I made it home safely from Cloquet, after we decided to adjourn the Forest Values/Carbon Markets conference a bit early, on account of the weather. Once I heard I-94W had been closed, I thought ‘Safety First’ was a good idea.
On the drive back to Grand Rapids, my colleague Matt Rezac and I listened to the radio report on the heavy snowfall expected in St. Paul through the night. MPR’s Tom Crann was describing a “singularity” that had taken place somewhere in southern Minnesota of the kind Lee Frelich talked about as an example of global climate change: a lightening -laced snowstorm that split a tree and smoke-stained a house. Luckily, no one was injured.
The only conference-related injury that I know about was reported by Bob Krepp. Bob, as Sec/Treasurer of the Great Lakes Forestry Alliance, had graciously agreed to fill in for Stefan Bergmann on the Respondent Panel at the aborted final Speak Up! session. As he left, Bob told me, “I’ve got a head ache. Literally. I came here thinking I knew more than I think I know now.”
Cheryl Miller, Project Coordinator for the MN Terrestrial Carbon Sequestration Initiative introduced herself to me as we were packing up. I’m so glad she did, because though I knew her by reputation, we had never met. Cheryl said she thought that what we all needed next was a 2-3 day regional conference for deep discussion of the whole set of issues around global climate change – policy, science, forest management, economics.
Potential regional partners might include the Midwest Governor’s Association or the GLFA. When I mentioned this idea to Mike Kilgore, he recalled a similar effort involving Canadian colleagues, some 7-8 years ago. The participants of the Seeing the Forest AND the Trees study tour met colleagues in Thunder Bay who might be interested.
A couple of people caught my ear to say they wished the discussion of the role of human activity in global warming had been more objective. They pointed out that the Society of American Foresters’ position statement on global warming omits any reference to human agency, and they didn’t think such a statement would pass muster with the membership.
While I thought Dean Current’s panel with Lee Frelich and Mark Seeley had entertained quite a thorough and thoughtful discussion of the question, these folks’ comments were a good reminder that differences of opinion persist. And as Jim Bowyer emphasized in his question to the panel, how one understands climate change has implications for what we focus on going ahead – reducing emissions or helping our own and other species adapt.
On the science front, my personal favorite new fun-fact-to-know-and-tell from the conference was Lee Frelich’s story about the abundant White Pine seedling “Class of 1992” that sprouted so prolifically in southern Minnesota that cold summer following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.
Mark Jacobs, Mike Kilgore and I shook our heads over the apparent forced choice the Manomet Center’s Minnesota North Woods Carbon Partnership case study presents forest managers contemplating participation in carbon off-set markets: manage either for carbon credits or fiber. How can that choice be squared with interest in increasing productivity (understood in quantitative and qualitative terms across a full range of benefits)?
Katie Fernholz told me she doesn’t think it’s productive to focus on whether or not we like cap-and-trade or off-set markets. “They’re coming,” she said. Rather, she thinks it makes more sense to focus on how to ensure these markets are structured and used in ways that maximize their effectiveness and benefits to our forests and forest-dependent communities. To that end, she felt good about giving this forestry audience a chance to hear from Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson and Bruce Miller about how our farming brothers and sisters are already participating in carbon markets.
I mused aloud about how the financial and housing markets’ collapse makes the complexity of carbon offset markets feel problematic. Dealing with “additionality” and “leakage” looked particularly daunting – and potentially politically toxic. Mustn’t there be a simpler, better way? Minnesota Environmental Partnership Executive Steve Morse who overheard, said he thought carbon taxes might be preferable. Or, as one conference attendee wrote on their Speak Up card, “How about emphasizing reducing consumption of our natural resources as an option to reduce carbon emissions?”
Celebrating the success of the new 2c Managed Forest Land tax program took center stage at lunch
Over the next few days our conference team will be working hard to organize some dialogue-cum-ask-the-experts-online interaction to take the discussion we began in Cloquet online. That will give all of us a chance to think together about the many good questions captured on your Speak Up! cards.
Our team also will gather and post all of the power points and many photos and even video footage captured of the field tours, the kick-off banquet presentations, and conference evaluation reports. Maybe even Eli Sagor’s Twitter “tweets.” After our online reflection discussion we’ll complete a conference summary report to share.
Thanks to all of you who came to Cloquet to talk about climate change, and drove home in a snowstorm. Like Bob Krepp, my head hurts – but in a good way. Charting the best path ahead is a challenge worthy of what we can all do together.