Canada’s Boreal Forest Is a Carbon Bomb Unless We Keep It Intact
This is a transcript of the video.
Here we are in a cold, wet boreal bog in Canada, where the moss grows quickly and the trees grow slowly.
When the trees die and fall, that dead wood sits in an acidic, low-oxygen environment where bacteria is very, very slow to break it down, so it continues to hold its carbon. The next year's dead stuff falls on top of it, and more falls on top of that, so this peat moss builds up over millennia and grows meters and meters deep.
If you burned all of the oil you could possible extract from all the fossil fuel reserves around the world, it would release less than the amount of carbon that is currently stored in Canada's boreal forest.
This is what's called a carbon sink: Carbon sinks pull carbon out of the atmosphere and stash it away.
A lot of discussion about stopping global warming focuses on reducing our carbon emissions. That is a very good idea. But we also need to keep carbon that is locked up in forests out of the atmosphere in order to stay below 2 degrees of global warming, which scientists agree is a critical threshold for life on earth as we know it.
If you log this forest, you're basically exposing it to a lot more oxygen, and the peat starts decomposing. There's a huge initial release of carbon when the trees in a forest are clearcut, and over time that area continues to emit carbon.
Each year, clearcutting across the boreal forest releases more than 26 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That's more than the annual emissions of some entire countries.
Some people claim that replanting the forest cancels out those emissions, but that's not true. The rate at which growing baby trees can pull carbon out of the air is not matching the pace of clearcutting. And these new forests are not reclaiming all the very old carbon that was released when ancient soils were turned over during logging.
There are alternative ways to produce things like toilet paper and newspaper besides destroying intact forest.
Indigenous peoples have lived off of and cared for the Canadian boreal for generations. They've seen firsthand how logging forever alters the character of the forest and how wildlife don't return to replanted mono crops of new trees. They have been stewards of the forest for thousands of years. Maybe we should be taking our forest-management cues from them.
As the climate changes, the boreal is projected to warm much more quickly than other parts of the world. The double whammy of both logging and warming will weaken one of our strongest defenses against climate change: a large, intact boreal forest.
This forest will become a carbon bomb that will not only forever alter the lives of indigenous peoples, but all our lives, if we don't do everything we can to protect it.
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