A Clear Cut Crisis

A CLEAR CUT CRISIS…. Tropical deforestation contributes more to global warming than all the vehicles on earth. Does the world have a plan to deal with it?

We tend to think of climate change as just a matter of what comes out of smokestacks and tailpipes — an energy issue. In fact, tropical forest loss accounts for a fifth or more of all carbon emissions into the atmosphere, more than all the motor vehicles on the planet combined. The reason isn’t hard to understand. Plants absorb carbon through photosynthesis. Dense tropical forests, which cover just 7 percent of the earth’s dry land, store nearly half of all terrestrial carbon. And those forests are being cut down at an alarming rate. If we can’t stop this from happening, the chances of successfully staving off the worst effects of climate change are slim to none.

Policymakers in the United States and elsewhere are waking up to this fact, and there is growing momentum behind market-based solutions by which wealthy countries would pay developing ones to preserve tropical forests through such means as a global carbon-trading system. The landmark American Clean Energy and Security Act, which passed the House of Representatives last month and will get a hearing in the Senate later this year, incorporates tropical forest conservation into its cap-and-trade system. Deforestation is also on the agenda for the UN climate talks in Copenhagen this December, where the international community is supposed to finalize a post-Kyoto treaty for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

“A Clear Cut Crisis,” a special report in the July/August issue of the Washington Monthly, looks at the risks that deforestation poses to the planet and what can be done to stop it. The package includes:

* A ground-level investigation of the new market-based efforts to preserve tropical forests by environmental writer Rhett Butler

* Reporting and analysis by the Guardian’s David Adam on the politics surrounding the Copenhagen talks

* Time’s Michael Grunwald on the merits of industrial agriculture

* Christian Science Monitor correspondent Mark Rice-Oxley on the promise and peril of second-generation biofuels

* Former Guardian environment correspondent Paul Brown on frightening new findings about how drought affects tropical rainforests

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