Remembering the Boreal in the Midst of Bali

Bali is one of those places that you might dream about but don’t really expect to visit, at least not for serious work! But here I am, with thousands of others, having assembled from all over the world at the UN Convention on Climate Change.

When I emerged from the cocoon of a 24 hour plane trip, I was immediately struck by two things. It’s HOT here, really hot. And we’re surrounded by water, calling to mind the plight of island nations on the front lines of sea level rise. Both realities are great reminders of what the future holds if we can’t get our act together as a planet and curb global warming.

Right off the plane we headed to our first meeting, an NRDC-sponsored event on the great boreal forests of Canada. Forests are a main theme at this meeting, but the attention is on tropical forests and how to establish a workable framework for REDD, reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. This is a huge issue, because 20 percent of global warming emissions are coming from these pressures on forests. You see, forests store over 1 trillion tons of carbon. We need to keep it that way.

Including in the great boreal forest that rings the northern reaches of the globe. Today I was blown away by the power of Dave Porter’s story. Porter is a leader from the Kaska Nation in Northern Canada. His tribal lands, in British Columbia and the Yukon, are being destroyed by the mountain pine beetle, which has spread over millions of acres, killing millions of trees in its swath. These beetles used to be held in check by severe weather, but winters are milder and temperatures are warmer, so the pests can spread north into more and more forests.

The elders see evidence of a changing climate all around them in their rivers and streams, in their salmon runs, in their forests. The natural consequences are enormous, but as Dave Porter explained so eloquently, the human consequences are even more significant, as the Kaska’s struggle to maintain an ancient and rich culture is compromised at every turn.

The great boreal forest is threatened by Canada’ tar sands development--a process in which oil is extracted at enormous costs in energy use and pollution. The boreal is also compromised by rampant logging throughout the North. Of course the US is the number one recipient of those products, thanks to our voracious appetite for fuel and fiber.

There are tons of folks here in Bali focusing on how forests will be treated in a new climate framework. We want to be sure protection that the boreal is part of that equation.

At the end of our long day, we head back to Kuta Beach, outside the conference enclave, where we’re staying with the beachgoers and surfers. Do they know or even care what’s at stake just down the road? I hope so.