Category “The Forest Foundation”

Global Forests showing Signs of Impending Extinction

Friday, 28 December, 2012

This is from the NY Times.

"As Forests Disappear, Examining the Mechanisms of Their Death"

"A recent study found that 70 percent of 226 forest species from 81 sites worldwide now live on the edge of this so-called hydraulic failure. "  We don't even understand how the trees are dying, from hydraulic failure and/or starvation. Sadly it seems much science of today has transformed into a death watch.

New Research indicating Agricultural production will be severaly impacted by Climate Change

Friday, 28 December, 2012

This is a great piece of “connect the dots” journalism that the scientific community is afraid or unable to do.

“If extreme weather becomes the norm, starvation awaits”

“I believe we might have made a mistake: a mistake whose consequences, if I am right, would be hard to overstate. I think the forecasts for world food production could be entirely wrong. Food prices are rising again, partly because of the damage done to crops in the northern hemisphere by ferocious weather. In the US, Russia and Ukraine, grain crops were clobbered by remarkable droughts. In parts of northern Europe, such as the UK, they were pummeled by endless rain.

Even so, this is not, as a report in the Guardian claimed last week, “one of the worst global harvests in years”. It’s one of the best. World grain production last year was the highest on record; this year’s crop is just 2.6% smaller. The problem is that, thanks to the combination of a rising population and the immoral diversion of so much grain into animal feed and biofuels, a new record must be set every year. Though 2012’s is the third biggest global harvest in history (after 2011 and 2008), this is also a year of food deficit, in which we will consume 28m tonnes more grain than farmers produced. If 2013’s harvest does not establish a new world record, the poor are in serious trouble.

So the question of how climate change might alter food production could not be more significant. It is also extremely hard to resolve, and relies on such daunting instruments as “multinomial endogenous switching regression models“. The problem is that there are so many factors involved. Will extra rainfall be cancelled out by extra evaporation? Will the fertilising effect of carbon dioxide be more powerful than the heat damage it causes? To what extent will farmers be able to adapt? Will new varieties of crops keep up with the changing weather?

But, to put it very broadly, the consensus is that climate change will hurt farmers in the tropics and help farmers in temperate countries. A famous paper published in 2005 concluded that if we follow the most extreme trajectory for greenhouse gas production (the one we happen to be on at the moment), global warming would raise harvests in the rich nations by 3% by the 2080s, and reduce them in the poor nations by 7%. This gives an overall reduction in the world’s food supply (by comparison to what would have happened without manmade climate change) of 5%.

Papers published since then support this conclusion: they foresee hard times for farmers in Africa and south Asia, but a bonanza for farmers in the colder parts of the world, whose yields will rise just as developing countries become less able to feed themselves. Climate change is likely to be devastating for many of the world’s poor. If farmers in developing countries can’t compete, both their income and their food security will decline, and the number of permanently malnourished people could rise. The nations in which they live, much of whose growth was supposed to have come from food production, will have to import more of their food from abroad. But in terms of gross commodity flows the models do not predict an insuperable problem.

So here’s where the issue arises. The models used by most of these papers forecast the effects of changes in averaged conditions. They take no account of extreme weather events. Fair enough: they’re complicated enough already. But what if changes in the size of the global harvest are determined less by average conditions than by the extremes?

This is what happened in 2012. This is what seems likely to happen in subsequent years. Here’s why. A paper this year by the world’s leading climate scientist, James Hansen, shows that the frequency of extremely hot events (such as the droughts which hammered the US and Russia) has risen by a factor of about 50 by comparison with the decades before 1980. Forty years ago, extreme summer heat typically affected between 0.1 and 0.2% of the globe. Today it scorches some 10%. “We can project with a high degree of confidence,” the paper warns, “that the area covered by extremely hot anomalies will continue to increase during the next few decades and even greater extremes will occur.” Yet these extremes do not feature in the standard models predicting changes in crop production.

If the mechanism proposed by another paper is correct, it is not just extremes of heat that are likely to rise. I’ve explained this before, but I think it’s worth repeating. The jet stream is a current of air travelling eastwards around the upper northern hemisphere. It separates the cold wet weather to the north from the warmer, drier weather to the south. Wobbling along this ribbon are huge meanders called Rossby waves. As the Arctic heats up, the meanders slow down and become steeper. The weather gets stuck.

Stuck weather is another way of saying extreme weather. If the jet stream is jammed to the north of where you are, the weather stays hot and dry, and the temperature builds up – and up. If it’s lodged to the south of you, the rain keeps falling, the ground becomes saturated and the rivers burst their banks. This summer the UK and the US seem to have found themselves on opposite sides of stuck meanders, and harvests in both countries were savaged by opposing extremes of weather.

This is where we stand with just 0.8 degrees of global warming and a 30% loss of summer sea ice. Picture a world with two, four or six degrees of warming and a pole without ice, and you get some idea of what could be coming.

Farmers in the rich nations can adapt to a change in averaged conditions. It is hard to see how they can adapt to extreme events, especially if those events are different every year. Last winter, for example, I spent days drought-proofing my apple trees, as the previous spring had been so dry that – a few weeks after pollination – most of the fruit shrivelled up and died. This spring was so wet that the pollinators scarcely emerged at all: it was the unfertilised blossom that withered and died. I thanked my stars that I don’t make my living this way.

Perhaps there is no normal any more. Perhaps the smooth average warming trends that the climate models predict – simultaneously terrifying and oddly reassuring – mask wild extremes for which no farmer can plan and to which no farmer can respond. Where does that leave a world which must either keep raising production or starve?”

A fully referenced version of this article can be found at

• This article was amended on 16 October to say that the jet stream travels eastwards, rather than westwards

Bill McKibben Do the Math Tour. It hurts so good?!

Friday, 23 November, 2012

The “Do the Math Tour” hit Durham Monday with a good punch, hopefully kicking our progressive community in the ass with a stark reality, (my take away was little of what we do is nearly enough to make a dent unless the “tent” gets much larger and more focused).  Michael Brune, Sierra Club President, was brought to tears as he explained digging out his childhood home from several feet of storm water and sand from Hurricane Sandy.  Only a Class I Hurricane, but it set records for: 1) it late arrival, 2) lowest barometric pressure north of Cape Hatteras, and 3) largest ever tropical storm, wind field.  But it was the storm surge that really was the devastating blow.  This follows on a year and a decade of steadily more catastrophic weather events, statistically correlated with anthropogenic global warming (See Jansen on Midwest Drought, a first time when a leading scientist may the case that a specific weather phenomenon was directly correlated to anthropogenic carbon).  And we are just getting started with less than .8 degrees Celsius.

New reports came out this week prior to the Doha IPPC meetings from IEA, WMO and World Bank characterizing the “dire” and grim forecast for the planet.  Now the conservative leadership is saying not 2 degrees, but lets not go 4 degrees Celsius global mean average, which has a high probability of where we are heading.  350 ppm is what many believed as the top end (hence the name of Bill’s org.).  We blew by that this year and are at 390 ppm  right now.  The Holocene oscillated closely around 180 to 280 or less (350 is likely too high).  At the rate we are going, we are headed towards 800 ppm, primarily due to the residual time of carbon in the atmosphere, over a 1000 years.  Sadly, in an article in part of McKibbens “Do the Math Reader,” it seems the “global leadership” already recognizes 550ppm is the low ball figure to be expected.  (Not sure what 2 degrees Celsius is in ppm–that would have been good for his presentation to highlight from a marketing standpoint).

This brings us back to the Do the Math Tour.  McKibben could make a career in comedy, “I am here to bum people out.” That he did, but with brilliant dry wit, part revival, part Movement building.  His Rolling Stone article received more hits than Justin Bieber, even though Bill said he didn’t have the “longing stare of the bare chested Bieber” that cover the magazine in which his article appeared!

Brune on the other hand remains optimistic.  After reading his book (Coming Clean: Breaking America’s Addiction to Oil), I was sickened by the upbeat appraisal of our situation and lack of historical balance that calls out the mistakes and failures.  McKibben, on the other hand, is the most articulate synthesizer of our day , placing blame where it is due, but boldly promoting collaboration and action, now on two fronts: 1) divestiture from fossil fuel companies, and 2) civil disobedience.  His description of jail in DC for the Keystone Protest was smack on.  It is time for us to stand up.

Yet, things do not look good.  The window of opportunity is closing fast.  There is already too much carbon in the system to avoid serious impacts.  But if we don’t do something immediately, we are doomed to a world that will be hellish, in the least.  We really have no idea how bad “bad” will be, given feed back loops that are poorly understood and modeled, but we do know we have broken the system.

This article is reflective of the new efforts by some in the media to connect the dots, something most scientists have refused to do:

It is a pretty impacting piece, not only in its pick up by Yahoo. News for redistribution (and likely readership), but due to the content of supposition and implications on climate change.  This is the first time I have read the extent of causal connection tracing Sea Ice loss to Jet Stream oscillation to higher extremes in both periodicity and intensity of Storm Systems.  This is a phenomenal piece of journalism, except for some outrageous lines that pour calm wind over what should be a red flag of warning.  The Arctic Ridge is weakening/fluctuating, and plays an important role pinning the jet stream in a somewhat periodic oscillation.  It’s loss means the weather systems, lows and highs, get blocked from moving, causing drought and flood and their impacts to pile up.

McKibben, unlike our scientific community, has also connected the dots and placed in context what is happening and where we are going.  He is a leader who underestimates his own style, self-demeaning manner and his excellent power of articulation.  We need to heed his warning and rally behind his effort.

However, unlike the South Africa Divestiture Movement that brought about the collapse of Apartheid, the numbers are very different.  You have on the one hand, capitalism and its cheap energy addiction pushers, the Fossil Fuel Industry, and the fate of the planet on the other- a David and Goliath story on steroids.  The numbers are much bigger and the ideology much harder to break through.  We are comfortable living the lie, and there seems to be some evolutionary advantage to authoritarians stubborn conviction to a destructive habit.

South Africa was a small market for the industries that “played with the devil,” so the economic calculation was to lose value in global markets or exact change in South Africa, a pretty easy balance sheet.  Carbon is so much bigger in terms of numbers and impact.  To think that the fossil fuel industry is going to leave its’ enormous assets of reserves in the ground is “pie in the sky.”  But we have no other option, geo-engineering and carbon sequestration are absolute absurdities.  This means transitioning on a level of wartime, ramping up of alternative energy and efficiency, changing building codes and stopping “cold turkey” the burning of carbon.

I am certain we could do it if we had the leadership, or “political will” as Al Gore keeps saying.  However, the 1% and those of an ideological worldview that can not face the scientific reality will fight as if their livelihood depended on it.  And it does as Naomi Klein’s article in The Nation ( nails eloquently the framework of the debate.

Research on human behavior seems to show that instead of catastrophic events shaking our worldview and opening us up to new ways of looking at things, it reinforces and pushes us backward into regression and even greater assimilation with others of the like mentality.  Luckily there are more of us than them, but they hold most of the capital we need to shift our system.

Are we going to continue the Presidential debate that laid open the raw horror of our American capitalist system?  The Ayn Randians, Libertarians and 1%ers who resonate with Romneys “47%” moochers and “gifters”?  The Republicans are imploding and devouring themselves, which was inevitably with a platform so full of hate, fear and misperception. America is tired of the rhetoric and wanting to move on.  However, at the core of this 2012 election has been this issue of our worldview.  It is a spectrum, no doubt, but the dialog and debate has been heavily influenced and framed by a failed system that has broken our wonderful planet.

My guess is that civil disobedience, as McKibben suggests, is high on the list for everyone over 40. Divestiture, absolutely, but this should have been the case for academic assets decades ago.  Making money on the destruction of our planet isn’t a real smart move for institutions of higher learning, dedicated to helping young people have fulfilling lives.  Those under 40 are going to need to focus on techniques of survival and resiliency.  It is going to be a wild ride.  Thanks Bill for the wake up call and reality sandwich, it hurts so good?!

Burying Nuke energy in the scrap heap of technology

Wednesday, 16 March, 2011

Hi Everyone,

I, as many of you probably have, am receiving lots of anti-nuclear emails.  And yes, this disaster warrants the opportunity to “pile on” while the opportunity exists.  The nuke industry and utilities have enormous power and even have convinced some environmental groups to promote nukes as an option to “reduce CO2″, as well as help developing and developed countries alike meet their growing energy needs and “lift folks out of poverty.”  Duke Energy was lying to the NC Utilities Commission just yesterday, begging for $287 million for pre-planning another nuke plant. The Obama Admin. has caved under pressure from this powerful lobby (as well as others).

There is no evidence that these nuke plants need to be built in this country any time soon, particularly with tax payer subsidy, when there are many alternative energy sources and “low hanging fruit” available.  Current nuke technology should never be used, as much as our bright engineers claim they have all the variables covered with redundancy and fail safe mechanisms. Those currently generating need to be decommissioned, as they end their useful life, or sooner, based on safety audits.  However, there are newer designs, generation IV reactors that hold some promise of being small, scalable, less dangerous and possibly useful for developing countries that have no alternative resources to meet their growing energy needs.  Research should continue on these systems.

Given dangerous climate disruption, it is likely that resulting severe economic disruption will drop demands for energy globally.  Equally, such dramatic shifts in weather may also cause horrendous storms, where winds and floods could impact reactor designs.  Importantly for us here in the southeast is the potential for severe drought, reducing water available for cooling of reactors.  This is what happened in Japan.  The combined earthquake and tsunami knocked their cooling system off line just long enough to allow overheating, explosions and subsequent meltdown.  This could happen with some systems here in the States, high impact, low probability risk.

The pile on to take nukes off the table is an opportunity, just as the BP oil spill was to reduce our fossil fuel dependence.  Sadly, nothing came of that horrendous event last summer.  Was this a failure of “we the addicted to oil” people, or the power of the fossil fuel industry over our leadership?  This event may be repeated.  Given the “out of sight, out of mind” insidious slow death by radiation exposure, the needed public reaction may be muted and fade easily, (like the interest in the march of liberty in the middle-east?).  Maybe we are over exposed to media hype and quickly tire of the sorrow and futility.

Burying nuclear power in the scrap heap of engineering technology may be a good idea, but it has to be placed in perspective of the hubris of humankind’s disconnection with our planet.  Sinking one more penny in outdated technology is one less penny that can be directed (of the limited pennies we have) in the alternative, green economy. We need to keep focus, which is getting money out of politics, getting a carbon tax, the ramp up of alternative energy and the stopping of one more ounce of burned fossil fuel.  Oh yeah, and getting our hearts right, critical…



Greening of the UNC Greeks

Thursday, 24 February, 2011

Starting in the Spring of 2011, The Forest Foundation, with the help of the Greek Sustainability Council and Dr. Sandy Smith-Nonini’s Environmental Justice Class, have engaged the UNC Greek houses in a wide range of greening initiatives.  Thanks to Reverend Robert Campbell, the Chef at Pi Kappa Alpha and member of the RENA Community who came by our pedicab at the Transitions meeting in Carrboro in the Fall of 2010, we have adopted this project.  TFF sees the benefits and impacts of helping these historical student groups “transition” to a greener economy and healthier lifestyle.  “We hope to have some fun and learn something too,” says TFF President, Marc Dreyfors, “It is a two-way street and we are learning all the time, but ultimately the Houses will save some money and direct their resources to building more resilient communities, plus this will look good on their resume, because everyone is doing it.”

Greeks Gone Green:

Case Study of

UNC’s Fraternity Row!

A project of The Forest Foundation, Inc. and

Carolina Biodiesel, Greenway Transit, Bountiful Backyards and Rogers–Eubanks Neighborhood Assoc. (RENA), Coalition to End Environmental Racism (CEER) and The UNC Greek Sustainability Council.

Community Supported Energy (CSE):

Recycling Waste Veggie Oil (WVO) to Fuel

Greek Fraternity and Sorority Chapter Houses at UNC are committing to having their waste fryer oil collected and recycled into locally made biodiesel.  Each house produces approximately 5 gallons a week and can return the oil into 5 gal carboys or dump the used oil into centralized recycling containers behind their houses.  The goal is to create an easy and efficient system for collection, and reduce chances for spillage.  Receptacles will be placed in containment to reduce chances for spillage and covered.  They will be monitored and checked as a part of an educational program to lower pollution impacts. (Contact: Marc Dreyfors, Carolina Biodiesel)

Community Supported Agriculture(CSA):

Local, Organic Farm-Fresh Food

In addition, Greek Houses can purchase and have delivered daily, local farm fresh organic produce and meats to be divided among chefs, with orders placed by internet and a coordinator helping see the timely delivery.  The coordination can be done by a student intern and overseen by The Forest Foundation or other community based organization or business.  The goal will be to link student healthful living and eating with community based agriculture, supporting important self-sufficiency and resiliency systems.  Produce can come from the many community garden projects and local farms as well as support minority farming projects, like the Hope Garden, RENA Project in Carrboro supported by Bountiful Backyards. In addition, organic material can also be collected for composting on site or in some of the local gardens.  (Contact: Robert Campbell, Chef Beth)


Educational workshops can be hosted on topics ranging from local, sustainable energy production, energy efficiency and weatherization, getting a green job, how to get your Greek House off the grid, to organic backyard farming, composting and recycling and eating healthfully and cheaply.  These can be made fun and entertaining (keg of beer and pizza always help, of course with all local ingredients)!

Green Tours

A range of green, or ecotours, can be offered to using buses running on waste veggie oil biodiesel, using Greenway Transit’s fleet.  Discounts will be given to Greek Members for use of biofuel limos, taxis and buses as well as bike pedicabs for social events and dates around town or out of town.  Tours include brewery tours in the area, restaurant tours and farms tours as well traditional fun tours to the Washington, DC, the beach or mountains or mountain biking, climbing and hiking areas as well as sporting events. (See

Service and Philanthropy

Finally, The Forest Foundation and it’s partner organizations can help Greek Houses fulfill their mission of service and philanthropy supporting a range of projects in the community, including low income communities in Durham and Chapel Hill, as well international projects in fair trade and biodiversity conservation.

Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment Commencement Speech (May 15, 2010)

Wednesday, 26 May, 2010

Italics are for skipped sections to reduce length as there were only 5 minutes allotted.

Wow you did it! Congratulations everyone! Don’t worry about the sleep deprivation.  I remember I had been up several nights in a row, and learned the beauty of wolf naps.  You’ll have plenty of time to catch up later looking for work, right?

You are in transition from one community to another and welcome you to those that have graduated, the alumni, the real world, (with which many of you may be already familiar).  I hope you all will be gainfully employed soon, if not so already. Times are tough indeed, but I believe things are finally shifting, if not a bit late. Times will be indeed tough going forward and I am waiting for another “shoe to drop,” or the whole “wardrobe” so to speak.

I have only 5 minutes, so I want to

do a little reminiscing,

tell you a little about what you can do as a new Alumnus or Alumnae,

provide a little wisdom from what we have learned from the world in which we have been working, and

introduce the next speaker. Read the rest of this entry »

Who speaks for Planet Earth?

Tuesday, 20 April, 2010

Well Al Gore definitely does.  His recent presentation at Duke’s Page Auditorium (4/8/10) shows he does.  He pulled out all the stops and showed his depth of knowledge and passion.  He lifted from his new book, Our Choice, one of the most well researched and written books I have read for the lay person on our environmental crises, their connections and their solutions. Yet, there was something missing from his well-paced speech that, as we who have worked in the trenches, felt needed more attention: a realistic assessment and measurable targets for action.  We need specifics and focus, we need to get to the core of the challenges and how to solve them.

I first met the then Senator Gore at a McGraw Hill Business Week Conference in New York in 1990, where I had gone to find potential corporate donors to the Nicholas School (then the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, one of the oldest private forestry schools in the country and leader in EE).  During the all day conference, I had every one of my questions that I had submitted picked for panelists to answer– and that made me feel proud and maybe ahead of my time.  The last panel Senator Gore shared with Maurice Strong (another world visionary on the environment), and the organizers again picked one of my questions for them to answer, which went something like “what role will Universities play in research, education and leadership?”  And Gore misunderstood the question and said something like, “Yes, we need more research…..”  I was worried that this would be used as fodder by the corporate “suits” that packed the dinner to delay action on range of issues.

So when they asked if anyone had any further questions I stood up and tried to clarify my question, for which I was heckled by some jerk.  Alas, my fears of public speaking and standing up were reaffirmed. The Conference ended with me making the last point, steeling the limelight from Al and looking like some activist had snuck in.  I remember the cold stare I got from him riding down the elevator alone with his aid.  I had limited tolerance for politicians then and today, and I still hold a grudge and blame against the Clinton Administration for giving George Bush the White House.  But most importantly, Clinton and Gore wasted one of the strongest periods in our economic history tacking to and placating the center right and corporate America, and not taking the bully pulpit to move us toward progressive policies and environmental sustainability.

That being said, Gore started out with some absolutely hilarious self-deprecating humor, his “phantom limo disease” was a kill’ah.  He even used an old Minnie Pearl joke!  At this point, humor is greatly appreciated because if we didn’t laugh at the current situation, we would cry, or blow oneself up, like so many virgin seeking martyrs (are the women suicide bombers promised the same thing!?). It’s hard to believe that so much time has passed since the first calls to environmental alarm, so little has been done and it seems things are a lot worse than we had thought and headed that way right fast.

Right off the bat, Gore nailed it, giving immediate attention to the power of money and special interests to manipulate our political system and keep us from achieving easily attainable solutions.  His book chapter is scathing.  He was appalled by Supreme Court’s decision to strengthen corporation’s role in society by affirming their right to be viewed by the law as individual citizens.  And as a “recovering politician,” he spoke very precisely about how politicians and corporate leaders are driven to maximize shareholder value and power.  In fact, he spoke too precisely, seeming to rationalize behaviors by which he is now continuously haunted.

He went on to identify three things that have caused the relationship between humans and the Earth to “change” (better word may have been “disconnect”?):

1)      the industrial revolution,

2)      population growth, and

3)      technology.

Flexing his bicep (Al has lost some weight, which is good) while pacing the stage, he spoke to the power we now have to severely alter the planet.  Our favorite line was when he spoke to the drive to develop geo-engineering technology to sequester carbon, he said, “….we already have one, the tree, and when taken to scale this technology is called a forest!”  The geo-engineering people are scary and truly reflect how self/human absorped and disconnected we have become.

He spoke about the need for a Marshall Plan and Apollo Mission mentality and recited the African proverb,

“if you want to go fast, go alone,

if you want to go far, go together.”

He ended stating that we need to go far fast, a daunting task imparting to the young that they have the power to solve these problems.  We need political will, proper market signals through a carbon law and agricultural reform, he said.  He ended with the Margaret Mead line about the few committed, and that the young needed to be active and the old lead.

This stuck in our craw as disingenuous and simply false, as both MK and I know so many who have worked 30 and 40 years in the movement to see everything slipping away.  We are further away than ever from achieving sustainable policies.  Enormous resources, talent and time have been given to attempting to stop our self-destructive behavior, all to no avail.  Neither MK nor I believe we should do what James Lovelock (Gaia hypothesis) said to do, kick back and enjoy life as we have no idea what Mother Nature is going to do.  We are headed for catastrophic events and Gore well identified that the poor and those in most need of development will be affected the most.  We are careening into an evolutionary choke point.  Sadly, the system is so broken and captured by the wealthy elite and uneducated status quo, I can’t see how we can make progress without the system collapsing, and have to wait to achieve some incremental change after each higher frequency catastrophic event.  This is the reality.

MK and I went away with a feeling that his closing passionate plea about the morality of this issue was not well supported.  Yes, the inter-generational issue is important, but there is so much more.  He also failed to address what is dividing this country, and the role the Christian right has taken seemingly the moral high ground in affecting policy: blabbing on about the not so free free markets, fomenting anti government and anti taxation hysteria, and destroying population planning and foreign aid, and then not wanting action as the “end of times” will sort things out. Huge social, economic and fundamentally deep psychological issues divide us and keep us from understanding or making a cosmological spiritual shift. Each and every one of us needs a sole searching and to “redefine ourselves as species on this Earth,” as Thomas Berry was fond of saying.

It was a great honor to have had the opportunity to sit with so many gifted people and to hear a well-deserved Nobel prize winner, one of the great leaders of our time.  But leaders need to not only tell us the facts and be truthful, but to not to smooth icing over the real hard stuff in an effort to inspire or avoid alienation.