Page last updated at 11:47 GMT, Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Flying clouds the real climate culprit

Martin Wright
Martin Wright

The aviation industry has become public enemy number one for environmental groups, says Martin Wright. But, he argues in this week's Green Room, they should focus their efforts on "the real elephant in the room" - forest destruction.

Passengers at an airport departure lounge (Getty Images)
While we're agonising over our plane-addiction, we're missing the real 'elephant in the living room' of climate change: forest destruction
Ask some vaguely green people what's the single biggest thing they can do to tackle climate change, and most will respond with a guilty smile: "yes, I know, I should stop flying."

A few brave, selfless souls do just that. But the rest of us are far too used to cheap, quick getaways to kick the habit completely.

There's nothing like a few months of unremitting English mizzle to soften the resolve of the most committed "no flyers".

Environmentalists will always struggle to persuade people to eschew pleasure in favour of the planet. After all, no-one likes being told off for having a good time. Any argument that says, in effect: "save the planet - stay at home in the wet" is hardly going to win hearts and minds.

Sure, there's always the slow train to Provence. But like so much of the Slow Movement (food; travel; life, even), it still reeks of privilege. It's more expensive, it takes (and lasts) longer.

There could be all kinds of ways - from subsidies to sabbaticals - of making it more accessible for those whose only hope of a great escape is an Easyjet south. But for the moment, life in the slow lane is still a velvety green luxury for the favoured few.

So until such time as fuel prices go through the roof, or draconian caps on carbon stifle the market, air travel will remain a seductive option for all but the deepest of greens.

Real carbon culprit

But while we're agonising over our aircraft addiction, we're missing the real "elephant in the living room" of climate change: forest destruction.

Charcoal burning in DR Congo (WildlifeDirect)

It is already the largest single source of carbon emissions after energy, contributing up to 10 times as much as aviation.

The Stern Report, no less, warned that rainforest destruction alone would, in the next four years, release more carbon into the atmosphere than every flight from the dawn of aviation until 2025.

Burning forests produces a particularly nasty double whammy of warming. As they burn, they send vast swathes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And once they're gone, they can't soak up the carbon from industry, cars and power plants.

But despite all this, people get far more exercised over the evils of aviation than they ever do over forest loss.

This is partly because aviation looms large on those instant "carbon calculators", designed to give a rough-and-ready guide to an individual's impact.

Deforestation, for the most part, doesn't, as it's virtually impossible to quantify individual responsibility for forest loss - unless you happen to be a timber trader or a palm oil planter.

But it's also because the forests are disappearing in "faraway countries": the chainsaws and fires aren't exactly on our doorstep, so it's easy to believe it's nothing to do with us - and there's nothing we can do about it, either.

This is bitterly ironic, because politically and economically it would be much easier to make massive reductions in deforestation than to achieve similar cuts in air travel. And in terms of curbing climate change, that would be massively more effective, too.

Tree hugging

So if we could just persuade people to be as excited about saving forests as they feel guilty about flying, then maybe we'd achieve something.

That means making forest conservation everyone's business - literally. And one of the best ways of doing so is to make the future of forests worth investing in - not just for the planet, but for your own pocket, too.

After all, you don't need complex technical fixes to stop forest destruction. You just have to make trees worth more standing than felled. And with the fate of civilisation cradled in their canopy, they should carry quite a price tag.

On paper, it's a no brainer. By any rational calculation, forests can yield better returns when kept intact than when cleared.

Take their role in protecting watersheds, for example, or their value as a source of fruit, nuts, shade-grown coffee, game and medicinal herbs - even, in some cases, a genuinely sustainable source of high-quality timber.

That's been the basis for a range of initiatives known as "payments for ecological services".

In essence, these are deals between forest communities and "buyers", who benefit from the forest remaining in place - such as towns and cities downstream, or the owners of mines or hydro plants, all of whom depend on the water supply that the forest ensures.

Cool Earth, a charity set up by businessman Johan Eliasch, allows individuals to buy parcels of rainforest - not for their own profit, but to hold them in trust on behalf of local communities, so taking them out of the clutches of the loggers.

It's an intriguing scheme, but it's still driven by charity, not business.

Sound investment

But once you introduce forests' ability to store carbon into the equation, then the balance sheet really starts to shift in their favour.

Calculator (BBC)
Deforestation does not show up on carbon calculators

According to one recent study, most ventures which drive forest destruction - whether logging or for agriculture - generate around $5 (2.50) for every tonne of carbon released as a result of the forest loss.

Europeans are typically paying up to seven times that amount to offset the same amount of carbon.

And as emissions trading takes off, so the carbon price will rise. One estimate puts the value of greenhouse gas storage in some forests at a healthy $2,200 (1,100) per hectare.

And it's that which is pricking the interest of the financial markets. Invest in a forest now, and you can expect its value to appreciate substantially over the years - especially since, after the recent UN climate conference in Bali, forest owners can expect to "sell" their benefits on the emerging global carbon markets.

All of a sudden, it opens up the prospect of massive investments from pension funds, drawn to the long-term security which standing forests can provide.

Halving forest destruction by 2030, says the Stern Report, would cost around 10-15 billion a year - that's roughly the same as we spend on alcohol in Britain alone. It is, in other words, a sum which should be readily available - as long as there's the prospect of a decent return.

The Global Canopy Programme - an alliance of forest scientists - is urging the adoption of a global market in forest carbon credits to help unleash a tide of investment.

Forum for the Future and others are working on schemes for forest-backed bonds; some are predicting the launch of Forest PEPs. Such is the potential value in keeping forests intact that even those masters of the dark arts of finance, the hedge funds, are starting to sniff around.

Microchip (EyeWire)
Microchips inserted in selected trunks can report instantly if they're felled - and then track the timber, electronically fingering everyone involved

There are all manner of pitfalls, of course. For some, it smacks of "carbon colonialism".

Others warn that such schemes will inevitably favour wealthy landowners, who can cope with all the complex legal processes involved, rather than forest peoples themselves.

Then there's the question of proving that a particular stretch of forest, which may lie in a remote, hard-to-monitor area, really has survived intact.

But these are not insuperable obstacles. Investors don't have to buy up forests to make a return on them; they merely have to ensure they share in the proceeds of their conservation over times.

So they can for example rent, or lease, an interest in the forests from local communities, who are in any case best placed to safeguard the assets - and so can reasonably expect to share in the profits, too.

On the monitoring side, satellite mapping is now sophisticated enough to zero in to the scale of individual trees, providing pinpoint, 24-hour surveillance. Microchips inserted in selected trunks can report instantly if they're felled - and then track the timber, electronically fingering everyone involved.

So in a few years' time, you could sit at home on the sofa, and, via your laptop, check up on the health of "your" patch of forest, in real time.

Result? The world will have a million or more eagle-eyed forest monitors, casting a protective eye over the green canopy of their investments. (And only occasionally, you'd hope, needing to utter the anguished cry: "Oi! That's my pension plan going up in smoke!")

The logic is simple; the implementation will be anything but. But if we wait till we've a perfect system, we'll be wasting precious time; time in which thousands of square miles of forest will be irrevocably lost.

Martin Wright is editor (at large) of Green Futures Magazine

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with Martin Wright? Are environmentalists focusing on the wrong climate culprit? As consumers, can we stop forests on the other side of the world from being cut down? Do we have to make a choice between flying less or saving rainforests?

I'm pleased my article has provoked such a wide range of comments! I don't have space to respond in detail, much as I'd enjoy doing so, but I'd like to make a couple of points. Yes, I was deliberately being a touch provocative in comparing our obsession with the 'great green sin' of aviation, to the relative lack of attention paid by the media and the wider public to deforestation. But it's born out of frustration at our collective failure even to slow the pace of destruction - which, as today's BBC report on Brazil points out, is advancing at a truly catastrophic rate. Of course it's not an 'either/or': I'm not suggesting for one moment that we should all learn to stop worrying and love binge flying. Far from it. The rapid surge in air travel is a serious and growing threat to the climate, and we should push governments hard to end the perverse subsidies which fuel its growth. But forest destruction is an even greater threat. As a student in the early 80s, I and many of my friends, along with the nascent green movement, railed against rainforest destruction and the consumerist society which helped drive it. With the benefit of nearly three decades' hindsight, you'd have to say we achieved virtually nothing. We do not now have the luxury of another 30 years of failure. What we do have now, though, is the chance to excite and enthuse people - including the vast majority who aren't committed environmentalists - as to the benefits of forest conservation. To make them feel personally connected to the fate of the forests. But if we're to do so effectively, we have to start from where they are - not where we want them to be. And that means we have to persuade them that keeping forests standing is in their own direct interest. If one of the ways we can do that is by putting a financial value on living forests (which is absolutely not the same as privatising them) - then we would be mad not to explore it. It could be a lot more effective than playing the familiar 'blame game' which has characterised environmentalism for way too long. Most people are far more motivated by stories of hope and possibility than they are by what can come over, sadly, as an endless process of telling them off. Martin Wright
Martin Wright, London

Why is that air travel has become the scape goat for climate problems. Firstly people need to get their facts right. Passenger aircraft don't fly in the stratosphere they fly within the troposphere. Secondly aircraft engines are about the most efficient engines on the planet giving approx 50% efficiency whereas car engines are about 12% efficient. Isn't it strange how people love to attack aircraft but wont walk to work or make their children walk to school. And your cars pollution is just a drop in the ocean compared to the pollution created by industry. Why aren't you all protesting outside ICI etc!!! You are all just a bunch of hypocrite's. Yes electric trains are far better for the environment but where does their electricity come from? The coal/oil/gas power stations down the road. We need major renewable energy resources like tidal power in the seven estuary. But this gets objected against because its going to upset some fish. Give me a break... The underlying problem! is human greed and this will never be fixed.
Dave, sheffield

Great Article. I would like to see a move from forest destruction to forest construction and not the monocropping type associated with today's timber industry. I would like forests not only to be associated with Rainforests, but also 20% of all farm land to be set back to forest especially along the boundaries, this would help with green house gases, but also could help to rebuild sanctuaries for fast dwindling wildlife in areas other than isolated national parks.
patogreen, Johannesburg

At last someone in the media states the obvious. The fact of the matter is that there is little or no evidence to suggest that human emissions of CO2 have any effect on global temperature at all, and yet people are practically trying to ban air travel whilst ignorong the devastation being reaped upon the worlds rainforests. Even if human emmisions are playing a part, the emmisions from air travel pale into insignificance when compared with those from de-forrestation, nautical travel and natural releases of methane (a gas many many times more potent than CO2). Wake up people, lets not chop off our arms when its our legs that are rotten!
glyn lewis, Vienna

while the debate on flying might make sense in well served with rail networks and relatively short distances europe, here in Canada it makes less sense. Anybody care to work out how much petrol i'd use for the up to five day drive from, say Prince George (BC)to Toronto (2700 miles) or Halifax (3800 miles) as opposed to the shared fuel use in a 120 occupied seat airplane? here in Canada it might make much more sense to look at carbon emissions of e.g. controlled burns of forests vs other fire prevention practices, perhaps selective logging and understory clearing....
Paul van Poppelen, Gibsons, BC, Canada

I agree with Peter from Oxford. Over-population of the planet is the key problem. Unless we tackle this, we are doomed. Jane (also from Oxford UK)
Jane, Oxford

A nice sensible article. If all the attention on climate change is focused on visible targets such as aviation, the other , more important targets get lost in the noise. In much the same way "baby seal" environmentalism, 20 years ago, distracted us from the really important issues. If I was a spin merchant for the power/coal/petroleum industry,getting people to get flustered about the less important causes of carbon would seem a very efficient way of doing my job.

The modern environmental "debate" has become like a dog circling around chasing its own tail.
Ben, Manchester

PEOPLE are the problem. We need to reduce our numbers by about 95% - if we don't, Nature will do it for us.
Peter, Oxford, England

Martin Wright writes..Sure, there's always the slow train to Provence...... it takes (and lasts) longer. I got on a train once, i went from london to paris, through france in a week, to barcelona. madrid, three months in spain on a park bench, andalucia and back. Just jumping on and off, try that on a plane and plains spoil my summer mornings with their (throughout the morning) ever widening contrails.
john hall, london town

Time for the whole world's economy to return to agriculture from oil and weapons. Reforest, grow energy crops, educate, provide employment, reduce poverty and as a result reduce the world's population and even out the rescources. The world can be a better place.
simon price, Newport. S.Wales.

OK. I'll stop setting light to my local rainforest if it means I can fly again.
Paul A, London, UK

I remember reading that after 9/11 when almost all flights in the US were stopped the temperature rose for a few days because there were no longer any aircraft trails. It's clear that trails must reflect a proportion of the sun's energy out into space. Perhaps we should fly more? I'd like to see some proper figures...
Rodney Perkins, Almaty, Kazakhstan

Commercial Jet aircraft inject their combustion products directly into the stratosphere. This is where lots of important atmospheric chemistry occurs, such as Freons breaking down into Ozone-eating chlorine compounds. Available UV energy is high. One of the few benefits to the 911 attack was the month long moratorium on air travel. My wife and I marveled at how clear the sky became after a week. Using Jet Aircraft for intra-state travel is a crock - it severely hinders the development of high speed rail. Only electric trains can take advantage of renewable resource derived electricity.
Mitch Smith, Fort Mohave

Some of the comments to this article are better than the article itself. We must do both i.e. put a moratorium on aviation growth until the industry has a clean fuel source that allows growth, but not in greenhouse gas emission ... AND halt deforestation ... and more. There is no place for aviation growth in a low carbon economy. Aviation growth is set to displace all other greenhouse gas emissions reductions we might make. Articles like this provide an immediate scape-goat for carbon obese binge flyers, and are ultimately, unhelpful.
Peter Myers, Surrey, UK

There are many good reasons for protecting rainforests, avoidance of climate change being one of them. But bringing them into the carbon trading mechanisms is probably not the solution: just one year's worth of 'avoided deforestation' carbon credits would instantly flood the markets, crash the price of carbon, and render both avoided deforestation and polluton abatement uneconomic. Neither is buying up chunks of the rainforest likely to be much of a solution: at the price Johann Eliasch paid for his area, our annually deforested area of rainforest (about 35 million acres) would cost around $1.3 billion to buy - even it were for sale, which it mostly isn't. Probably the cheapest and proven to be the most effective solution in the long term is to give rights to the native communities living in and forest to protect it and manage it for their well-being. Money is not the main problem: it's politcial willing we need, not carbon profiteering.
BB, London

Although this tries to make a good point surely there is no way that you can accurately compare the two. The main problem with aviation is where the C is being emitted, as the stratosphere is more fragile meaning C has a more pronounced effect. Coupled with the issues of airplane contrails, it seems that once again an environmental article has missed half the point to try and make a certain argument!
Tom, Isle of Wight

North America and Europe do not have problems of deforestation. In fact North America tree cover has been increasing over the last 200 years. If you want to lock up carbon then actually harvest trees and replant them. Then let people use wood for paneling, floors, construction, etc. This way carbon is locked up and is being reduced by not allowing the wood to rot in your homes. The problem of deforestation is in other locations so do not feel guilty for using wood from Europe or North America.
Ronald Gardner, College Station, TX USA

I spoke last week to a friend who is washing tin cans before putting them in the green box and is cycling 3/4 mile to the shops instead of driving. A real ecochondriac. She also flew to Singapore for her holiday. I noted that this one plane will have emitted more CO2 in one flight than my car will emit in it's life. Equally her individual flight emitted more CO2 than going carbon neutral in her home for 7 years would save. CO2 is still RISING (not reducing) and this kind of nonsense is the reason why.
John, England

Your delusional if you think that being "green" and putting extra taxes on flying, petrol, paper etc actually goes to green issues and funding initiatives. Its just an extra way governments can get more money out of the taxpayer and saying look at us we raised in green taxes for the environment. When governments can say that all of the extra tax we have paid is actually going to green initiatives I will be happy to pay them.
Rob M, London

If we are serious about reducing the impact of climate change then we need to do all these things - stop deforestation, reduce CO2 emissions from all sources, tackle global over population, preserve biodiversity, export low carbon technologies to the developing world. However, it won't make much difference. The world economy is dependent on cheap fossil energy, and that is finite and a lot more limited than people realise. Already the world supply of oil has peaked, and this has brought the growth of global GDP to a grinding halt. This is what has triggered the credit crisis. From now on the supply of oil can only go down. That means less flying, either because we can't afford it, or because there will not be enough fuel. Aviation is yesterday's problem.
Ralph Williams, Cambridge

I agree with what Martin says about deforestation, but to pit it against aviation as though we can cut one or the other is misleading and needlessly controversial. There is no 'third way' where our desire for unchecked international air travel can be offset, even when the 'elephant in the room' is as large as deforestation. We need to cut back all carbon-intensive human activities to varying degrees. No single issue, as big as deforestation, medium-sized and fast-growing like aeroplanes or as tiny as plastic shopping bags, has a large enough carbon footprint that solving it alone will prevent dangerous climate change.
Andrew Steele, Oxford

Aviation is such a small percentage of the total that an achievable cut is probably less than 1% of the total. The real culprit is not even the car. The majority of greenhouse gasses come from industrial and domestic power generation and deforestation. We should focus on those - its like in business: 10% of a lot is a lot, 10% of a little is a little. Focus on the lot....
Marc, London

Airships do not fly they float. Build airships and scrap the gas guzzling aeroplanes. Flying, most of it utterly unnecessary, is chemically castrating our planet just like your fossil fueled automobile and ship. Build sailing ships. As for deforestation look towards European farming at how the complexity phobic chemical industry addicted farmers slash and burn the hedges necessary for diversity AND are given Euro Agri handouts to do it !!! Ploughing big wide open fields of bare soil releases how much co2 ? The retarded farming techniques are global not rainforestcentric. Concrete destroying the planet? move forward with the old techniques of building houses. There is absolutely no excuse for not acting NOW. Only the stuck postmodern complexity phobics are in our way. Kick them to one side their time is up.

The import of aviation polution is that it poteniates the damage by doing it in a sensitive area. In truth, forget "Global Warming", and think Climate Change- what humans spent ages learning will be wrong, for what you grew will not grow there now, what worked is changed. We depend on things remaining rather stable. Juggling on a circus ball is not easy, and we just added a cannon ball to the oranges. If 2% does not seem to be enough to change things, try 25 higher interest on your mortgage. Keep the oceans, forests, and skies in the best shape we can, for life recovered from the last major extinction- in 30 million years, and we can't wait that long.
Odo, LA, USA

It seems the important thing to bear in mind is that climate change cannot be blamed on any one issue, and that there is no single magic solution. We need to be keep our minds as broad as possible and do whatever we can, i.e both cap aviation and protect the world's forests. In this country there is also great potential for forest expansion (preferably largely of fast growing commercial conifers).
Graham Phillips, Aberdeen

reducing the population of the world by half in one generation would solve all mankinds eco problems. do the sums. we can only sustain a finite amount of people if we only have finite resources. obvious really,, bristol

s global temperatures rise, forest fires will become ever more frequent and extensive. Certainly the forest should be preserved - no brainer - but the cost of destruction by forest fires will become ever more staggering.
Alex McKeon, Los Gatos, California.

Barry: you don't see the forest fire haze because by the time it arrives here, it has been so diluted. Try flying from Londong to Auckland and look out of the window. The closer you get to South East Asia, the thicker the haze, then you cross the equator and suddenly the air is cleaner than any you will have ever seen in Europe.
Michael, Glasgow

Martin Wright sets up a straw man argument by claiming that environmental groups have made the aviation industry "public enemy number one". Total rubbish. Any serious environmentalist campaigns both on the unrestricted growth in air travel AND forest destruction (not to mention the dozens of other relevant factors). They have been doing so for many years and the reasoning has barely changed in decades. What has changed is the sophistication of the arguments used against what is necessary to achieve a sustainable way of living. Martin Wright's portrayal of the environmentalist viewpoint was probably distilled from the opinions of some blokes he met down the pub and he should try to resist playing in to the hands of the "opposition" with this misleading polemic. It's hard enough putting genuine environmental ideas forward to the public without "straw men" having views ascribed to them which do not reflect reality. Nick Palmer - former Friends of the Earth (Jersey) campaigner
Nick Palmer, Jersey, C.I.

Once again you dodge the real truth to avoid the unpopular backlash from your readers which would happen were you brave enough to confront harsh reality. The single most effective thing that mankind can do to reduce the effects of pollution is to reduce the number of human beings on the planet to a more reasonable number. All of the other issues can be addressed by technology in time, but until unrestricted population growth is addressed head-on every other measure is simply a band-aid.
Bill Reister, Atlanta, USA

While the govt. pretends it is trying to reduce CO2 emissions by one way or another, it is also encouraging BP and others to open up ever more oil and gas fields in China and Canada. Mother Nature will sort us out eventually; famines and wars will cut us down to size.
Richard Woodward, Milton Keynes

I think some of the commenters are reading this as an attempt to shy away from being more serious about curbing air travel. I think what is really being said is that we have to pragmatic about what we can achieve and in what time period. I don't believe it's really an 'instead', more of a reminder not to focus in on just one factor.
Lee, Stockholm, Sweden

If the so-called environmentalists spent more time and effort trying to make planes less polluting and less time writing Word documents, they might get some respect. Aviation, like all forms of transport, should be subject to a carbon tax. (Duty free shopping should also be abolished.) Unfortunately the UK government instead has chosen to impose an arbitrary tax on airline passengers, which means there is no incentive for airlines to improve the situation (other than that they want to reduce their fuel bill because it is so expensive). But even if aviation had a proper carbon tax, you can guarantee that the so-called environmentalists would still complain about it. (They only seem to like technologies that are at least 150 years old.) Jon Fuller says aviation is voluntary. Well so is just about everything else in life. Having children (a very voluntary activity) is the single worst thing you can do for the environment, but hardly any so-called environmentalists ever address this issue, perhaps because they like to breed just like most people.
W Boucher, Cambridge, UK

I agree with Martin, far too little attention is focused on deforestation. However, it needs to be mentioned that the wildfires that are destroying acres and acres of forest in the U.S. are also contributing to rising CO2 levels. No one seems to appreciate that a lack of decent forest management since the times of Smokey the Bear have left our forests packed full of tinder. Now the fires burn hotter and faster than ever. Nearly all the forest fires happen in areas that receive very little rain, from Nevada to California to Utah, Colorado and Montana. Not only the rainforests are in trouble.
Christina, Helena Montana, USA

Preserving forests does nothing to lower green house gases. When a tree dies and rots (or is burned) all the carbon it has sequestered is released again. However preserving forests is immensely important for preserving habitat. The real culprit in global warming is the automobile. You want to make a difference? Stop driving!
James Alan Farrell, New York

When I look up all I see is the haze created by vapour trails, Gone are the clear blue skies. I do not see smoke from burning forests. I'm not in denial I just see what I see. By the way can somebody explain why glacial ice is melting in subzero temperatures please? Surely the air temperature should be relevant.
Barry, Wallasey

As editor of a consumerist/environmentalist magazine, Martin Wright seems uniquely positioned to point out the ironies of the viewpoint that "we don't need to change our lifestyle." In this piece he does it with gusto, claiming that all that's really needed to stop global warming is to essentially privatize the commons of societies that have yet to destroy all of their intact forests, so that we in the industrialized countries can continue our unsustainable ways while perhaps avoiding catastrophic climate change. What he fails to point out is that the rapid deforestation in the tropics is the result of demand on the part of industrial countries for cheap paper and furniture, soy-fed meat, soy-fed farmed fish, and transportation fuels. People would stop cutting down the forests if it didn't pay. The real "elephant in the living room" on greenhouse gas emissions, the collapse of global fisheries, deforestation, and just about every other topic ever covered in the "Green Room" is the insatiable demand of industrial civilized lifestyles. It's about time we started talking about this elephant that has been responsible for all fossil fuel emissions in the history of the earth, and about what we plan to do to change it.
Steve Morgan, Eldora, Colorado, US

The real climactic elephant in the room is the use of Concrete. For every ton of concrete that is poured, 800kg of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. If we are serious about cracking down on our emissions, reducing our use of concrete would be a big first step. More forests, less concrete would go a long way to reducing our CO2 footprint.
Kit Burke, Vancouver BC

Martin, if you were actually talking to grassroots environmentalists you'd know the big current issues are aviation AND biofuels, biofuels now one of the biggest causes of deforestation. S. American deforestation rates have just reaccelerated thanks to the world food shock partly caused by biofuel programmes. It's the media that chooses to focus on aviation and nuclear power as issues. E.g. at the last Lib Dem conference, the debate over biofuels was as heated as on nuclear, but the biofuels discussion got no media coverage at all.
Jim, London

If something is to be done about deforestation it has to be done quickly. This is where the problem lies as it takes forever to create these changes. Do we petition the government/dictator/ruler of the Country killing the trees? That would take ages. Illegal logging proves that legislation is weak. The only way that I can see this being done fast enough to make a difference is to use force. Even then how do you send troops into a forested area without harming the forest? I conclude that due to the current restrictions of human behaviour (or lack of) whatever we do will not be fast enough or thorough enough.
Chris Thomas, Weston super Mare UK

Contributers who suggest that we could regenerate the forests of mainland Britain ignore the basic fact that if we did we couldn't house the enormous population of the UK and our ability to feed ourselves would be catastrophically compromised.
John Adlington, Oswestry

I'm afraid your argument appears wrong in one fundmental way. A mature rainforest is in equilibrium. A new tree cannot grow until an old tree falls. The fallen tree decays and (to a rough approximation) releases as much carbon as the new tree absorbs while it grows. So, if the forest isn't a net absorber of carbon, how can you sell credits for it? You could give local organisations a carbon allowance equal to what they would have burned under a business-as-usual scenario, then allow them to sell those emission allowances in the carbon market. But to make that worthwhile, you'd have to cut the allowances given to big industry by an equal amount, which would be politically unpopular for the countries hosting those industries. Sustainable logging may be an option for carbon capture, as the carbon in the felled tree is then locked up in the items made from its wood. Other than that, I suggest we need a better way to make rainforests appear valuable to the bean-counters. I doubt carbon credits are the way to do it.
Trevor Barker, Guildford

If all airline passengers were charged an extra 5 dollars per flight (or better still, the surcharge would be weighted by seat price, with the baseline being five dollars for the cheapest seats), and if every tonne of air freight (including veg, flowers, etc) were similarly taxed (say, at 100 dollars per tonne), those funds would probably pay for protection of all the forests around the globe ... in 2006, there were over 2.1 billion passengers and about 30 million tonnes of freight ... that's a lot of ifs, i appreciate. it might marginally cut down air travel (benefit 1) and contribute to protecting forests around the globe (benefits 2 and 3).
Stuart Williams, Maputo, Mozambique

I'm sorry - but I firmly believe that the whole climate debate is getting out of control. Yes we are aware that we are polluting our planet and destroying it, but why focus on one aspect? Air travel pollutes a lot less than sea travel. So those environmentalists who only travel by sea and rail are really just kidding themselves. Focusing on deforestation would be of benefit, but it is not going to solve the problem. The fact of the matter is that we'll never solve it. Climate is a dynamic system that can be permanently altered due to a small change. Even when we didn't exist, the planet 'suffered' many climate changes - look at the geological record.
Gemma, Hull

Here in France we have the lowest carbon footprint in Europe mainly thanks to France's forsight in to building nuclear power stations. The UK continues to emit carbon gasses at a huge rate from fossil powered stations. I could never understand why the UK went mad for gas powered stations a few years ago as gas is now well in decline and very expensive.
David Cunningham, France (Expat but UK taxpayer)

Deforestation is a hugely important concern that could be addressed in a variety of ways. The risks may be too high for some investors, however. An alternative is to place conservation in the hands of local communities supported by their governments. These governments will receive international aid and incentives in return for meeting their obligations. Tougher laws and enforcement will cut out illegal trade and strengthen conservation measures on an international scale. The costs may be high and they will be borne by the developed and emerging economies. We will have to accept that conserving the rain forests requires a huge payback and will be a cost to us all.
John Byles, Bristol

It sounds like a great idea! But I would like to take issue with people's views - yes, it's got to be good not to chop all these trees down, no argument there...BUT do most people honsetly know the facts about climate warming when they predict all this doom and gloom? It is never mentioned in any reports the fact that Man-Made carbon emmissions amount to less than 1.5-2% of all the worlds carbon emissions. Yes global warming may be happening but does anyone honestly expect if we stopped all our emssions tomorrow that it would all go back to "normal?" I may not be a scientist or mathematician but less than 2% cannot make much difference either way. Can it?! I think we should all go for the real targets such as de-forestation (even just for the sake of wildelife), but leave the day to runnings of society alone, we are pricing ourselves, with taxes, into extinction, while the rich will continue to enjoy themselves at our expense.
Iain B, East Midlands

Flying contributres 40% of my carbon footprint. I can do a lot more about reducing that than I ever could about reducing global deforestation. Let's start taking responsbility for our own actions!
EnglishHolidaysAreGreat, Midlands

No Brainer stop buying such large amounts of imported goods and plant trees and shrubs in your own gardens, turning lawn mowing and washing cars on sunday mornings into a thing of the past especially when so much Co2 is created from this non winter activity. Shipping goods by sea creates more Co2 than air transport. Create a carbon tax on all imported goods. If India can become self sufficient in food supplies why cant the UK.
Stephen Ellis, York England

Given my own biography of environmental activism, which included direct action against trees being cut down for motorways in the UK and blockading the largest UK importers of rainforest hardwoods, before an academic career based in Climate Change policy and renewable energy, I suspect that the majority of activists involved in anti-aviation and climate chaos campaigns have been active on these linked issues for many years. Don't confuse the media/policy focus of the moment with the understandings of climate change campaigners!
Noel Cass, Lancaster UK

Martin Wright's commentary is quite accurate in that a focus on aviation is much less useful than a focus on forest preservation in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The author and intended audience are, however, clearly British. The focus on aviation is something not found outside Britain. Forest preservation also ignores further possibilities, and perhaps responsibilities, obvious to the non-British. Forest regeneration is perhaps more useful, as growing trees absorb more CO2. And though long forgotten, Britain was once a forested island.
Daithi Stone, Oxford, UK

The whole debate is misfocused! Reductions in human-induced pollution, whether it'd be into the air, water or soil, entail co-benefits such as improved health and reduced environmental degradation - including reductions of green-house gas emissions leading to climate change. Integrated social, economical and environmental profits from reduced pollution are often absent when single-minded fossil fuel-fanatics carry out the analysis.
Elisabeth Simelton, Leeds

Why see deforestation as something happening in 'faraway countries'? Trees grow as well in the UK as anywhere else and this country used to be more or less covered in forest. Just because we lost our trees a long time ago doesn't mean we can't grow them back. It's time to start massive scale reforestation of the UK. In particular, oak trees should be farmed for acorns which are an excellent food source for domestic and wild animals. It's also an issue where we all carry the responsibility. I suspect that in 100 years time, people will be amazed to learn that we paved over our gardens- for the sake of our cars.
Marcus Durrant, Newcastle

The difference between forests and people flying is that the wealthy fly. If the wealthy don't cut back it merely creates a consumptive culture. We need to focus on individual consumption and greed. I for one am buying a forest to try and give back a little of what I take.
p, Edinburgh

Martin Wright doesn't seem to appreciate the scale of the problem. If we don't reduce all sources of greenhouse gas emission, and to a very great extent, we will in all probability kill hundreds of millions of people. So, we have to protect forests AND cut all sources of CO2 emission. Aviation is an example of an activity which is vuluntary - we don't need to do it in order to survive (like heating & cooking). It is a non-essential luxury. As a consequence the vast majority of people agree that aviation expansion should be stopped. Indeed, I'd wager that, if put to a ballot, the vast majority would agree the industry should be reduced by 3% per annum until it is carbon neutral - a non-polluting way is found to fly. So, let's not try to dodge awkward questions, let's get on with tackling the defining moral issue of our time - climate change.
Jon Fuller, Westcliff on Sea

As with fox hunting compared with battery farming, it's the visible that gets picked on. Until someone pointed out what was needed to grow biofuels, they were seen as environmentally-friendly. Keeping the absorption in place i.e. the forests, is the most important thing as we may burn fuel and run low in 50 years, when prices will probably increase to reduce consumption, we know it takes decades for indonesian peat bog forests and rainforest to recover, if at all. We need these forests in place just to ameliorate our CO2 impact. We need joined up thinking on this.
John Brown, Knutsford

Martin Wright misses serveral points. If we are to prevent dangerous climate change then we must prevent deforestation in other countries, but we must do our share here too and that means capping emissions from flying. Which is another point he has failed to grasp - none of the main development or environment groups are saying halt flying, or even reduce it - they are saying with the Ryanairs and Easyjets advertising millions of flights at a few quid we don't need any more capacity in the UK. Given (according to the Department for Transport) flying accounts for 13% of the UK's climate change impact, and is the fastest growing source of emissions, this should be a no-brainer. Also, in terms of individual action, dropping one flight a year will save tonnes of carbon - far more than any other single action is likely to do.
Martin Powell, Bath

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