Cornucopia of updates #1: "regreening"

Last week I mentioned the impressive and even (somewhat) encouraging presentation by Thomas Lovejoy and David Hayes at the Aspen Ideas Festival, on the topic of "regreening." Their argument was that the earth's own natural biological processes could do a lot more to absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere, if forests, wetlands, agricultural areas, and even deserts were protected and managed in a different way.

Via Lovejoy, here is a link to the PDF of a new 68-page report from the UN Environment Programme (sic), that goes into the hows, whys, and at-what-costs of "biosequestration" -- that is, improving the natural ecosystem's ability to absorb carbon. Interesting and worth reading, and again at least somewhat encouraging. Its exec-summary begins this way:


After the jump, a reader's response on the importance of having people like David Hayes inside the federal government. (He is now the #2 official at the Department of Interior.) We take our encouragement where we can find it.

A reader writes:

Your report on a seminar at the Ideas Festival in which David Hayes, a bio-diversity expert recently named #2 at Interior, announced his plans to explore how the 20% of US land that Interior owns can be better used for carbon absorption, is interesting in several ways. Too many people left-of-center have a fuzzy idea about political power and how it's used. Seeding people like Hayes at Interior and Steven Chu at Energy is the first step in re-directing two departments that have been driven by industry priorities for decades towards a new, public agenda.  

These type of appointments are unprecedented.  They put power into the hands of experts instead of bureaucratic hacks by means of political payback.  They ensure that billions of dollars in federal research money start flowing towards alternative energy and environmental protection, the quicker the better, so they can take root and outlast Obama.  [As the appointees and policies put in place under Ronald Reagan, GW Bush, etc outlasted them -- jf]

Compare that to 'cap-and-trade' legislation, a huge, complicated system conceived as an more business-friendly alternative to 'command' regulation during the last two administrations  So much attention, so many trade-offs, so much political capital spent.  On a strictly defensive play. Yet even its supporters call the legislation weak and disappointing....

What has changed under this Administration?  The whole orientation is no longer 'how do we restrict this process and that contaminant.'  That's defensive. Now it's where do we put the money to make restrictive regulation obsolete.

That no-turning-back change in priority could only be delivered now, in the 21st century, as the entire world order is under strain, by an administration with enough vision to know the time is ripe, and is brash enough to grab it.  This Administration has an instinct for power and knows how to use it.

Not a moment too soon.  China is determined to use this recession to re-evaluate its manufacturing with a goal to leap forward in technology.  Already it is testing two types of 'clean coal' technology.  China will never sign a Kyoto-type treaty.  But if China continues to blend environmental innovation with its basic industrialization, in 50 years it might not just dominate the world economy but may have the bluest skies on earth.