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Trading Schemes Creeping Into Climate Change Stories

Science used to support “new impetus to concept of selling carbon credits”

[Update below]

A climate change story yesterday in the Bergen Record caught my eye: Meadowlands shown to be valuable for pulling carbon dioxide from the air  – suggest you read it.

I have a number of problems with the focus and context of it.

No doubt, coastal wetlands are critically important and valuable natural resources, particularly in proximity to urbanized areas like the Meadowlands. They provide flood control, pollution treatment, wildlife habitat and other important ecological services.

But, carbon sequestration is probably their least important and valuable feature. We should not be protecting coastal wetlands just to store carbon.

The story estimated that the 31 acre wetland research site stored 27 tons of carbon. Although it was not made clear in the story, I assume this is an estimate of annual uptake – a rate – and not net total carbon storage.

That prompted me to do a quick back of the envelope to put those numbers in context, in terms of sequestration versus carbon emissions. At that storage rate, how much wetland land would be required to store NJ’s annual emissions? Data are most recent from US DoE and US census.

(27 tons)/(31 acres) = 0.87 tons/acre

(8,864,590 people in NJ) X 18 tons/capita = 159,562,620 tons of carbon

(159,562,620 tons) X 0.87 tons/acre = 183,405,310 acres!

For context, the entire state of NJ is just 5,586,560 acres – so it would take a wetland system 32.8 times the entire land area of NJ to absorb the carbon emitted by NJ.

Obviously, carbon storage in coastal wetlands will not play much of a role in mitigating climate change.

Ironically, while this “good news” story exaggerates the climate benefits of carbon sequestration, it ignores the much more important risks that these wetlands systems face due to climate change induced sea level rise. Simply, as water levels rise, the wetlands have nowhere to migrate to in urban areas and will be inundated.

Also ignored is recent troubling research that shows that their ability to sequester carbon is significantly reduced by the extreme heat projected to occur due to climate change.

Curiously, I came across and read this Record story after reading a story in Climate news, about new research that shows that the ability for wetlands systems to sequester carbon is significantly reduced by extreme heat (per Climate News Network):

The researchers calculate that because of extreme events that already occur, terrestrial ecosystems – forests, marshes, mangrove swamps, grasslands and so on – absorb around 11 billion tons of carbon dioxide less than they would if there were no extremes.

But, aside from these flaws, my bigger problem with the story is how the science is contextualized.

The science in the story basically says that the Meadowlands serve as a carbon “sink”, providing net storage of carbon – but the story goes well beyond the science, allowing science effectively to be used to support completely non-scientific policy arguments in favor of carbon trading schemes:

The research showing how well wetlands capture and store carbon could add new impetus to the concept of restoring wetlands and then selling carbon credits. “It bodes well for the concept,” said Andrew Baldwin, a wetlands plant ecologist at the University of Maryland.

Baldwin should stick to plant ecology and stay the hell out of regulatory policy, a topic he appears to know very little about.

The idea of emissions trading is a scam –

If readers  want to understand the fatal flaws in all trading systems – and why carbon trading is uniquely problematic – watch this superb video, by 2 EPA lawyers with over 40 years experience in trading programs:

The Huge Mistake

Another scheme, literally a pipe dream – carbon sequestration – also seems to be creeping in to the narrative as well – there is a reason why that technology does not exist on any commercial scale and never will.

Keeping it on the table just prolongs reliance on coal.

Which is just what the coal industry wants.

[Update: a reader just shot me a note to observe:

It is worse then that – mitigation is big fraud. The mitigation banks do not replace filled wetlands with new ones, they take areas,  spray herbicides then  dig them all up including the vegetative mat releasing all the stored carbon. They replace them with spartina that stores less carbon. Also fragmities hold toxic chemicals especially heavy metals while spartina respires putting the toxins back in the environment. … a NJ Audubon report [shows] that they are sitting on increased levels  of metals bio accumulating in birds.

They are filling in 7 acres of additional wetlands for Xanadu and the mitigation is deed restricting open space that is already protected. Also Baykeeper, Audubon, and hack riverkeeper get monies from mitigation Banks.

I agree on serious flaws with mitigation and that mitigation is essentially a trading scheme , see:

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