finding that they are even melting in the arctic winter. As this methane erupts into our atmosphere much sooner than models have predicted there is an almost apocalyptic fear that "run-away" climate change may occur sooner. Much sooner, with all the sea level rise it implies.

Here is another video from Alaska and yet another from Siberia.

China - The Great Spoiler?

Mark Lynas gives us an inside view of the Copenhagen Talks that the world should take notice of. It is supported by much of what I have heard in the last few days from delegates and people from the South African negotiating team. Governments are naturally quiet about these problems, afraid to anger the new superpower further, but for any Copenhagen watchers who care, read it and take note.

Read his story here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Copenhagen in Pictures 2

This is probably the only place my images of Copenhagen will be seen, I thought to share the best of them. There were so many journalists and photographers in the city that at one point in the demonstrations when the police were laying into the crowd with batons, they had to stop. In front of them the only people within striking distance were photographers and camera-people. So hundreds of thousands of images are out there, getting shelved into the archives of thousands of computers. I thought these few images should be seen before suffering a similar fate. Click the photo to get a better view.

My images are for sale. They are 350 Dollars for an A3 print, for the first five prints from the 15 copy print run. After number five is sold, they go up by 20% per print. I only ever print 15 of any image. The cost includes shipping anywhere. Bigger prints can be negotiated. A small gallery can be seen here. Feel free to search Google images under my name here. Many more are out there you can choose from. Any picture you find can be bought directly from me.

The Polar Bear attacks the film-maker after he produced too much carbon making his documentary about Trading Trees in Africa. The bear backed off after eliciting a promise to take all that carbon out of the air. It could have been ugly.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) created this bronze sculpture of a Polar Bear in a city square in Copenhagen. They encased the sculpture in ice, which melted throughout the conference. A young girl collects snow from the side of the bear.

The Metro in Copenhagen has a view forward strait down the tunnels, seen through the reflection in the glass here. The train also uses less energy by building every stop at the top of a small hill.

Getting all patched up after a run-in with the police in Copenhagen.

The power of the internet unleashed in Copenhagen: A journalist "tweets" (using the application Twitter) so people around the world know exactly what is happening at the conference. Or at least know a little.

A Buddhist monk works at his computer in between the talks at the Bella Center where the conference was taking place.

A homeless man on the train in Copenhagen.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

No Viable Offspring, But Many Chance Encounters

The Korean vegetarians were a lighthearted group welcoming delegates to the Convention, but in the heavy handed police tactics later in the week, they all but disappeared.

A brief bird-like gathering of seasonal reproduction has produced no viable offspring. Like migrating bird species, journalists, climate campaigners and governments all gathered together for an orgy of chatter and Scandinavian food, and have now dispersed back to their respective countries.

The back-chatter from pundits and agents provocateurs has not diminished. I hate being right when I am pessimistic, but there was never a feeling that a deal was imminent in Copenhagen. After reading through the drafts that were created at the conference, there is no deal, on anything.

I would be happy to invite all readers to look through the draft documents put forward by the working groups and the languge of the "agreement". They can all be found on the UNFCCC webpage.

If anything good can be said of the talks and and event, it is that politicians seem to be taking the issue seriously, even if they cannot seem to agree on virtually anything.

If you would like a recap, its best to go read Andrew Revkin's and rest the New York Times' coverage of the event. After looking through many sites and newspapers I think the NYT really did great work and should be applauded for taking this conference very seriously and working hard to make the chaos somehow understandable.

There was another piece of outstanding reporting that must be mentioned. In the midst of the beginning of the high-level talks on Wednesday, the London-based Timesonline (by the Times of London newspaper) put out a story within hours of it happening which is a triumph for on-the-ground reporting. I was there and think the reporter did an excellent job of making the "fog of war" a little easier to see through.

The real success of what happened in Copenhagen may be that the dialogue is now open, but for many of us working on the front line of this topic, that dialogue is far from enough. Forests are being wiped out as I write this, carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases are spewed out into the air, and the summer thaw in Antarctica is eroding the ice-dams that keep the Antarctic's glaciers from dumping their ice into the sea. "Blah Blah Blah...Act Now!" was a constant poster favorite among protesters in Copenhagen. But at least the dialogue is on.

A part loser was the much hoped-for deal on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) in the third world. Going into the talks, realists knew this was the only real chance of a concrete deal, but even that was not to be. Because at the end of the conference the actual deal was not ratified by the member countries, the hard work put into the REDD component could not be made into law, even though the majority of nations supported it and it was not the subject of intense disagreement. It was, rather, a victim of political football. That does not mean REDD is dead, only that it's inclusion will have come at a later date, when a deal is actually signed, hopefully in Mexico City. An excellent break-down of REDD by Steve Zwick is available here.

Things that did not go wrong:

The Kyoto Protocol
There has been much talk from the media about the fact that this was the time when a new Kyoto Protocol had to be put into place because the current system expires in 2012. That is not true. I spoke directly to Yvo De Boer, the head of the UNFCCC, and he reiterated that until another legally binding treaty is in place, the Kyoto Protocol stands, before and after 2012. So in some ways it is better to have the current system than a watered down version, which was a fear.

American Cap and Trade
The Senate legislation, stalled at the end of 2009 in the USA, still has a good chance of passing. That is because the talks in Copenhagen, though they did not end in a legally binding treaty, did emphasize (in relatively strong language) the need for member countries to put their own legislation in place. It was a known that the US could not take a leading role in the Copenhagen talks until that legislation was passed, since the administration's hands were tied both politically and financially until it was. So with the growing national and international debate on climate, and the success this week of the Democrat-led legislation on health care, it is much more likely that the American Cap and Trade legislation will pass in 2010, paving the way for a more robust, US driven carbon market.

Healthy Protest
Despite or maybe because of the heavy-handed tactics used by the police in Copenhagen, the necessity for healthy protest has never been more obvious. People around the world need to shout from the streets, from the press, from the rooftops that they will not stand for more talk, but that they want action. They need to protest with their ballot papers, in the words of one campaigner: "If these turkeys we elected will not do what we want, they will be replaced by representatives who will". Politicians around the world should take note of that. People are angry, people are ready for a decisive move that puts us on a low-carbon future.

In talks and in behavior the Brazilians came out on top. They mediated an important talk on Friday with both Clinton and Obama that is credited with saving the language of the final agreement. They have changed their behavior from the 1980s on so many issues, and though it is not well known, it was Brazilians who put forward the strongest language in the Kyoto Protocol itself. They have consistently led from the front on deforestation issues, and many of their most vocal campaigners from civil society have taken on posts in the government where they have succeeded in using their voices to change a system of land-use and development which the world should learn from.

Marina Silva, an activist who became the Environmental Minister of Brazil, addressed a group at the conference. "We must all keep up the pressure for a progressive deal on the environment. The activists must keeping fighting, the people of the earth must keep up the pressure. We will win, because we will not quit."

The globe in the center of Copenhagen, where a storm of climate controversy raged.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Report: Copenhagen

I have left the convention, and am in Madrid, en route to Colorado. I finished this report, which will give everyone some idea of what the conference was like.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Information Disconnect

Andreus Andreopolis, the Administer of Greek group Frog Boiled. He is walking from Copenhagen (he is pictured here in the busy Bela Center) to Greece to highlight Climate Change, and hopes to get a lot of people to join him on the way.

Copenhagen...I think I am finally getting my head wrapped around it, and what is just beginning to eek into my brain is this. There is a strong disconnect between what I have seen on the ground, in forests, and what I witnessed and have heard at the conference. Many of the policy makers do not have a strong understanding of the intricacy of the issues being discussed and decided. When they do have a good grasp of them they often fail to see how those issues will be implemented outside the corridors of their offices. This is not only their failure, but a failure of those of us who report on these subjects.

Last night I went to the Earth Journalism Awards. They were presented by famous BBC World journalist Lyse Doucet from prime time television, and had a Nobel Prize winner, high level ministers from the around the world and many others help hand out the gorgeous prizes in one of the most beautiful buildings in Copenhagen.

My experience in getting stories of this kind published in the mainstream press is patchy at best. Environmental journalism does not get exposure in the media. It’s looked at almost like that slightly geeky guy who says all the right things at the wrong times at a college party.

In the hack and slash world of the current press cutbacks, it is unlikely that this will change, but even in the “old days” when there were budgets, I often, very often, had many of my friends and colleagues from various international newspapers ask me to stop suggesting environmental stories. They felt, and so did (and do) many of the editors we work with, that they are simply not hard news.

Science desks at newspapers are under-funded and often not in charge of the meager budgets they do have.

The problem with environmental reporting is that it’s expensive, it requires research, it requires skill and thorough knowledge. It requires money. So most of what is out there is like my documentary at the moment. Self produced, released through a limited niche market, and therefore not widely read or watched, and there is not a lot of it.

So the Earth Journalism Awards are an attempt by the pioneering press group Internews to raise the profile of these stories and get them out to more people. Go to the website and check some of them out, they are great. One of my favorites is Trash Is Cash by Lilian Tende. It was released on YouTube. Many of the others were web-only productions or pieces of writing. Some of the winners have not made money, and some have not even covered their costs from the projects.

There is a clear need for a much greater understanding of these very important issues in the months and years ahead.The mainstream media is still way behind in supporting and sustaining clear and relevant news on environmental issues that matter to us all. How to redress this imbalance is not easy, but it was good to see a group like Internews, who helped foster cross-border relations during the cold war, tackling the issue and working to put these environmental journalists and their very good stories in the spotlight.

Author's note:

This post was amended on December 17th, when it was pointed out by the organisers that although there were no other TV journalists (I was covering it for TV) present at the awards there were more than forty journalists there. However, after a search I have found only one article, from online portal in the press from a journalist who attended, and feel that the spirit of this post is even more relevent in light of that.

Copenhagen In Pictures

Participants gather near a cafe set up inside the Bela Center in Copenhagen to work, network and send out their reports.

Protestors outside the Bela Center. Reports say as many as a hundred thousand came to the protest. Most arrived in the darkness with children in tow and placards that read "There Is No Planet B"

An art installation outside the Bela Center in Copenhagen, representing the people who will be displaced by climate change.

Lillian Wafalme Tenda from Kenya sings after she receives the Earth Journalism Award from the BBC presenter Lyse Doucet and Italian Land and Sea Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo.

Winners of the Earth Journalism Awards gather on stage at the Danish Radio Hall.

A metro arrives at the Bela Center (in the background), where the delegates are holding the talks.

NOAA scientists from the USA explain the impacts of global warming on the oceans using an interactive globe to delegates and participants at the Conference.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Collaboration in Video

There are thousands of people lined up outside the Bela Center, where the talks are taking place. These people are not protesters, but participants who are waiting to get their pass to get in and get on with meetings and discussions.

The venue can accommodate 15,000 people, and right now there are 45,215 badges for entry that have been issued. I am inside, but whether that may be possible tomorrow I do not know. There is a plan to limit attendance a lot from Thursday, but UN personnel have admitted they had underestimated the numbers of people seeking accreditation. With many people literally out in the cold for what is now six hours, there does not seem to be a plan to deal with the problem.

Ecosystem Marketplace and I have joined forces to help bring the documentary out to the world. They have very helpfully launched it on their site. You can see the whole movie, Trading Trees in it's entirety.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Forest Day in Copenhagen

Nicholas Stern From the London School of Economics talks about sustainable forestry.

Today is forestry day. Behind me the buffet is set up, and I need it. Hours of listening to up to the minute analysis of the discussions and the future of forests have made my tummy empty and my head full. It is not an overstatement to say that here today the people I have been listening to are deciding the fate of millions of hectares of forests all over the world. There is a buzz, and a very open and clear discussion about how to incorporate forests into the carbon trading system.

The UK government says that they will put up 10 billion dollars to fund sustainable forestry practices under the new UN system that countries are putting into place here this week. The talks where those discussions are happening are called the REDD negotiations. REDD stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries. The current budget for the REDD program is 54 million dollars, so even lip service for ten billion dollars shows how seriously developed countries are taking this issue. The Minister of Environment in the UK, Hilary Benn, also made a pledge to push for the banning of any timber imports into Europe other than sustainably harvested wood.

Eduardo Braga, the Governor of Amazonas in Brazil explained how, through sustainable forest use, they had reduced the destruction of rain forest in his state (which is twice the size of France) from 100,000 square kilometers per year to 400 kilometers per year. He made am impassioned plea for the people who live in forests to be respected and involved in future projects, because without these people’s support, the projects will be doomed to failure.

Inside the REDD negotiations, which are by far some of the most important decisions being made here in Copenhagen, the head of the negotiation team, Tony Lavinda explained: “All parties all agree that respect for indigenous people’s rights must be respected, and especially women’s rights must be protected”. Women are often on the front line of forest destruction because they are the ons who collect firewood, and control this energy use in their households.

Lavinda, from the Philippines, help draft part of the original Kyoto Protocol, and ended his talk with the most uplifting words heard all day: “Dealing with markets will be difficult, so the ministers will be busy deciding. But we expect a deal will be made at the minister level this week. It’s just a question of timing on when to send up the negotiations to the political level, but I am optimistic, I think we will have an agreement that is good for climate, good for finance and good for people and communities.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saturday in Copenhagen

Five in the afternoon in downtown Copenhagen, billed as "Hope-nhagen".

Cold, crazy, uplifting and depressing. The climate convention is all this and more. There are dozens of presentation rooms, where anything from an almost living globe that shows the earth's changing climate to a new engine from Brazil called the Keppe Motor that promises a 70% drop in power usage for all small electrical appliances.

This is clearly where the world meets. Turbaned sheiks rub shoulders with Baltimore bureaucrats, and through it all...dare i say it? An impending sense of doom.

A deal has not been cut by the underlings that the leaders can sit down and deliberate on. Today is the make or break day. I am off in a hurry to go to the center of town for the main protest. I think I am late, but the massive police presence and the freezing cold temperatures are enough to keep people off the streets....or maybe not.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Documentary

After six weeks and far, far too many tons of carbon burnt into the atmosphere, I present the documentary in three parts.

Youtube only allows movies of less than ten minutes, which necessitates the cutting into three.

Thank you to everyone who assisted me on this project. I am still looking for places and spaces to show this film here in Copenhagen and more widely. I am also looking to sell it, or get supporters who may wish to also present it. It is shot in high definition, and I hold copyright on all the material.

Pulitzer Center Collaboration

The melting glaciers of Alaska

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting seeks to fill a gap in media made by the collapse of the newspaper industry. In the past I have worked closely with them on many different projects, ranging from environments in conflict zones to the state of the world’s oceans, and the melting glaciers of Alaska. We have decided to join forces again for the Copenhagen Climate Conferecne, and share material and stories in hopes of it reaching a wider audience.

You can now read the subsequent stories both here and on their blog.

I am sitting in the plane writing this, somewhere high above Europe on my way from Madrid to Copenhagen.

Below the clouds are an unbroken blanket covering the earth. I have this profound feeling that this may be the last time I see the sun for a week or two, the weather in Copenhagen is rumored to be pretty shoddy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Leaving Africa

I am back at the Africa cafe in OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg. Maybe this blog should rather be the Road to OR Tambo, but this airport is a delivery mechanism for Copenhagen, where the climate conference started today. I will be there fashionably late, on Wednesday, after a short pit-stop in Madrid. I finished burning the first copy of the DVD 35 minutes before I left home. I started in this very chair, six weeks ago, to tell a story about Carbon Trading. I knew nothing really about it, since what I thought I knew was wrong. Now I have at least some part of the facts.

The burning of Africa's forests without replanting them is dead-end energy economy. They will be gone and what then will the poorest of the poor do for fuel? I have come to think of the problem as really a microcosm of the oil economy. That oil used to be trees and bushes and flowering plants, growing throughout the earths history. The oil will be gone one day, it's traces left floating around our globe, as welcome as in-laws at a bachelor party. All that ancient sunlight, transformed into energy you can pour into a tank, now burnt into our thin little atmosphere. By helping Africa get over it's one-way road to climate and energy disaster, the world will learn a few things about what to do after peak oil.

Copenhagen is important because it's a chance to get it right, to start making some concrete decisions about how we can begin the end of anthropomorphic climate change, and acknowledge our place in the world.

It may not be possible, but that the effort is being made at all is a major accomplishment that generations of naturalists from Hippocrates to Emmerson would applaud. However, I go to Copenhagen with a heavy heart. There are always two ways or more to look at things, but from what I have seen, amongst the destruction the few bright sparks are dim indeed. However, I am often reminded of something I saw written on an MDC staffer's computer in 2002 when I was shooting in Zimbabwe for Newsweek. Theirs was a clearly very hopeless cause, yet everyone worked tirelessly, as if victory was just around the corner. I was in and out of the office a lot, always worried about secret government agents nabbing me, but i had to be there. I always felt reassured by that saying....I don't know it well enough to look it up on the internet but gist is:

"Never forget that a small group of people can change the world, indeed it's the only thing that ever has."

I have a plane to catch.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hope In Malawi

It's the day before I leave for Copenhagen. Day before yesterday, I was out shooting pictures in the early morning of Malawi's charcoal trade. Since then I have trying to get on top of the video edit, but I wanted to take time out to share a very encouraging project from Malawi.

Forest destruction is a problem throughout the region, but in a small developing country like Malawi, it is an environmental catastrophe. Malawi is one of the most deforested countries in the world, and the remaining forests and woodlands are being cut down at an alarming rate. Throughout the country timber cutting and slash and burn agriculture by local communities has been reducing former forests to marginal farmland. A year ago, thick Miombo woodland covered the area in this photo above, near Mangochi, but the relentless need for energy from communities, and a lack of other viable fuel options has seen it disappear into a field of maize.

But there may be some hope. Technology is coming to the Malawian countryside, and it’s something to sing about. On a recent Sunday in Manjanja village, a group has gotten together, to sing, to gossip, and to make Mbaula Chititezo stoves. Linda Chiwaya explains how using this technology has changed life in her village.

“This Mbaula stove helps, because when we go to the forest to collect a bundle of firewood we use it very slowly. Before, with the three stone fire, we used one bundle per week, or even for just a few days. But now with this stove, one bundle lasts for two or even three weeks”.

Hestian Innovations
, a plucky Irish company concerned about deforestation and looking for ways to get Africa involved in the carbon economy, appreciated the difficulty of Carbon Trading through forestry . They looked at the problem a different way, what if they could reduce forest destruction by using technology to reduce wood consumption, and in turn reduce CO2 emissions.

They have been partnering with local and international NGOs to distribute and monitor the use of these stoves, verifying that people are using them. They want to have at least sixty thousand of them working in the country by the middle of next year.

Tobacco is one of the main cash crops throughout Malawi. The most lucrative tobacco is cured in wood-fired kilns. The technology that Hestian Innovations is promoting reduces wood consumption in these kilns by about fifty percent. These are called rocket barns and in two years they have sold almost a thousand of them.

By selling stoves and barns through miro-loans on a massive scale, and using carbon financing to help fund part of the costs, they reduce carbon emissions and make their money through a long term monitoring system, which measures how much CO2 is not going into the atmosphere. This is important. This long-term monitoring is necessary for the certified carbon credits to be issued. It is a long-term commitment that is rare in Africa, even among aid agencies, and right now that commitment is coming from Carbon Trading.

By reducing wood consumption, reducing emissions, and in turn reducing the need to cut down forests, Hestian Innovations is a rare success story for Carbon Trading in Africa. Conor Fox from Hestian Innovations explains that they chose this route out of necessity:

“If we could get carbon credits, CERs, through the CDM system for reforesting with smallholder farmers, we would love to do it. But we know that it’s just too difficult, it’s just too complicated, so we are better off focusing on energy efficiency”.

This is the Mbaula Chititezo Stove. It's name means environmental protection.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Malawi's Forests

A waterfall fills a small forest pool, deep in an ancient African hardwood forest.

I am sitting here, editing, with thousands of ideas and images and facts in my head. With my trip into Mozambique two days ago, I have cut my time for getting this edit done a bit short, but it was worth it.

On my way back I stopped off near Mount Mulanje, just over the Mozambican border. In amongst the tee plantations on the flanks of this massive mountain, a few rare stands of ancient hardwood forest still cast their shadows. In a hidden, secret place, is a crystal pool filled by a clear small waterfall. It reminded me again why I am doing this project. Forests are worth saving, they give us water, they give us fuel, they give us a peace of mind that simply defies description. In amongst the carbon trading lingo gobbledy-gook and the convoluted logic of the various agreements and amendments, it is vital not lose site of the facts. Forests are disappearing, we are cutting them down, and we need them.

William Kamkwamba has become somewhat famous. He is the boy who built a windmill in his rural Malawian village, one that generates electricity, out of old car parts. He has appeared in many newspapers, and has put out a very good book, called The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind.

Every time I drive the airport road in Blantyre I pass William's old windmill, or one just like it at least. It reminds me to always remember what is possible, and even if you are dirt poor, have little education, and fewer prospects, you too can come up with an idea to change the world.

William has this say about deforestation on Page 77 of his very good book:

"Few people realize this, but cutting down the trees is one of the things that keeps us Malawians poor. Without the trees, the rains turn to floods and wash away the soil and all its minerals. The soil - along with loads of garbage, - runs into the Shire River, clogging up the dams with silt and trash and shutting down the turbine. Then the power plant has to stop all operations and dredge the river, which in turn causes power cuts. And because this process is so expensive, the power company has to charge extra for electricity, making it even more difficult to afford. So with no crops to sell because of drought and floods, and with no electricity because of clogged rivers and high prices, many people feed their families by cutting down trees for firewood or selling it for charcoal. It's like that."

Monday, November 30, 2009

A picture is worth a thousand words

I am in Malawi at the moment, editing very hard to get the documentary done before Copenhagen next week.

Nevertheless, I am spending today going in to Mozambique for a last bit of coverage, where a public-private partnership is trying to reforest hardwood trees, and provide an income for people from forests.

Yesterday I finished a slide show of the South African project on Spekboom, the hardy little bush that may help stop Climate Change in that area and bring in some carbon cash.

Herewith is that piece:

Friday, November 27, 2009

CBC Radio Interview

Chopping down hardwood Miombo forest on Malosa Mountain in Malawi for charcoal.

I have just returned from visiting Hestian Innovations, a company that supplies very fuel efficient cooking solutions for home and business use in Malawi, reducing forest destruction. They also are trying to clean up the emissions of the Tobacco Industry in Malawi, and use those emission reductions to make carbon credits.

Before I left for the bush, I was interviewed by Rick Macinnes-Rae at the Canadian Broadcasting about the documentary project.

Here is that interview and link, quoted directly from the CBC website:

"Africa's quest for carbon credits

Africa has always been a land of old deserts. But ominously now, it's seeing the start of new ones. And it feels like a victim of a problem it's had little part in causing.

In fact, a group of 55 African states are so fed up with the global failure to reduce carbon emissions, they're threatening to boycott the U.N.'s climate change conference in Copenhagen next month.

Africa wants to be able to sell itself as a continent of "carbon sink forests," where countries over quota on carbon emissions can buy credits, from African states that aren't.

And one of the best carbon an ugly little tree, according to Jeff Barbee.

He's a photojournalist based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and he's working on a documentary about Africa's forests. His work on the environment has appeared in various publications including The New York Times and Smithsonian Magazine.

Rick's discussion with Jeff..."

The link to countrywide radio program:


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Trading Africa's Trees - Lessons From Tanzania

I am sitting again at the departures lounge of Oliver Tambo International airport in Johannesburg. Still worried about my carbon footprint, watching all the jets take off. I have decided that when I find the right project, and maybe I already have, I will offset all my Carbon usage from the this project, and make it a habit from now on. I will share that process, and make suggestions, etc. I hope this project will inform you enough to make your own choices.

I am flying off to Malawi for the third part of the documentary, working with Hestian Innovations as they struggle to get certified for their Carbon offsets. They have some very active community projects that are dedicated to reducing Africa's dependence on fuel from wood.

Over the last few days I put together a short piece of the Tanzania video. My breakfast is getting cold, and I am running on four hours of sleep after a marathon editing session last night.

You can view the video right here or click it to watch it on my You Tube channel.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Positive Change in South Africa- An Environmental Success Story

I have just returned to the busy city of Johannesburg after three days in one of South Africa's most beautiful areas, the Baavianskloof in the Eastern Cape. In a model program, the South African and Dutch governments have partnered together with civil society organizations and local communities to restore the environment. This area used to be covered in sub-tropical thicket, made up mostly of the humble Spekboom tree. This tree secured water in the soil, and built up an ecosystem that supported a vast array of plants and animals. Spekboom also secures carbon in the soil, a lot of carbon. When the vegetation was stripped off the landscape by farmer's sheep and goats, the climate changed radically, forcing many to leave farming altogether. Water rushed out of valleys that used to have wetlands, and desertification set in.

A reserve, called the Baavianskloof Mega-Reserve was created out of these former farmlands, and it is from this reserve that the partners hope to rebuild the shattered ecology of the area, and bring back the water that helped make this place a World Heritage site. Farmers and local communities hope that by certifying carbon from this massive replanting scheme, money will flow back to them and revive an economy every bit as broken as the environment.

I joined one of the Working For Water teams to bring you this report from deep in the Baavianskloof.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Too Much Carbon

A remnant of ancient hardwood forest burns in Tanzania's central highlands.

Published scientists agree that climate change is happening at a greater rate than expected. This is alarming, and the latest data provides even grimmer forecasts. The US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Research Laboratory believes that we may not see the effect of a drastic reduction in emissions for thousands of years. What that means in clear, strait-forward parlance is that there is seemingly nothing we can do stop runaway climate change. Critics of climate change policy have used this to scrap the idea of carbon trading am emissions reductions.

That would be a mistake, says Dr Susan Soloman, the author of the research. This is the woman who alerted the world to danger of the ozone hole in the ninteen eighties, which resulted in a global ban on CFCs. She feels it is entirely necessary to cut our emissions at once, as deeply as we can, because the long-term impact of our current global warming event is so serious that it will essentially affect the whole future of our species, and many that we share the planet with.

I will not get into the long-winded details of all the arguments for and against climate change or the reduction in greenhouse gases like carbon. The science is sound, and to me it is simply a foregone conclusion that humanity has increased carbon emissions and cut down our forests, eliminating the massive carbon sinks that regulated our carbon system. I have seen it in person.

If we look at the knock-on effects of carbon mitigating legislation, it means more forests, less pollution, happier people, development for the underdeveloped countries, cleaner cars, and an attempt to make those who have profited from pollution to make financial and social amends. As far as the downside of carbon mitigation, the nay-sayers point out that it costs money. That may or may not be true, depending on who you talk to.

The work I have done so far, in Tanzania and Mozambique has exposed some serious problems in getting Clean Development Mechanism (CDM- remember?) accreditation for carbon sequestration projects in Africa. But it must be pointed out that even the most jaded project developers, who have no hope of getting their carbon credits accredited, have agreed that Carbon Trading is a good thing, and that it should definitely be included in the next generation of the Kyoto Protocol.

Across the board, from well-financed securities traders to farmers who have been planting their own forests in Tanzania, everyone agrees that its a great idea, but the entry-level investments need to be lowered and the whole process needs to be streamlined so more people can enter the market. That is something the negotiators in Copenhagen should well take heed of. There is a groundswell of interest in becoming part of the carbon economy, now people just need the financial tools to get involved.

A farmer I know near Johannesburg generates power from a river system, and sells it back to the power grid in South Africa, which is running on coal. So by using his relatively clean energy to supply the nation, he is cutting down on coal emmisions. By the spirit of carbon trading, he has carbon to "sell". But he can't because as I mentioned in earlier entries, he is too small, the process of accrediation too labyrinthine.

So why is this imporant? Because we simply have to cut our emissions, according to the latest work, and any way we can do that better, faster and more directly, the better off our descendents will be. So how much is too much? or just enough?

There is global movement right now called This group has rallied around a paper produced by Dr. James Hansen of NASA (of Al Gore's hockey-stick fame). This paper says that at the moment we are sitting at about 370 Parts Per Million (ppm) of atmostpheric carbon dioxide. We need to reduce that to about 350 ppm as soon as possible to prevent runaway climate change.

So yes, we are further descending into acronym hell, which, if you are a good study and have been reading all the posts, would have you understand the following sentence completely.

NOAA and NASA all agree that the CDM at COP15 must be further developed to reduce our CO2 emissions to around 350 ppm.

If you didnt follow that, dont worry. I am not a very good study either. In laymens terms:

We have to stop throwing pollution into the air, and the very smart people in white coats who are not known for being alarmist are rasing the alarm that we are not doing it fast enough, and have to do much better.

The good news is that we can.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Carbon Trading 101

A Hardwood Forest in Mozambique in danger of being cut down by loggers.

Its important to understand the very basic basics of Carbon Trading. It is not complicated. Lets say I am a big stinky polluting utility company. I throw out thousands of tons of carbon and other noxious greenhouse gasses like methane every day. You are a forest, and you suck up carbon emissions like mine. Essentially I pay you to suck. The emissions. That I produce. This is the essesnce of the system.

That makes me carbon neutral, I pay your forest to stand and suck the carbon I produce in excess of a proscribed amount (like the proposed United States' Cap and Trade system). That makes me carbon neutral, but it also stops you from cutting down your carbon sucking forest. I think its pretty strait-forward. But sadly the Kyoto Protocol was not made to support standing forests. The Kyoto protocol was made to prevent a nasty polluting company from doing more damage.

So its relatively easy to get carbon credits for say, stopping pollution by putting on scrubbers to my smokestack (then I can sell Carbon too!) but very very hard to get credits by keeping or planting a standing forest. So Carbon Trading as most people see it today is not working. The rules are so convoluted that it is impossible (or almost) for a forestry project to get certified.

The Kyoto protocol allows for polluters to get carbon credits for cleaning up their act, it does not make much allowance for forests that actually remove the carbon from the air to get Carbon Credits. The numbers say everything. Only two….yes that’s right, only two whole forestry projects in all of Africa have gotten certified to sell carbon credits. More than two hundred have attempted or applied. One of them is the Green Resources project in Tanzania.

Before launching into what is essentially the gist of my documentary, and showering my poor readers with lots of acronyms and carbon-science related gobbledy-gook, I would like to de-mystify one very important term. The Clean Development Mechanism, or CDM. Learn it, know that term by heart. Repeat it three times in your head. Without this term you will be forever lost in acronym hell. Whenever you hear or read the term CDM, just think THE RULES. Within this mechanism are all the rules and jargon and simply everything to do with the current carbon-trading system. CDM is the bible of Carbon Trading. If your project is not CDM certified, then according the Kyoto Protocol, you have a limited ability to sell your carbon, no matter how good your science is, no matter that you planted five million trees this year and want people to buy your carbon, which you clearly have, if your project is not CDM certified, then you cannot sell it freely on the open market. If you have CDM certification, you have carbon to trade, if you don’t have CDM certification, you may trade in carbon but just not on the open market. I am banging on about this because it is important. It is the crux of the biscuit, as Frank Zappa famously quoted.

According to Eco-securities, one of the biggest carbon trading companies in the world, the amount of money and total carbon credits earned from CDM-certified carbon trades in Africa is a paltry 3% of the world-wide total.

So much for Carbon Trading uplifting developing countries. That number represents a total failure of the system, since that was one of it’s founding edicts, to uplift developing countries. So how did this system fail so spectacularly? How can success be hornswoggled from the jaws of defeat?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tanzania -Land of Trees, Sort Of

Charcoal made from Tanzania's hardwood above, and Green Resource's tree farming project in the central highlands of the country.

I am back from my week in Tanzania. I was deep in the bush and far from computers and internet connections. It is possible to do that these days but it did involve a three hour flight to Dar Es Salaam from Johannesburg, an eleven hour drive in a 4x4, then another four hours on a road barely worthy of the term. I learned a lot during my hectic fourteen-hour work days. I am producing, directing and shooting this documentary alone, so I am busy and have a lot to process, not only physically but mentally as well.

Tanzania’s environment, like much of Southern Africa’s, is in crisis. The booming cities of the region rely on bio-fuel. Not the type that we think of in the developed world, made from old frying oil or crops grown for diesel, but the old traditional kind. Charcoal. Charcoal is essentially solidified carbon. Thousands of people, perhaps hundreds of thousands, are cutting down the hardwood forests of the region and making charcoal out of them and millions of people rely on it every day, to cook, to stay warm, to live. The charcoal funnels into cities along crowded roads, stacked in bags hundreds high, each bag representing three massive hardwood trees.

The method they use, digging pits, throwing in rough logs, and letting it burn without oxygen only yields about 10% of the energy in the tree when the end-user uses it for fuel. In the process, according to experts like Ashoka fellow Alan Schwarz, hundreds of thousands of hectares of hardwood forests are disappearing every year in each country. As development takes off, which is has, that number rises. These trees are not being replaced. The cutting of forests, the burning of them into the sky and transport of what is left is having a serious impact on the region’s ability to not only contain it’s carbon, but also on the energy dead-end that such use implies. When the trees are gone, how will the people survive? What will they use for energy?

In a perfect world, the trees would be replanted, thus making a carbon-neutral closed system. But in Africa today not one government has a wide-spread tree-planting program. In Tanzania I visited a program created by Norwegian company Green Resources to help address this disparity. The program is essentially using fast-growing exotic tree species as carbon crops and local energy sources. They also make carbon-neutral charcoal for the local market out of the waste of the logging and timber operations.

A hardwood tree, depending upon it’s type, can take from twenty to sixty years to grow to maturity. There is every reason to begin the replanting of these species as soon as possible, but in the meantime Green Resources is planting thousands of hectares of species like pine and eucalyptus that mature in about ten years. They are also giving away about twenty percent of the their seedling production to local communities, so that each farmer plants a woodlot, where they can grow their own fuel and also make cash by selling the timber. It has been a huge success, and I saw woodlots all over their communities, so different from even close neighbors, who live in what amounts to little more than a desert.

By creating a bio-fuel economy based on quickly renewable species (like these fast-growing crop-like trees), rather than on cutting down and burning ancient trees, Green Resources has succeeded in slowing forest destruction and giving people some sort of alternative. That is something governments across the region should learn from. It’s a stop-gap measure, and not a replacement for the hardwood, but it is working. Many environmentalists complain that these are invasive trees that choke of water supplies, but in the high-rainfall area that Green Resources has chosen, this stop-gap solution seems to be working.

Every household in the region, not just in a few disparate communities, could plant trees, and use their own timber for their energy needs. This would preserve the remnants of the vast hardwood forests and allow locals to profit from them as valuable resources. When well- managed, the true forests can uplift communities by sustainable harvesting of the precious hardwood, selling forest products to the developed world, and of course selling the carbon credits gained by their preservation.

This last part, as I have learned in the last week, is tricky.

Friday, October 30, 2009

On The Road

I am off to Tanzania today to cover the first part of the three part documentary. The sun glints off the new paint of the airplanes around me as I sit in the Africa Lounge overlooking the runway. I am acutely aware of my own carbon footprint, not only from this project but all my travels. Part of my impetus for creating this documentary is to find the best way to neutralize my own carbon footprint. I will happiily share what I find out.

The project in Tanzania is on Forestry.

I am curious to find out how forestry works within the present Kyoto Protocol, and why so few forestry projects in Africa have succeeded in registering their projects with the Clean Development Mechamism (CDM) that allows the carbon they sequester to be sold on the open market. To date there are only a few, and Green Resources, which runs this project I am visiting in Sao Hill, has a good track record of regsitration and carbon removal.

I will be high up in the forests, so may be unable to attend to my blog, but will update it as much as possible while on the road.

My flight is being called. Time to lay down more carbon in the atmostphere and get on my three hour flight over southern Africa.

Jeffrey Barbee
Octber 30th, Oliver Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Road to Copenhagen

Sliverback Gorilla in the Virungas, Central Africa
By Jeffrey Barbee

Today is the start of my road to Copenhagen, where the COP15 climate congress will happen in December. I have embarked on a trip of discovery of how Carbon Trading works in Africa, who should benefit, who does benefit and what could be done to make it better.

Why here? Why not on my blog at Global Post? In short, I have been bitten by the Jeff Jarvis bug. It's insidious, all-pervasive, and intends to disrupt the inner working of every business on the planet, including mine. (Oops it already has!) Right now, sitting next to my loo, five stories above Johannesburg, South Africa, is his book What Would Google Do? (WWGD) It is gift from my father, the cross-platform international development guru John Barbee, and a road-map to all things googley. He deserves some credit for the launch of this blog, which I hope will become a source for bringing together all the different aspects of what defines my work and how it gets done, starting with The Road to Copenhagen.

I aim to bring as many people as possible on this journey, so invite your friends. I will be sharing some of the on-the-ground realities of Global Warming, Climate Change and most importantly, what we can do about it. Copenhagen is coming. This much-vaunted conference will, if you believe the mainstream media, either doom us all to a world hotter than hell, or will save us from disaster. I will be there to tell the real story as I see it, and presenting, over the next six weeks a series of short videos that will make up a documentary that will be shown to delegates and the public during the conference.

Only by seeing what benefits have already come from the Kyoto Protocol, and where it fell totally flat, will the world be able to re-craft it into something better, something workable, and something that makes a real difference in the lives of people in the developing world.

So in that vein, I am traveling to Copenhagen, through Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa. A circuitous route, to be sure, but in fact the three projects I am profiling in these three countries should be looked at as signposts on the road to a lower carbon future. They may be successful or they may be struggling, but all of them offer a window into the realities of changing our relationship with the natural world, from extraction to custodianship.

I have no illusions. Previous stories like my trip through the Atlantic two years ago, and some of the work I have done with the New York Times, The Guardian, The Pulitzer Center, and Global Post all illustrate the dire straits of our planet's ecology. But we shall be judged in the future not only for what we have done, but also for what we may fail to do. It is this failure I hope to address, for our future is not written in stone, and humanity has an incredible ability to adjust and adapt in times of need. This project aims to show a possible way forward, a chance to change it all around. Maybe our last chance.

I will be watching the sunrise through the forests of Tanzania, talking to the movers and shakers of the carbon markets, visiting the most deforested country on Earth, and much more, so join in, get involved and feel free to send your comments and suggestions in. This is your chance be part of the road to Copenhagen.

I would like to think that if Google were to make an educational and entertaining documentary with this purpose, this is What Google Would Do. So thank you Jeff Jarvis, for a very fine book.
Jeffrey barbee October 26, 2009
South Africa