Footprints Footprints Newsletter

 Newsletter #2 - 10th November 2006 
 The Crisis Coalition Team at


In this

. Hard choices in China
. How much time do we have?
. What value are Carbon Offsets?

Comparison of US and Australian ecological footprints with Indian or African. Every American puts 22 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, every Australian 17 tons and most Africans a lot less less than 1 ton each.

This is our second FOOTPRINT Newsletter

The aim of the Crisis Coalition is to raise awareness of our situation and to galvanise action. The basic facts are assembled in  The newsletters will keep you up to date on our successes and failures.

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Hard choices in China

If China's economy continues to expand at 8+ percent each year, its income per person will reach the current US level in less than 25 years.

If at that point China's per capita resource consumption were the same as in the United States today, then its projected 1.45 billion people would consume the two thirds of the current world grain harvest. China's paper consumption would be double the world's current production. There would be no forests left.

If China has three cars for every four people, US style, it will have more than one billion cars. The whole world today has only 800 million cars. To provide the roads, highways, and parking lots to accommodate such a vast fleet, China would have to pave an area equal to the land it now plants in rice. It would need 99 million barrels of oil a day, yet the world currently produces only 84 million barrels and is unlikely to produce much more in the years to come.

China's cattle population tripled in the past 55 years to 106 million. This is larger than in the US with a comparable grazing capacity. For sheep and goats, the figures are 8 million versus 298 million. In the next twenty-five years these numbers would have to quadruple to meet higher standards of living.

Even now sheep and goats are destroying the land's protective vegetation.
The wind then does the rest, expanding the deserts and driving huge sand drifts eastwards. 4,000 villages are already at risk of being overrun by sand dunes that are now within 250 Km of Beijing. This threatens a massive agricultural meltdown in north-west China.

In the south the vast waters that flow down the Yangtze are threatened by the collapse of the Himalayan glaciers. It is feared that at this rate water-flow will dry up completely within 25 years. One-third of China's population is directly dependent on this water, as is their rice production that, in the south is grown in paddy fields.

These present trends leave China's future growth in doubt. If we think that might solve the problem of over-growth just consider the political and possible military fallout.

The western economic model- the fossil-fuel-based, auto-centred, throwaway economy - is not going to work for China. If it does not work for China, it will not work for India, which in the same time-frame is projected to have a population even larger than China's. Nor will it work for the 3 billion other people in developing countries who are also dreaming of living as we do.

China will have to adopt the most efficient technology to achieve growth in a deteriorating environmental situation. Their decision to build 450 coal-fired power stations in the next ten years shows this is not their preferred option.

Civilisations are now at risk.
We can save ourselves!

How much time do we have?

Up to now it has been assumed that the consequences of increased warming will be gradual and that we may have a century or so to make changes. This has been thrown to the winds by recent understanding of tipping points. This new evidence is frightening.

What this means is that there is a possibility that a major tipping point will be reached in the next few years. There is also a possibility that it wont be reached for another century. The problem is that we don't know how long we have got.

Are we prepared to take the risk? Is even a 10% chance of catastrophe too much? Wouldn't we do anything we could to prevent the horrendous outcome that this would ?

This is why we have to act now. The scientific findings are clear. We do not need a 25% cut by 2020; not a 60% cut by 2050, but a 90% cut by 2030. This is crucial, for it is only then that we stand a chance of keeping carbon concentrations in the atmosphere below 430 parts per billion. It is at this level, and only this level, that we can prevent the more disastrous outcomes.

If we let it get beyond that point there is nothing we can do. The emission levels from triggering feedback from the feared tipping points will go through the roof. Then the biosphere will have taken over as the primary source of carbon. It will be out of our hands.

It is a testament to the growing public awareness that Sir Nicholas Stern's report should have swung the argument for drastic action even before anyone has finished reading it. He appears to have demonstrated what many of us suspected: that it would cost much less to prevent runaway climate change than to seek to live with it.

The report by the Australian Business Council for Sustainable Energy, back in 2003, concluded in Deep Cuts in Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Economic, Social and Environmental Impacts for Australia that by early action there would be no loss in GDP with the creation of over 3 million jobs, and that within 40 years Australia would be about three times wealthier than we are today.

Click here for a the changes we need to make - NOW.

Lets not forget that the consequences of climate change are already with us. To remind you of a few examples: Many countries, including Australia, are now permanently hotter and dryer.

Over fishing, pollution, the death of coral and coastal mangroves, heating and acidification of the seas is now causing the collapse of nearly all the great commercial fisheries.

The low-lying islands of the Pacific of so many holiday dreams - Kiribatu, Vanuatu, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands - are facing extinction and are negotiating where they can flee to. This involves 92,000 people.

The refugee crisis and the massacres in Somalia are a direct result of global warming, as the drying of the savannahs has decimated many of their cattle and goat herds on which they rely for food and milk. The numbers of refugees and the political instability has produced a foretaste of what is to come.

WE MUST ACT, AND NOW - NOT LATER. This is what you can do.

What Value are Carbon Offsets?

First published in 8/11/06

Among the recent studies of global warming Carbon Sink Reversal is the scariest scenario of all. It confounds the most popular current solution to global warming - that of Carbon Offsets.

Since Kyoto most of the industrially popular solutions, especially in Europe, have involved Carbon Offsets. This program allows you to reduce your apparent carbon footprint by purchasing trees that will absorb what you produce, or commit to funding some low-emission enterprise in developing countries.

It is based on the concept that in rainforests a tree can remove about 22 kg of CO2 each year. By the time a tree has reached full maturity it will have sequestered over 1,000 kg of CO2.

This is the theory.

Investigations made twenty years ago showed that raised levels of CO2 were able to stimulate trees to grow. Computer models of climate change were based on this, and presumed that existing forests could absorb 3 billion tons of carbon annually, even without new planting. The offset provisions of the Kyoto Treaty were founded on this presumption.

Such a happy, and economically pleasing, scenario is now known to be uncertain, if not false. Plants come under stress as temperatures rise. Then the sugars trees make during photosynthesis release CO2 back into the air instead of adding it to storage. Forests are then no longer carbon "sinks". They become a source.

In some areas this is now happening. Trees are becoming a source of atmospheric CO2. When temperature rises above 1C this will become a serous tipping point. There will then be less and less benefit in planting trees.


This complicates the entire Kyoto campaign for offsetting carbon use against new planting. If we let temperatures go above one degree the benefit of planting trees decreases. We can no longer continue to emit carbon on the happy assumption that planting will make it OK.

When we add increased logging and forest fires to this equation, and the severe threats to the Amazon forests from increasing drought, we
KNOW WE ARE IN TROUBLE and that we have to find another way.

Finally, we need to realize that carbon sink reversal is now inevitable. Although global temperature increase has so far been less than 1C, in the last three decades the rate of emissions has increased dramatically. This is from the largest surge in industrial activity, vehicular traffic and mass logging of rainforests in history.

Even worse, heat-trapping emissions take time to build up their full effect. The reason is that ocean temperatures take up heat much more slowly than the atmosphere. The best estimate is that there is a 25- to 30-year time-lag between greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere and their full heat-trapping potential taking effect.

That effectively wipes out any feeling of comfort.

It means that most of the increase of 0.8C during the last century is not caused by current level of carbon dioxide but by what was already in the atmosphere in the 1970s. On top of the extra heat we are already experiencing there is another 20 to 30 years of ever-accelerating warming built into the climate system.

Even if we stop emitting now many forests will quite soon begin to emit more CO2 than they absorb. We have to go beyond the comforts of Kyoto to full governmental regulation that will penalize polluters (including car owners and airlines) and reward low impact technology.

We have itemized the minimum actions that we need to take personally and that need to be taken by government. Please read them.

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What is a footprint?
What is a Footprint?

The low cost of becoming sustainable - A report by PricewaterhouseCooper sets out the potential damage from the industrial revolution in China and India. If we were to help these 2 million people develop through subsidising and promoting the use of environmentally sustainable technology it would cost the richer countries about $50 billion a year.

Though large, this is equivalent to only three weeks economic output from Canada, and immensley less than the cost from catastrophic weather and loss of life if we do nothing. It can be done.

Well-done, John Howard
The Australian Prime Minister has pledged sixty million to fund ways of burying excess carbon emissions underground. This is a landmark decision for this government which has consistently refused to ratify the Kyoto Treaty.  The tide may be turning. It makes me proud to be an Australian.

Or is it?? Check these three quotes:
Sir Nicholas Stern: "The findings of the Review are essentially optimistic. If we act now and work internationally, we can reduce the risks drastically, at modest cost. But if we delay just ten or twenty years, the costs will be much higher and the risks much greater.... the future depends on what we decide now."

Tony Blair: "The Stern report should be seen across the globe as the final word on why the world must act now to limit the damage we are doing to our planet."

John Howard: "It's very important that we do not zealously embrace a particular report or a particular piece of analysis .. I am not going to sign up to something that imposes burdens on my country that are not imposed on our competitors."

California shows the way forward - In August California passed the first state law in the nation to require mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Though the law was drafted by the Democrats, the Republican governer, Schwarzenegger, went against his own party, his president, major automakers and energy companies, and many of his corporate contributors to sign the act.

The new law mandates a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, rolling them back to the 1990 levels. A companion law requires California to purchase energy from the cleanest sources available. This could influence planners to construct solar and wind generators instead of coal plants throughout the whole of the western US.

In this move California, the 12th-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, has become a leader in reversing our destructive energy path. It is one reason that Schwarzenegger was re-elected this week.

Bad maths - 800 million people live in and around tropical forests, and depend on them for their livelihood. A farmer may clear a hectare of prime rainforest to create a pasture worth US$600, in the process releasing 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide as the trees burn and rot. Meantime the Europeans pay US$12 a tonne to offset their CO2 emissions.

This means that Europeans are paying about $12,000 to offset the same emissions that the farmer is releasing in his clearing - the farmer is destroying a $12,000 asset to create one worth $600! This does not make commercial sense.

The existing Kyoto protocols encourage the planting of trees, but there is nothing to protect existing forests. Deforestation is now producing twice the CO2 emissions  of all the world's vehicles. Logging, espepcially in Indonesia and the Amazon, are doing tremendous damage.

A good decision - Brisbane is set to become the first Australian city to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. The state Premier, Peter Beattie, has switched from an eight to a six-cylinder car, and has asked his ministers to do the same. The state parliamentary secretaries have been given second-hand hybrid cars.

This follows a meeting in June where 168 mayors from 37 states of the US committed their cities to the Kyoto Protocol. This will require their cities to reduce pollution from cars and power plants to 1990 levels before the year 2012.

Logging worse than cars -
Forest logging in Victoria releases as much greenhouse pollution as putting 2.3 million new cars on the road each year.
Even when a cleared are has beenreplanted, it takes up to 150 years for new trees to absorb the carbon released through logging of old trees.

Four years ago the Victorian government committed to a 31 per cent reduction in logging across the state's native forests. That should only be a beginning. 

Former chief economist of the World Bank, Sir Nicholas Stern, in his recent report, said emissions from deforestation were responsible for about 18 per cent of global greenhouse emissions - more than that of all global transport.

Wealthy corporations are only half aware - All major UK companies now produce a corporate responsibility report. Whereas 80 of them have identified climate change as a business risk, only 38 have targets for emissions reduction. Of the world's 10 biggest corporations only four have published strategies for reducing their carbon footprints.
By 2010, BP and Toyota aim for a 10% reduction, General Motors an 8% reduction and Shell a 5% reduction in their total global carbon dioxide emissions.

Considering what we know now, and the real risk that we may already be too late, this is insignificant.

In comparison, the UK government has committed to reduce carbon dioxide levels by 20% before 2010 and has set a 60% target by 2050.

At current rates it would take these companies a lot longer to achieve the same target - time we haven't got.

If we are shareholder, let's make our voices heard in the boardrooms of the great.

We can transform our life on this planet, and maintain our lifestyles. We can do both.

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