Yesterday, the Obama administration received a boost from a failed attempt in the Senate to prevent the cutting of greenhouse gases.
This also sends a positive signal to seven western states and four Canadian provinces that joined forces in 2008 to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
An entire new source of long-term revenue is available to Alaska, British Columbia (B.C.), Oregon and Washington state governments, which will enable protection of massive tracks of old growth forests and fresh water supplies.
Under the Western Climate Initiative, Arizona, California, Oregon, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, B.C., Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec have agreed to cut the region's carbon emissions by 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
The backbone of their plan is a cap-and-trade system. A similar approach was used in the early 1990s to combat acid rain around the Great Lakes caused by the pollution from coal-burning power plants.
The cap-and-trade system will require utilities and other companies to meet tough emission standards. Businesses that cannot cut their emissions because of costs or technical hurdles will be allowed to buy emission credits from companies that have spent the money to lower their emissions or are reducing greenhouse gases in other ways.
Most large industrial polluters, automakers and coal-based utilities are scrambling to find companies to sell them offset credits.
Mark Harmon of Oregon State University and other scientists have found that Pacific Northwest old-growth forests capture and store vast amounts of carbon dioxide. Conversion of those forests to young, fast-growing forests did not decrease atmospheric carbon. In fact, it took those low-elevation second-growth forests at least 200 years to accumulate the carbon dioxide storage capacity of existing old-growth forests. Preserving those forests would thus qualify for emission credits.
In other words, Pacific Northwest old-growth forests are valuable not just as milled saw-timber or pulp. The Pacific Northwest’s old forest growth is a gold mine for burgeoning worldwide offset markets, in addition to the bountiful medicines and other valuable non-timber forest products it provides.
Marriott International, with more than 3,000 global properties, has partnered with Conservation International and is the first hotel company to calculate its carbon footprint and launch an aggressive worldwide campaign to lessen its impact.
Each year it uses 3 million tons of CO2, or 66 pounds per available room. To offset this, it has undertaken a remarkable initiative. Marriott is spending millions of dollars over the long term to protect 1.24 million acres of endangered rain forests in the Juma Sustainable Development Reserve in partnership with the state of Amazonas in Brazil partnership.
If Brazil is renting its forests for millions of dollars, why shouldn't the Pacific Northwest governments consider their options?
It is frustrating that North Americans buying furniture at Ikea must settle for Scots pine grown and manufactured in Lapland when millions of acres of lodgepole pines in Alaska, B.C., Oregon and Washington are salvage-logged and pulped, rather than manufactured and sold throughout the continent as distressed cottage pine furniture.
With more than 90 Pacific Northwest glaciers receding, securing fresh water supplies is of paramount importance. And you can't put a price tag on maintaining high-elevation old-growth forests, which capture, retain and slowly release a trillion gallons of snow melt in the springtime.
While maintaining the integrity of the Brazilian forests is important, the same applies to the last of North America's contiguous great temperate Pacific Northwest rain forests.
Why not rent some of the old-growth forests and take advantage of their potent ability to absorb enormous amounts of CO2 and provide a buffer against climate change?