Science and Politics Clash as Humanity Nears Climate Change Tipping Point
By Greg M. Schwartz
Despite having had a heart transplant three years before, Lonnie Thompson ascended to 22,000 feet and braved -35 degree F temperatures on a mountain peak in far western China in 2015 to do his job as an ice-core paleoclimatologist. The renowned professor from the Ohio State University has extracted and examined ice cores from around the world since 1974. He testified before the U.S. Senate about global warming in 1992, detailing the havoc climate change is wreaking on the planet.
The testimony came in the wake of Thompson's 1991 realization that something unprecedented was happening when he observed melting taking place at the summit of the Quelccaya ice cap in Peru. The melting was washing away vital historic data, something that hadn't happened in 1,800 years of records there. “That was the first time that [I said] ok, there's something really significant going on here on a longer time scale," Thompson said, who noted that a recent visit in 2015 revealed the ice cap is now smaller than it has been in at least 6,600 years.
By examining ancient ice cores and their surroundings, Thompson assesses how rapidly ecosystems changed in the past, then compares those systems to today's systems to forecast the climate changes that await current and future generations. “I enjoy what we do and I believe what we do is extremely important," said Thompson, 67. “Many of these ice fields that we drill, particularly in the tropics in low latitudes, will disappear." A large majority of scientists are now convinced that global warming poses “a clear and present danger to civilization," according to Thompson.
“Ice is fine up until you reach the melting point and then everything changes. And it changes very abruptly. Every system that has been studied has thresholds in it, and a lot of those thresholds in the future we don't know," Thompson said. “Those surprises are what's most difficult for societies to adapt to."
Thompson's concern about the unknown is tempered however by his faith in humanity to alter course.
“At the end of the day, we advance as we go through time. We didn't leave the stone age because we ran out of stones, we found a better way to produce energy … This is ultimately what happens now," Thompson said, noting that Ohio State now gets 25 percent of its electricity from wind and has installed geothermal fields to heat and cool its dorms. “So the change is coming and it will be fought, and the last people to change will be our government on this issue, but the change is coming from bottom up …"
The COP21 United Nations Climate Summit
To address the global threat and resistance to change, representatives from 196 nations attended the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21), held in Paris late last year as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
COP21 was widely billed as humanity's last chance to draft a plan to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change. The ultimate goal was to have the participating nations agree to reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions to the extent that the average global temperature would not rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above the average pre-industrial temperature. Though that 2-degree goal has generally been deemed by scientists to be sufficient to contain the damage done by climate change, many particularly vulnerable nations advocated for a 1.5-degree target (which remains a UN goal.). Germany proposed the 2-degree threshold in the 1990s, and more than 100 countries agreed on that limit at the Copenhagen Accord at COP15 in 2009. The global temperature has risen .85 of a degree C since 1885, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The scientific community generally agrees that if the world continues to burn fossil fuels at its current rate, the 2-degree increase could be reached by mid-century, and 2100 could see an increase by as many as 5 degrees. Reports from the IPCC, World Bank and National Research Council indicate that the 2-degree rise would lead to much larger wildfires, more intense hurricanes, a reduction of important food crops, extreme drought, continued Arctic melting, a drastic rise in sea level and increased flooding.
The IPCC has said that a 5-degree rise would lead to “major extinctions around the globe" and to a "reconfiguration of coastlines worldwide." A recent report published by the National Academy of Sciences indicated that doing nothing to reduce climate change would lead to a sea-level rise that would pose an “existential threat" to cities such as Boston, New York, Miami and New Orleans.
In October 2015, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, announced that the voluntary emissions goals that participants had submitted for COP21 would only limit forecasted temperature rise to 2.7 degrees, at best.
Greenpeace and Amnesty International released a joint statement during the summit that said, in part, “Climate change is a human rights issue. Already today, many people around the world have their rights to life, water, food, health, housing and other rights impacted by climate impacts." The statement then denounced the 2.7-degree level. “This is far higher than the 1.5-degrees C most vulnerable countries see as the maximum, if they are to survive ..."
President Barack Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry, among numerous other politicians, proclaimed triumph at the end of the summit, as the agreement represents the entry into what some participants called “the beginning of the end for the fossil fuel era." The agreement commits the 196 signatory countries to work together to limit global temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees C, while calling for a stop to the rise of greenhouse-gas emissions as soon as possible. Though there is a mandatory review of targets every five years, the agreement has no legal enforcement mechanism.
The climate-justice community had mixed reactions to the summit process and outcome. Karen Orenstein, a senior international policy analyst with non-profit organization Friends of the Earth, said Obama's actions don't match his rhetoric.
“It's hard in Paris to see U.S. media and others … sort of framing the U.S. and Obama as climate leaders and climate champions when that couldn't really be further from the truth," Orenstein said in an interview during the summit. “When you look at what the U.S. is putting on the table as far as emissions reductions, as far as financial contributions for developing countries, it's just magnitudes below what would be called for if the U.S. were living up to its responsibilities."
Orenstein cited Friends of the Earth's “Keep It In the Ground" campaign—which calls for the end of leases on public land for fossil-fuel extractions—as one of the organization's primary efforts to address climate change. Others include trying to eliminate corporate loopholes from the tax code and cutting subsidies to Big Oil.
In Paris, Sec. of State Kerry announced the U.S. would double its $430 million pledge to the UN's climate Adaptation Fund. That figure to assist developing countries with climate mitigation and adaptation projects, however, is dwarfed by the $20.5 billion the U.S. doled out in fossil-fuel subsidies in 2015, according to environmental advocacy group Oil Change International. Orenstein credits President Obama for being ahead of many members of Congress but says he's still way behind the science.
“Those guys [climate change deniers in Congress] are sort of living in the dinosaur ages. And so Obama is maybe 1950, or something like that, but we're actually 2015, where we know what the science says and we know what the science says we have to do about it," Orenstein said. “But our politics get in the way. And you can decide that your yardstick is the current political reality, or you can decide that your yardstick is physical reality. For Friends of the Earth, our yardstick is physical reality."
Orenstein also cited the importance of fossil-fuel divestment, the need for cities to decentralize and localize their energy sources and the need to decrease the influence of money in the political process. Electing politicians who have the ambition to fight the climate problem will also help, she said.
One high-profile politician who has displayed such ambition is Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. After politicians in Paris claimed triumph at the end of the UN summit, Sanders issued a press release with another view: “While this is a step forward it goes nowhere near far enough. The planet is in crisis. We need bold action in the very near future and this does not provide that," Sanders declared. “We've got to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and fight for national and international legislation that transforms our energy system away from fossil fuel as quickly as possible."
Two days before sending out the press release, Sanders had announced a "People Before Polluters" climate action plan to cut U.S. carbon pollution 40 percent by 2030, and more than 80 percent by 2050, by taxing carbon polluters, repealing fossil-fuel subsidies and making huge investments in clean energy.
Cities can and have taken the lead where federal policy lags. San Diego, California made a trailblazing move shortly after the summit when it passed an ordinance vowing to move to 100 percent renewable energy in 20 years. Portland, Oregon passed a resolution in November that opposes local expansion of any new fossil-fuel storage or transportation projects, and Boulder, Colorado has been working to dump its investor-owned energy utility and launch a public municipal utility that would have an easier time moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewable sources.
The energy debate also includes those who advocate for nuclear power but the Nuclear Information Resource Service in Washington DC held a “Paris and Onward" telebriefing in early February where energy experts testified strongly in favor of renewable energy. Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), lauded COP21 as remarkable for getting all countries to unanimously agree to take action for the first time and for targeting a goal of 1.5 C. But he noted that Earth had passed the threshold for 1.5 C in 2011, explaining this means we must not only go to zero emissions but to negative emissions. He flat out rejected nuclear power as a solution due to its logistical limitations.
“We have no time or money to waste, we can't afford to be pursuing technologies that cost too much for not enough impact," Mahkijani said of nuclear power in the telebriefing before concluding that “Nuclear is everything we don't need."
ClimateChange and the Fossil-Fuel Economy
Friends of the Earth's Orenstein also lamented the difference between the non-binding nature of the Paris agreement with global trade agreements: “The degree of legality and commitment in this negotiation is nothing compared to a trade agreement."
Michael Stumo, CEO of Coalition for a Prosperous America, a DC–based nonprofit that aims to establish “a new and positive" U.S. trade policy, wrote in an email, “The trade agreements are a major contributor to increased carbon emissions. The U.S. promotes global supply chains rather than domestic supply chains. Most carbon emitting industries in the U.S. are quite efficient in relation to the past and in relation to the non-European world. As U.S. government trade policy incentivizes those industries to be relocated in non-regulated, developing-world countries and China, the emissions escalate. If the U.S. was still the manufacturing powerhouse instead of Asian countries, carbon emissions would be far less globally."
President Obama and Kerry have worked hard to gain support for the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries. Many environmental, labor and civil rights groups object to the agreement, however. “The TPP will likely cause more global carbon emissions than any Paris talks could possibly negate," Stumo said. “Any environmental provisions in TPP are either not coupled with enforcement measures or highly unlikely to be enforced by the U.S. government. We have never done so before under past trade deals."
While in Paris for the summit, Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program, wrote in an email, “The United States is clearly pursuing a trade agenda that would undermine its goals on climate change. The TPP would empower foreign corporations to challenge climate policies in private trade tribunals and would require the United States to automatically approve exports of natural gas to countries in the agreement. The TPP is counterproductive to the goal of the Paris talks to reduce global climate threats."
Shortly after the Paris summit, Sec. Kerry appeared on ABC's This Week and declared, "The result will be a very clear signal to the marketplace of the world that people are moving into low-carbon, no-carbon, alternative, renewable energy. And I think it's going to create millions of jobs, enormous investments into R&D, and that R&D is going to create the solutions, not government."
However, John Perkins, former chief economist for a major international consulting firm and bestselling author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (an exposé on international financial skullduggery by what he terms “the corporatocracy"), has another view: “If you read some of the most celebrated economists in the world today, two Nobel prize winners, Krugman and Stiglitz, you'll hear both of them saying the market really doesn't determine much from a standpoint of supply and demand," Perkins explained. “Supply and demand curves are meaningless, the market is driven by politics. And politics is driven by big corporations and so therefore big corporations drive the market. The old economic theories are basically BS. They're beautiful wonderful theories but they don't really have any relationship with the reality of global economics today."
Renowned author and climate justice activist Naomi Klein agrees that markets can't be relied on to solve global warming. She credits Kerry for connecting climate change with the civil war in Syria, but feels his approach to the problem is lacking. “I think his solutions are completely inadequate, as are Obama's," Klein said in a February meeting in Santa Monica, California with supporters of Climate Hawks Vote, a grassroots organization devoted to electing politicians that prioritize climate justice.
Climate Change and Terrorism
In addition to the environmental and economic effects of climate change, extreme weather conditions are now affecting political stability in some regions. The Pentagon and Department of Defense released a report in 2014 calling climate change a “threat multiplier," then followed with a report in the summer of 2015 on “the security risks of climate change." The second report stated that climate change can and will aggravate problems such as poverty, environmental degradation and ineffectual leadership, and will hamper the ability of governments to meet the basic needs of their populations.
Francesco Femia was ahead of the curve when he co-founded the Center for Climate and Security in 2010. The DC-based think tank, which consists of a board of senior retired military leaders and security professionals, aims to address the unprecedented challenges that climate change presents to security. Many security analysts cited climate change as a factor in the November attacks by ISIS terrorists on Paris, while also acknowledging that political unrest and the refugee crisis in Syria contributed. Femia said, “the risk factor of climate change has gone up significantly" in recent years and cited research indicating that the recent worst drought in Syria's history was made two to three times more likely because of climate change.
“Now, of course, it wasn't just climate change that contributed to the unrest and that migratory flow," said Femia. “It was also natural-resource mismanagement by the Assad regime. They were heavily subsidizing cash crops like cotton, which are very water intensive, using flood irrigation where you waste 60 percent of your water. So you can't absolve governments of their responsibility. But, yeah, climate change is basically putting an additional pressure on existing security risks. And then when a state fails, obviously terrorist organizations can take advantage of that failure."
The drier the climate gets, Femia said, the more precious water resources become, giving terrorist organizations like ISIS the ability to seize those resources and leverage them against their opponents and populations at large.
“The point is that climate change makes all of these other risks worse, and so we should do something about it," Femia said. “So there's been a debate about, 'Well, is climate change the biggest security risk?' That kind of misses the point—it's kind of the wrong question. The issue is that climate change interacts with other security risks and makes it worse. And so I think that's how we should be thinking about it … and that's definitely how the security community thinks about it."
Some observers found the timing of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks suspicious, in that they created a national state of emergency in France that led to a ban on the huge climate justice protests that were planned for COP21. While not speaking to a conspiracy theory per se, Naomi Klein has suggested that the ban on protests in Paris had a significant effect. “I don't know that it would have changed the agreement, but I think it would have changed people's understanding of what happened. I think there would have been a million people in the streets of Paris without that ban. That's what they were projecting," Klein said in a January talk in Canandaigua, New York billed as “Capitalism vs. The Climate: Reflections on the 2015 UN Climate Conference."
Saving the Planet
Two days before the Paris summit was over, an international coalition announced a “Break Free from Fossil Fuels" global action for May 2016 that intends “to shut down the world's most dangerous fossil fuel projects and support the most ambitious climate solutions." Though it lacks an enforcement mechanism, the Paris agreement at least generated a wealth of political capital that will pressure governments and the corporate sector to take action against climate change.
“Most of the needed words are there; however, they are, for the most part, weak," IEER's Makhijani wrote in a December blog post. “To give them effect and keep most fossil fuels in the ground will take the global equivalent of the movement that stopped the Keystone Pipeline… Actually achieving a limit of 1.5°C will mean taking the tiger out of Exxon's tank and putting it into the Paris Agreement."
Such a political battle is already occurring against entities determined to fight tooth and nail to maintain the status quo. The Obama administration's Clean Power Plan was temporarily halted by a 5-4 decision from the Supreme Court in early February, after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulatory effort to reduce pollution from power plants was challenged by a 29-state coalition led by Texas and West Virginia. The plan seeks to cut carbon emissions from power plants by roughly one-third by substituting natural gas and renewable energy sources for coal. Litigation over the plan will continue in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit though and advocates for the plan believe it will stand on its merits.
“The Clean Power Plan has a firm anchor in our nation's clean air laws and a strong scientific record, and we look forward to presenting our case on the merits in the courts," Vickie Patton, general counsel of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement following the decision. The case demonstrates the nature of the political obstacles to implementing the goals of COP21 influence the fate of the planet. If enough people demand Earth-friendly products and energy solutions (and politicians who support such solutions), grassroots movements can become groundswells, then economic tsunamis. Whether the political capital from the Paris summit is enough to power a consumer movement to catalyze the clean energy revolution needed to halt global temperature rise may well determine the fate of the free world.
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By Abdullahi Alim
The 2008 financial crisis spurred a number of youth movements including Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. A decade later, this anger resurfaced in a new wave of global protests, from Hong Kong to Beirut to London, only this time driven by the children of the 2008 financial crisis.
1. Learn From the Past<p>Young people tend to be comfortable with change. Their instant adoption of technology is an example.<a target="_blank"> However, they may lack an understanding of the more permanent realities – requiring patience and </a>stoicism.</p><p>This wisdom is typically in the hands of individuals who either work within systems or who have accumulated far more tenure. This was effectively echoed by 13-year old activist, Naomi Wadler who <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17Aa6XLZe9A" target="_blank">said</a>, "We can educate our youth a lot better. We're not delving deeper into social justice movements from the past."</p><p>Youth movements that are informed by the success and pitfalls of prior efforts offer a more promising outcome. Take for example, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, co-founded by a 32-year old Alicia Garza.<span></span></p><p>Unlike the civil rights movement of the 1960's, BLM lacks central governance. This means that opponents can't attack its leadership as a means to discredit the whole movement. In the 1960's, this is exactly what happened to the civil rights movement, when critics went after Martin Luther King, stalling the collective efforts of the movement.</p><p>In fact, King spent his final year <a href="https://eu.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/04/04/martin-luther-king-jr-50-years-assassination-donald-trump-disapproval-column/482242002/" target="_blank">mired in public disapproval</a> with over 75% of Americans considering him "irrelevant" including 60% of African Americans.</p><p>By studying the legacy of previous efforts, BLM has managed to rally approximately <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/big-majorities-support-protests-over-floyd-killing-and-say-police-need-to-change-poll-finds/2020/06/08/6742d52c-a9b9-11ea-9063-e69bd6520940_story.html" target="_blank">75% of the American public</a>; a feat that will undeniably ensure the longevity of its cause.</p><p>For the youth climate movement, it too must reconcile the long record of activism that predates its tenure. It ought to model itself as an intergenerational movement by giving greater credence to the activists, environmental scientists and <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/juan-manuel-santos-colombia-indigenous-peoples-coronavirus-pandemic-climate-change-environment-nature/" target="_blank">indigenous elders</a> that have fought for climate justice before its inception and ultimately signal the nuance and maturity that would activate allies within systems of power.</p>
2. Become Part of Systems Change<p>From the college campus to the coworking space, you would be hard pressed to avoid the sight of a social impact competition that invites young people to resolve some of the world's most intractable problems.<br></p><p>Unsurprisingly, this often leads to problematic and incomplete solutions. Take, for example, <a href="https://ssir.org/articles/entry/tackling_heropreneurship" target="_blank">an app for African farmers</a> developed by students who have neither farmed nor been to Africa.<br></p><p>Fortunately, there is a growing shift towards empowering young people to better diagnose the systems that uphold inequality. For example, Oxford University hosts the annual <a href="http://www.oxfordglobalchallenge.com/" target="_blank">Map the System</a> competition to celebrate some of the most promising youth-led mappings and the World Economic Forum's <a href="https://www.globalshapers.org/story" target="_blank">Global Shapers Community</a> convenes more than 7,000 young people under the age of 30 to address local, regional and global challenges.</p><p>To achieve systemic change, young changemakers must first unpack systems into <a href="https://wtf.tw/ref/meadows.pdf" target="_blank">three components</a>; elements, interconnections and functions:</p><ul><li>Elements are essentially the key stakeholders in the system. This can include individuals, land or objects.</li><li>Interconnections are the laws and social norms that bind the elements together.</li><li>Functions are the end-goals.</li></ul><p>Take for example, the persistence of sexual harassment in the workplace as a systems issue. The elements in the system would include the victim, perpetrator and other intermediary bodies including line managers and human resource teams. The interconnections could include forced arbitration laws that prohibit employees from seeking public courts and a managerial culture that protects high performing perpetrators and pressures victims into silence. In which case, the ultimate functions (or rather dysfunctions) of the system discourage victims from pursuing action and enable perpetrators and enablers to enjoy the benefits of career progression without due trial.</p><p>Systemic change is about redesigning the interconnections (the cultural norms and laws). In the example above, it involves challenging the use of private arbitrary courts and uprooting a toxic work culture. Reclaiming this intuition opens a pandora's box that ultimately allows for any given system to operate more inclusively.<br></p><p>Today, young changemakers can rely on online resources like <a href="http://systems-ledleadership.com/" target="_blank">Systems-Led-Leadership</a> to analyze any given system of inequality and then direct their unique skills and knowledge towards the most effective intervention.</p>
3. Avoid Heropreneurship<p>Daniela Papi-Thornton first coined the term <a href="http://tacklingheropreneurship.com/" target="_blank">heropreneurship</a> to describe a growing trend that credits social change to the "founder" of an organization or movement exclusively.</p><p>This culture has inspired an entire generation of young change-makers who are swayed by the allure of the "heroic" founder and whose behaviors are validated through youth awards, grants and speaking circuits that glorify a role in the limelight. This pervasive culture undercuts the entire spectrum of actors that really creates social change.</p><p>Social change does not necessarily warrant the creation of a new organization or movement. Change-makers should consider the root causes that perpetuate and uphold inequalities and then map the existing players and solutions. This process might point to scaling up the work of an existing organization or helping a local candidate run for office.<br><br>For young people who wish to create social change, their efforts – while extremely important – may go unnoticed. This is an expectation that needs to be managed.<br></p>
4. Know Your Place<p>In 2016, a political action committee entitled <a href="http://canyounot.org/" target="_blank">Can You Not</a> emerged with the aim of discouraging white men from running for office in minority districts.</p><p>Despite the comical graphics, the campaign highlights an important question for young changemakers, particularly if they advocate for issues that they have not lived: in the quest for social change, can the actions of change-makers unwittingly perpetuate injustices, even as they seek to end them?<br></p><p>In the example above, could the notion of a white man effectively assuming the role of a translator between minority communities and government only reinforce their structural underrepresentation in political decision-making? Could the desire to assume office without lived experience also signal little faith in the leadership of the very communities being served?<br></p><p>A more effective approach to social change may be to encourage such actors to take stock of the unintended consequences of misrepresentation. In doing so, they may come to appreciate the importance of "stepping back" to allow others to "step forward." More concretely, this could result in building trusted relationships with the community and eventually empowering more local voices to consider public leadership.<br></p><p>For young changemakers, it is pivotal that they assess their own standing in a given system and avoid perpetuating the very inequalities they wish to tackle.</p>
Strategic Intelligence: Youth Perspectives. World Economic Forum
A More Targeted, Effective Kind of Activism<p>Social media has played its critical part in providing young people with a vehicle to advocate for social reform.</p><p>Whether it's <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/23/greta-thunberg-speech-un-2019-address" target="_blank">Greta Thunberg's speech</a> during the United Nations General Assembly in 2019 or <a href="https://variety.com/2018/politics/features/emma-gonzalez-parkland-interview-1202972485/" target="_blank">Emma Gonzalez</a> rallying crowds for more stringent gun control. younger voices are swaying public opinion and pressuring political systems to operate more inclusively.<br></p><p>The impact of these extraordinary young people is inspiring, but arguably they struggle to provide a course of action for the average young person who is motivated to pursue social change. The inconvenient truth is that social reform is difficult and even more so for a young person who wrestles with challenges related to experience and credibility.<br></p><p>To be more effective, young changemakers must forge greater bonds with late-stage activists as well as potential allies within systems of power. They must also understand the systems that uphold equality and pinpoint the intervention that would most likely inspire systemic change.<br></p><p>Finally, it is pivotal that they invest in a support system and seek to dissolve <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/this-is-how-wellbeing-drives-social-change-and-why-cultural-leaders-need-to-talk-about-it" target="_blank">personal anxieties</a> that may compromise their change-making potential.</p><p>It's time for youth activism to grow up.</p>
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By Agustín del Castillo
For 20 years, the Colima fir tree (Abies colimensis) has been at the heart of many disputes to conserve the temperate forests of southern Jalisco, a state in central Mexico. Today, the future of this tree rests upon whether the area's avocado crops will advance further and whether neighboring communities will unite to protect it.
The Nevado de Colima volcano stands 4,260 meters (13,976 feet) above sea level. Agustín del Castillo<p>According to biologist José Villa Castillo, the director of Nevado de Colima National Park and Nevado de Colima Cloud Forest State Park, it is imperative to stop the commercialization of the tree's timber and to create policies that conserve the forests in which it lives. Villa Castillo also supported the inclusion of the tree on the endangered species list.</p><p>Villa Castillo acknowledged the enormous challenge of conserving this tree, and he said the pressure to exploit its timber without sustainable management is far from the only problem. The expansion of the nearby avocado industry also threatens its survival.</p><p>When allowed to grow, the Colima fir tree can become monumental: It can reach 60 meters (196 feet) in height and 2 m (6.5 ft) in diameter. To protect this giant, specialists and communities often promote ecotourism and conservation projects inside the national and state parks that surround the Nevado de Colima volcano.</p>
Fires That Clear Land for Avocado Crops<p>In 2012, a group of researchers from the University of Guadalajara proposed to the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) the recognition of the <em>A. colimensis</em> as a unique species to differentiate it from the sacred fir (<em>A. religiosa</em>), which is the dominant fir tree in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, a collection of volcanoes in central Mexico.</p><p>The Colima fir tree "has extremely low genetic diversity; it has the lowest known genetic diversity among all the species in the Abies genus in Mesoamerica and one of the lowest among all the species of trees on the planet," according to the authors of the proposal to recognize the tree as an endangered species. The area it occupies "is very limited": just 15,002 hectares (37,071 acres), or 0.007% of the territory of Mexico.</p><p>The Nevado de Colima volcano, which stands 4,260 meters (13,976 feet) above sea level, is one of only eight peaks that exceed 4,000 m (13,123 ft) in Mexico. It is only 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Pacific Ocean and is considered an "evolutionary island" because the ecosystems in its high-altitude areas drive unique adaptations in species and are cut off from other ecosystems by hundreds of kilometers. The Colima fir tree is an example of the area's biological differentiation, according to Libertad Arredondo, a researcher and expert on the ecology of high mountains.</p>
The fir forests are mainly located in the middle of slopes or in ravines. Agustín del Castillo<p>Even though the tree has remained on that "evolutionary island," its situation has become increasingly complicated by the impact of deforestation, which was propelled by the issuance of permits for forest exploitation. Fires, started to convert the land to agriculture or other uses, also present a threat to the ecosystem, according to the experts who suggested the tree should be considered endangered.</p><p>The researchers said the tree's future prospects are further complicated by its slow growth rate, its high degree of genetic erosion, the effects of climate change, and the movement of clouds to higher altitudes. The position of clouds is crucial because they act as an essential source of moisture for fir trees.</p><p>Villa Castillo, an expert in pine genetics and reproduction, said the Colima fir tree has never been successfully reproduced in nurseries, which would likely make it impossible to conduct reforestation efforts to help repopulate the species.</p><p>The forests that contain the Colima fir tree are in cold, humid climates, with very little light reaching the understory, and they're mainly located in the middle of slopes or in ravines. The species thrives when surrounded by oak trees, coniferous trees and other types of vegetation common in mountainous cloud forests. The tree also requires a primary habitat with little disturbance from humans.</p><p>According to Villa Castillo, fire kills most Colima fir tree seedlings, as it kills seedlings of other species in the <em>Abies</em> genus. In recent years, more fires have been started in the forest to clear the way for avocado trees.</p>
A tree and other vegetation in the cloud forest surrounding the Nevado de Colima volcano. Agustín del Castillo<p>Sonia Navarro Pérez, a researcher from the University of Guadalajara who has monitored and conducted biological inventories in the area, has seen firsthand how the growth of the avocado industry has led to the loss of important forested areas.</p><p>She described the case of the indigenous community of San José del Carmen, which is in the municipality of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, near one of the patches of forest.</p><p>"We were working with them to establish productive alternatives that are good for nature," Navarro Pérez said. "But when the avocado came, it overwhelmed us completely."</p><p>Since 2013, the coniferous forests around the Nevado de Colima volcano have lost nearly 6,600 hectares (16,300 acres) due to illegal logging, livestock rearing and intentionally set fires, according to Mexico's deforestation risk index developed by the <a href="https://www.gob.mx/inecc" target="_blank">National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change</a>.</p>
A section of cloud forest in San José del Carmen, inside the state park created in 2009. Community members have been protecting the forest voluntarily for over two decades. Agustín del Castillo<p>"[What was once] an original area of 7,000 hectares [17,300 acres] of fir-specific forest is now cut in half," said Villa Castillo, the director of the Nevado de Colima national and state parks.</p><p>The expansion of the avocado crops is the most recent threat in a series of events that have negatively impacted the conservation of the forests in the area.</p><p>Between the 1940s and the 1990s, the Atenquique Industrial Company had exclusive rights to use the timber from these forests under a concession from the Mexican government. The result was "that the forests were skimmed — that is, they took the best parts," Villa Castillo said.</p><p>When the concession expired in 1995, the forests did not experience a transition to a sustainable timber extraction method. Those who, along with landowners who held small plots, had rights to the shared land were limited to selling the forested areas, at very low prices, to the new logging industries located in Ciudad Guzmán. "Then, there were many abuses against the communities. The money was given to the caciques" — families who have always controlled the shared land — "alms were left for the community, and our forests were very poorly managed," said Rafael González Merín, the former president of Huescalapa, a collective of communally owned farmland known as an <em>ejido</em>.</p><p>As a result, many residents of the community believe the solution is to conserve the forests with productive projects.</p>
Communities Pitch in to Save Their Trees<p>Unlike the communities that have been overtaken by the avocado industry, Huescalapa has largely managed to resist its arrival. The community of shared land, which spans more than 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres), is home to pine and fir trees within its shady temperate forests.</p><p>The residents of Huescalapa have also set aside the proposals they've received from the forestry industry, which has expressed interest in buying their trees.</p><p>According to Gerardo Bernabé Aguayo, logging activity in this area of Jalisco "has been very negative because the industry has managed delicate areas — with very limited species — poorly, so we are supporting and launching projects with the communities." Bernabé Aguayo is the president of the board of trustees of Nevado de Colima and Adjacent Basins, a civil association created about 20 years ago after being promoted by the government of the state of Jalisco. To support the conservation of the national and state parks, the board has financing from the regional private sector.</p><p>The board manages about 6 million pesos ($268,000) contributed by the federal government in 2020. With resources from the private sector, it has been able to access an additional 1.5 million pesos ($67,000).</p>
An area of fir trees that has been destroyed by logging. Agustín del Castillo<p>Rodrigo Cantera Hernández, the president of the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center, said that in Huescalapa, the caciques removed timber from the fir forests, "but they did not report any money to the other community members, so we fought to eject them and were able to do so a couple of years ago."</p><p>In Huescalapa, three main conflicts over timber have taken place in the past 20 years. First, in 1999, a group of community members sold part of the forest to a forestry industry from Ciudad Guzmán. A movement led by citizens put an end to the logging five months later.</p><p>Next, in 2012, environmental authorities granted permission for forest exploitation in these areas, so fir trees continued to be cut down. An opinion by the <a href="https://www.ideaac.org.mx/" target="_blank">Institute of Environmental Law</a>, a civil society organization, cited scientific evidence that demonstrated the uniqueness of mountain fir trees and forced SEMARNAT to withdraw these permissions.</p>
The citizens of Huescalapa formed a cooperative to launch the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center. El Alcázar Ecotourism Center<p>Then, in 2015, a federal judge suspended a new authorization to exploit timber in the cloud forest.</p><p>For communities like Huescalapa to have economic options that do not involve the use of timber because of the detrimental effects that this may have on the remaining population of Colima fir trees, ecotourism and similar activities are promoted.</p><p>According to Bernabé Aguayo, the goal is for the natural forest to be conserved as "a key area for contemplation, enjoyment, the preservation of environmental services, and research."</p><p>In 2019, the cooperative in El Alcázar received 1 million pesos ($44,600), which allowed it to have the basic infrastructure for the ecotourism center. The cooperative may receive an additional 3 million pesos ($133,800) in 2020 to purchase more equipment and improve the roads, but support for this funding was blocked in a community assembly. "They have not understood that it is for the benefit of everyone, that it is not money for our pockets," said Cantera Hernández, the president of the cooperative.</p><p>In Huescalapa, one of the challenges that interferes with efforts to promote the ecotourism center is the division that exists between community members. Many seek to use the timber, but others are already convinced of the importance of conservation.</p><p>Villa Castillo, the director of the Nevado de Colima national and state parks, emphasized that projects similar to the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center are being promoted in San José del Carmen and Zapotitlán de Vadillo, which are very close to the border between the states of Jalisco and Colima.</p>
María de la Luz Cortés Reyes, the leader of the Amixtlán cooperative, which was created in San José del Carmen. Agustín del Castillo<p>The Amixtlán Ecotourism Center is located in the community of San José del Carmen. A cluster of cabins marks the entrance to the cloud forest, designated a state park since 2009.</p><p>"We decided to protect our forest long before they declared the state park, 20 years before then," said María de la Luz Cortés Reyes, a community leader in San José del Carmen. She recalled that when loggers came with offers to buy the forest, members of the community believed that they offered very little payment and that "the damage [that the loggers left] was too much." For that reason, they decided "not to touch the forest, because it produces water for the crops and for our houses."</p><p>Cortés Reyes said the community was able to construct the ecotourism center because it had resources managed by the Nevado de Colima Cloud Forest State Park and by the Board of Trustees of Nevado de Colima and Adjacent Basins. However, she said it is important that more promotion is given to the area and that urgent problems, such as those with the water supply system, are resolved.</p>
A view of the Nevado de Colima volcano from the Amixtlán Ecotourism Center in San José del Carmen. Agustín del Castillo<p>In the community of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, citizens also promoted the Puerta de la Hacienda Ecotourism Center, where administrators support the biocultural production of mezcal, an alcoholic beverage made from agave. The drink is made by two <em>mezcaleros</em>, or people who are experts in creating mezcal: Marcario Partida from Zapotitlán de Vadillo, and Rosario Pineda from Tetapán, a small community in Zapotitlán de Vadillo.</p><p>Other productive projects that are promoted in the communities include the organic production of eggs, such as by Efigenia Larios, a small producer from the community of El Tecuán. Additionally, the shared land communities of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, San José del Carmen and Huescalapa are provided with equipment for fire prevention and materials to help restore the forest soil.</p><p>Artists have painted murals that shine a spotlight on forest conservation in San José del Carmen and Zapotitlán de Vadillo.</p><p>The intention of these efforts is to allow those who own land or have rights on this fragile mountain to "understand that there are other options besides logging, and that they, too, can generate development," said Arredondo, the researcher who specializes in the ecology of high mountains.</p><p>Despite the strong pressure for land use changes brought by the avocado agroindustry and fostered by the high level of impunity that often prevails in rural areas, many of the area's landowners continue to search for a model in which their forests can remain standing.</p><p>"Many neighbors say that we are foolish for not wanting to sell this beautiful forest that we have, but that money only lasts for a short time," said José Avalo Lino, a farmer in San José del Carmen. "We are so certain of [the importance of] preventing logging that, long before the declaration of the natural protected area, our community assembly had already decided to save this forest. We will continue to be 'foolish' in this decision."</p>