Viewpoints

With Tropical Forest Standard, California can think globally and act locally

An area of the Amazon rainforest that was burned to clear land for cattle pasture, near Novo Progresso, Brazil, on Sept. 25, 2014.
An area of the Amazon rainforest that was burned to clear land for cattle pasture, near Novo Progresso, Brazil, on Sept. 25, 2014. NYT

Californians may not spend much time thinking about Brazil’s new leader Jair Bolsonaro, since there is plenty to worry about with our own president. But Bolsonaro has declared war on the forest and forest peoples of Brazil, and the Golden State is ideally positioned to counter his disastrous agenda.

Our first step should be to endorse the Tropical Forest Standard proposed by the Air Resources Board. Indigenous people on the front lines deserve no less.

Presidents Trump and Bolsonaro, who met at the White House last week, have much in common. In addition to the fear-mongering, racism, misogyny and affinity for conspiracy theories and urban legends over science, they also share an archaic early 1900s view of the environment and development. Under that view, a healthy environment and strong economy are incompatible.

But Trump’s and Bolsonaro’s outdated view is inconsistent with the actual science and the costs of climate change – and the economic opportunities that come with addressing the problem. In reality, environmental protection and development can coexist and be mutually beneficial.

Science shows that large, continuous expanses of tropical forest provide a plethora of critical environmental benefits. This includes the rainfall patterns that agriculture in Brazil and other parts of the world, including California, depend on. It’s also more and more evident that letting deforestation go on much longer will likely trigger a “tipping point” at which vast areas of forest converts to savanna, and today’s rainfall, from the Amazon rainforest to the West Coast, becomes ever less reliable.

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This should raise alarm. Unfortunately, it has not for Trump and Bolsonaro. Trump exults in the idea of bringing back coal, though it can’t compete with renewables and cleaner fuels, environmental considerations aside. Bolsonaro wants to open indigenous lands to mining and agribusiness and pull Brazil out of the Paris climate accord.

California’s leaders stand in stark contrast: They’ve made their state a global leader on climate change and a shining example of the economic opportunities this offers.

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Stephan Schwartzman

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Richard Bloom

In 2006, when California approved emissions reductions policies, polluters warned that reducing emissions would cripple growth and do nothing for the climate. California proceeded to rise from the eighth- to the fifth-largest economy in the world, grow its economy faster, and outpace job growth in the rest of the U.S. – all while beating its own emissions reductions targets.

With these regulations in place, California’s renewable energy sector is among the fastest-growing, job-creating sectors.

In another example of the state’s global leadership, the Air Resources Board released the Tropical Forest Standard, a set of proposed criteria that tropical states would have to meet for reducing deforestation to get access to carbon markets, like California’s.

The proposed standard would back indigenous communities in their struggle to defend their cultures, as well as stabilize the global climate by protecting the fragile biodiversity of tropical forests. The standard requires participating states to have policies in place that adhere to principles established by indigenous communities themselves to consult, partner with, listen to, and benefit those communities.

Slowing deforestation and restoring damaged forests could deliver a quarter or more of the carbon reductions needed by 2030 to avert dangerous climate change. Research shows that indigenous groups and forest communities are the most effective defenders of the forests.

California should stand behind the Tropical Forest Standard as a concrete demonstration that indigenous territories and their biodiversity are invaluable assets to Brazil and the planet, and are helping to shape the emerging 21st century low-carbon economy. It’s a signal that might help bring Mr. Bolsonaro’s thinking into the 21st century, too.

Assemblymember Richard Bloom represents California’s 50th Assembly District. Dr. Stephan Schwartzman is an anthropologist at Environmental Defense Fund who has worked for decades to protect tropical forests.
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