Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I for one welcome our new Papuan overlords

Until recently a Chinese private company was in negotiations with the Indonesian government to clearfell 1,000,000 hectares of old-growth Papuan rainforest to plant palm oil. Fortunately, the two governors of the provinces of Papua and West Papua put a freeze on all logging contracts earlier this year and the project has been in limbo ever since. With the leadership of the two Papuan governors, the Indonesian government is starting to understand that the value of this forest is substantially higher than the pittance they are getting from the loggers, but deforestation continues at a terrifying rate in Papua New Guinea.

Right now the clean development mechanism only permits carbon credits to be issued based on avoided deforestation projects. Basically, that means that you only get money for keeping a tree alive if you threaten to chop it down first. This is ridiculous... Until we can put a dollar value on the amount of carbon that a hectare of old growth Papuan forest absorbs in a year and start paying it to them, who can blame them for selling it of cheap?

If someone built a big bubble over, say, Europe, how long do you think it would last before they ran out of oxygen? Days, weeks? How long do you think the world would last if someone built an enormous bubble over Papua? I don't know, but I'd bet it wouldn't be long...

Until now the Papuans have been providing free oxygen production and carbon sink services to the industrialised world. Considering the state of our own old-growth forests, that's quite a public service. It's going to be a long time until someone puts a dollar value on it but, as far as I can see, the Papuans have in their possession a resource of far greater value to the world than the oil tucked away under Saudi Arabia's deserts. The pure value of the carbon sink and the oxygen its forests produce is probably enough, not to mention the water storage, the biodiversity and the simple stunning natural beauty of the landscape.

When the oil boom first hit the Middle East mid-late last century there wasn't just huge upheaval in Arab society, conservative British society threw a fit over the lavish spending of the Saudis with their gold-trimmed dishidashas and abaya-clad women trailing 5 steps behind. We're seeing a similar situation these days with petrodollar fueled holidaying Russian oligarchs holidaying in Europe and Asia these days staying in hotels that cost tens of thousands of dollars a night and drinking vodka with gold flakes in it.

Think about it... How long is it until we see Papuan oxygen barons wearing diamond studded kotekas flashing their money around in Crown Casino while Melbourne high-society clucks its collective tongue disapprovingly at the Papuan's largesse?

2 comments:

ohminous_t said...

some good stuff here. keep it up. Carbon sinks will be harder to carpet bomb than oil reserves hidden under ground.
A bright future indeed, if only they can get a handle on restricting distribution of oxygen.

dr. jack cambrian said...

Great, now we just have to wait for the U.S. to declare a 'War on Oxygen'.