Cap-and-trade laws are perhaps one of the most controversial environmental legislations in modern American history, subject to partisan delays and protests at every turn. So when a cap-and-trade law finally did pass in California early last year, it became the feather in the cap of that state’s environmentalists. Now, it seems, greedy corporations have found a way to turn even this monumental accomplishment to their own advantage — and are ruining California’s old-growth forests in the process.
Under cap-and-trade legislation, companies are “allotted” certain amounts of greenhouse gases that they are able to emit. Companies that emit more than their allotment can either buy a greener company’s extra allotments or fund programs which slow climate change. There are many different types of these programs, and many of them do have significant environmental benefits. However, no matter how well-written a law, it seems that some companies will always be able to find a loophole, and one company is exploiting the law’s second option (funding programs which slow climate change) to make themselves money.
The company is named Sierra Pacific Industries, and their business is to cut down California’s old-growth forests and plant new trees — and the companies that pay them to do so get credit for “slowing climate change.”
Theoretically, cutting trees and allowing new ones to grow in their place removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, since trees (as we all know from high school biology) take in carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. Therefore, one might think that this practice would be good for the environment, or at least neutral — but one would be wrong.
The problem with clearcutting old-growth forests to “save the planet” is that not all trees are created equal. Rather, as recent research from the journal Nature shows, larger trees (like old-growth trees) are much better at storing carbon than smaller trees (like the trees Sierra Pacific Industries is planting). So while the companies who purchase offset credits may think that they’re helping the planet, they’re actually doing more harm than good, and completely violating the principle of the cap-and-trade law.
To make matters worse, the historic old-growth forests that are being cut down are storehouses of beauty and biodiversity, yet Sierra Pacific Industries replaces them with strands of nearly identical young trees, all the same age. And when those trees get big enough, they too will be felled, disrupting the natural cycle of decay which is an important part of the old-growth forest ecosystem.
Sierra Pacific Industries, of course, is not primarily concerned with the environment — they’re much more interested in the estimated $100 million they’ll earn from selling carbon offset credits to businesses. And since what they’re doing is technically legal, there’s nothing anyone can do right now to stop them (although their owner did recently receive an ironic “Climate Champion” award from environmental groups).
However, luckily for the trees (and the rest of us) this loophole is not permanent. In fact, California’s Air Resources Board and Climate Action Reserve has the power to close the loophole, to stop companies like Sierra Pacific Industries from profiting by clearcutting California forests.
Take Action Now! Sign our petition below to urge the California Air Resources Board to protect our beautiful forests from greedy developers.