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Home Or Away?

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Recently, The Coffee House has given coverage to Cool Earth, the fundraising initiative to protect the Amazon rainforest (“Cool Earth-revisited“) . While acknowledging the value of the biodiversity within the rainforest, the prime driver for this project is its function as a carbon sink. For between £70 and £100, depending on location, you can ‘buy’ an acre of rainforest and lock in 260 tonnes of CO2.

You don’t really ‘buy’ the land, of course. You don’t own it, you can’t exploit it and you can’t sell it. If you go out to have a picnic on it, you get pilloried for the air miles and emissions associated with getting there. So basically, you are giving a charitable donation. From Cool Earth’s Terms and Conditions:

“Cool Earth Action is not offering for sale any land or biomass. Donors will not receive title to the land sponsored or to the ‘emissions reductions’ achieved by any of Cool Earth Action’s projects.”

I’m not knocking Cool Earth, but when it was suggested that The Coffee House team club together to sponsor their own corporate acre, I had reservations. My doubts were crystallised when an appeal letter from the Woodland Trust, a charity working to protect and expand native woodlands in the UK, came through the letterbox.

Woodland Trust have 3 months to raise £750,000 to acquire 649 acres of Brede High Woods, a large complex of ancient woods and heathland in East Sussex. A designated Site of Nature Conservation Interest within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Brede High Woods contain a rich mosaic of habitats, including rare heathland, and an astounding variety of threatened and unusual species.

This irreplaceable landscape will be parcelled up and auctioned off to private bidders if the £750,000 target is not met. It may be a little strong for the Woodland Trust to say that “ancient woodland is our rainforest”, but it’s probably the closest we can get. If we fail to act to protect sites such as this on our own doorstep, how can we justify sending our money halfway round the world to manipulate the use of natural resources in Brazil? And should we really be surprised when the locals say we should put our own house in order before telling them how to run theirs?

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19 Responses

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  1. Both initiatives should be supported, obviously.

    Deforestation is a global problem but the wealth to support these schemes are mainly in so-called countries of the ‘West’.

    Coolearth offers 1/2 acre plots at £25 to £50 a piece. We wouldn’t want to mislead potential donors, particularly as The Coffee House comes in the Top 10 Google searches for ‘coolearth‘.

    Btw, nice photo selected for your post. 🙂

    matt

    June 16, 2007 at 1:57 pm

  2. “Coolearth offers 1/2 acre plots at £25 to £50 a piece. We wouldn’t want to mislead potential donors….”
    Too right we wouldn’t. Cool Earth’s cheapest 1/2 acre is £35. Of course, if that’s a bit rich for your blood, they’ll accept any amount, large or small, as a donation, but then you’ll miss out on that special bonding that comes from squinting at your personal plot on Google Earth.
    “….particularly as The Coffee House comes in the Top 10 Google searches for ‘coolearth‘.”
    That might be because they’re actually called “Cool Earth” 🙂

    Pete Smith

    June 16, 2007 at 3:47 pm

  3. Hi y’all,

    Since I’m letting 30 acres go back to natural forest, I’ll pass on the rain forest offer. However, it does raise a question; how is the amount of carbon sunk per acre calculated? I ask from the perspective that an acre of forest here, I suspect, locks up a lot more than that. Or is that an annual figure?

    the Grit

    the Grit

    June 16, 2007 at 6:39 pm

  4. The following quote is from their website;

    ‘Coolearth is a charity that protects endangered rainforest. This combats global warming, protects ecosystems and provides sustainable jobs for local people.’

    But then they do use cool earth elsewhere as well.

    You really are negative about the coolearth concept aren’t you Pete.

    matt

    June 16, 2007 at 7:11 pm

  5. Negative? In the sense of not being 100% gung-ho positive about it, perhaps. I just don’t identify with Cool Earth the way I do with projects closer to home. Cool Earth are trying to foster a feeling of ‘togetherness’ by creating the impression that contributors have bought into a communal project. Strip away the trimmings and it’s a straightforward insurance policy against the environmental effects of deforestation. I prefer to throw money at projects which mean something to me, working with familiar environments in areas which I can visit easily. It may be irrational, in that temperate deciduous woodland is a less ‘efficient’ carbon sink than rainforest, but ecosystem services aren’t everything.
    As for the “coolearth”/”Cool Earth” thing, they just seem very confused. All I know is you get 8 times as many Google hits for “Cool Earth” as you do for “coolearth”.

    Pete Smith

    June 16, 2007 at 10:33 pm

  6. “…how is the amount of carbon sunk per acre calculated?”

    Hi Grit,

    I suspect the Cool Earth response would be “It all depends”. In their FAQ they say: “Each acre of rainforest locks in more than 100 tonnes of carbon. If an acre is burnt, this results in up to 260 tonnes of carbon dioxide or CO2 emissions.” and “You can’t be sure as every acre supports a different number of species. The levels of carbon stored in soil and leaf litter can also vary.”

    Pete

    Pete Smith

    June 16, 2007 at 11:31 pm

  7. “Since I’m letting 30 acres go back to natural forest, I’ll pass on the rain forest offer.”
    Hi Grit,
    Just out of interest, are there subsidies available to you for this? Are you planting trees, or just letting Nature take her course?

    Pete Smith

    June 16, 2007 at 11:40 pm

  8. One theme coming out of the comparison of Cool Earth with The Woodlands Trust is the issue of trust, which is helped by a track record. The latter has this whereas Cool Earth doesn’t.

    Also, possibly the type of people initially interested in investigating the idea of parting with their money with the Cool Earth initiative may find the fact that it has been set up by a politician & a businessman causes a certain amount of caution.

    So, there are more than a few risks associated with parting with ones money with the Cool Earth scheme. Which is why a co-operative approach lessens this risk by pooling that money & risk and literally lessens the money spent per person.

    Co-operatives, once popular are beginning to make a comeback through various schemes and with different aims. They are however obviously difficult to set up, even on a issue by issue basis when each individual perceives the risk associated differently! Or, in this case would rather spend their tenner closer to home. 🙂

    matt

    June 17, 2007 at 11:38 am

  9. Hi Pete,

    The field behind our lake has become inaccessible due to property development. If I cut a new road, it would have to go up and down several hills, which would present a serious erosion problem and threaten the lake. Since we still get the “green belt” tax break based on timber values, I figured it was better all around to let it go natural. Another year or two and I’ll thin out some of the scrap trees to give the hardwoods an advantage. 40 or 50 years from now, it’ll make a nice addition to my son’s retirement fund, in the meantime, it’ll cut down on trespassing.

    The reason I’m not planting trees is that we have such a large number of local variates that don’t seem to have any problem establishing themselves in any undisturbed area. It’s fun to see what springs up.

    the Grit

    the Grit

    June 17, 2007 at 4:58 pm

  10. Hi Grit,
    I envy you. Might be worth thinking about planting some ‘exotic’ specimens as a long-term investment. In a UK context I’d certainly plant walnut for nuts and for the timber, which is in short supply and much prized by cabinet makers.
    Pete

    Pete Smith

    June 17, 2007 at 5:16 pm

  11. Hi Matt.

    I posted a comment here yesterday. Will you guys check your spam box. If it’s anything like my spam filter, it gets overactive at times.

    earthpal

    June 18, 2007 at 7:06 am

  12. OK, here’s the thing. I don’t favour Woodland Trust because I trust them more. Cool Earth has a high profile, prominent public figures on its board, and a lot of celebrity supporters. They are not likely to do a runner with the contents of the petty cash box. I see no risk here.
    I favour Woodland Trust because they say “Here’s a rare, precious and fragile environment, help us save it because it’s the right thing to do”. If Cool Earth took the same line, with carbon storage and exploitable biodoversity and all that other practical stuff as a bonus, I might feel more inclined to support them. As it is, they’re just selling insurance.

    Pete Smith

    June 18, 2007 at 8:34 am

  13. Hi Pete,

    Good advice. Fortunately, walnut trees are one of our most prolific native trees, as well as one of the most valuable. They are really quite interesting. On one hand, squirrels bury the nuts, which helps them spread. On the other hand, their roots dispense a chemical that either kills or retards the growth of many other plants, giving them a big advantage in surviving the first few years. Not to mention that, if you have the patience to hull, dry, crack, and shell the nuts, they make mighty fine eating. Pecans, of course, rule, but walnuts are definitely a close second.

    the Grit

    the Grit

    June 18, 2007 at 10:49 pm

  14. Good Morning you people.

    I will try again for (what it’s worth) ….

    Although Cool Earth is not a new initiative (other NGO’s having been running buy-an-acre type schemes for years), it shouldn’t be knocked for its well-meaning and worthy, although yet-to-be-proved-trustworthy, scheme.

    I like the idea that we can sponsor parts of the rainforest in order to preserve it. It’s much the same as sponsoring an endangered animal or adopting a baby elephant.

    I like that the indigenous people will be supported and that their dependance on rainforest destruction for their livelihoods will be reduced by financing sustainable educational, medical and employment schemes for them.

    I’m not so keen on seeing co-founder Johan Eliasch, a regular traveller, flying down to there once a month on his private jet, in the self-belief that by buying this land, he has already offsetted his rather humongous carbon footprint.

    I’m also not so keen on the fact that many other people who take part in this scheme will also see their ‘investment’ as a carbon offset which means that, once again, Western citizens and companies can carry on with their emitting lifestyles while the poorer people of the rainforest have to change theirs.

    I would also like to know what will happen when Eliasch’s scientists discover new medicinal plants (which I’m sure they will) in his part of the rainforest. Will he sell to the highest pharmaceutical bidder who will then, in turn, produce life-saving drugs (a good thing) and then slap a patent on them so that the cost of these drugs are so high that only a select few rich Western countries can afford to buy them (a not-so-good thing)?

    It’s obvious that the Cool Earth charity must be totally accountable and open to financial scrutiny and moral monitoring. I am somewhat reluctant to share Pete’s trust that it is too high-profile to dare to risk any pilfering and I would like to be more sure that there is no corporate profit to be made which may end up in the pockets of the fatcats.

    As Matt implied, there is something to be said for sticking with established charities that have a proven credibility and the Woodland Trust project is an equally worthy cause. But the rainforest projects are particularly vital. We know that. Something needs to be done fast and as things stand, the Buy-a-Jungle schemes are working. They are protecting the rainforests and that is the objective. If I was adamantly intent on a Rainforest project, I would choose the World Land Trust.

    http://www.worldlandtrust.org/
    http://www.worldlandtrust.org/news/2007/06/cool-earth.htm

    earthpal

    June 19, 2007 at 10:41 am

  15. Earthpal,

    Excellent commentary. Thank you.

    I like the look of the World Land Trust and completely understand why they are a little taken a back that Cool Earth have been promoted as a ‘new’ idea! I’ll certainly be looking further into WLT’s work. 🙂

    matt

    June 19, 2007 at 1:13 pm

  16. Now that’s more like it! WLT’s home page has got David Atttenborough on it, who’s more trustworthy than him?
    What I like about World Land Trust is that they acknowledge the tensions between local and global action. They offer sponsorship/donation opportunities all round the world, including the UK (But none in Africa!). Their ’10p Tree’ campaign combines tree protection in Ecuador with tree planting in Gloucestershire.
    And they’re cheaper than Cool Earth. Protecting 1/2 an acre of rain forest costs only £25.
    http://www.worldlandtrust.org/supporting/peanuts.htm

    Pete Smith

    June 20, 2007 at 10:43 am

  17. > And they’re cheaper than Cool Earth. Protecting 1/2 an acre of rain forest costs only £25.

    Well, we might even get Mr CPRE to part with a fiver then!

    Maybe The Coffee House can contribute to WLT instead.

    matt

    June 20, 2007 at 11:32 am

  18. “Well, we might even get Mr CPRE to part with a fiver then!”
    Our most recent conversation on this subject suggests not 🙂
    “Maybe The Coffee House can contribute to WLT instead.”
    I’d sign up for that.

    Pete Smith

    June 20, 2007 at 11:45 am

  19. Arh, a positive outcome.

    All that remains is that man from Scadbury!

    matt

    June 20, 2007 at 12:18 pm


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