Monday, December 5, 2011

Climate Change and College Football: Alabama vs. Louisiana State

Climate Change and College Football

This comic raises an important (ok, maybe just an interesting) question - what IF climate change threatened college football? If so, there is little doubt in my mind that folks, especially here in the South, would become very concerned very quickly about climate change. So, let's frame the debate in those terms, and use forests to do so. What is the most obvious college football match-up to use for this framing? Why, the 2012 BCS National Championship, of course, pitting the Alabama Crimson Tide (my favorite team and non-environment-related hobby) versus the Louisiana State University Tigers.

First, the Alabama Crimson Tide:  Alabama_helmet

Take these facts from the Alabama Forestry Commission on the importance of forests to the state of Alabama:

  • There are 22.7 million acres of timberland in Alabama, accounting for 68% of the total land area in the state.
  • Alabama has the third most timberland acreage in the 48 contiguous states, behind only Georgia and Oregon. 
  • As far as private timberland acreage is concerned, Alabama ranks second behind Georgia.
  • 82% of timberland acreage is owned by non-industrial private landowners.
  • The forest industry is the state‚Äôs largest manufacturing industry, producing an estimated $15.39 billion worth of products in 2005.
  • There are approximately 650 active forest products manufacturing operations in the state.

Now, the LSU Tigers:  Lsu

Take these facts from the Louisiana Forestry Association:

  • Forests cover 14 million acres, or about 50% of Louisiana's land area, making it the greatest single land use in the state.
  • Over 148,000 entities own Louisiana forests. Private non-industrial landowners own 81% of the state's forestland, forest products industries own 10% and the public owns 9%.
  • In 2010, forestry accounted for 57% of the total value of all plant commodities grown in Louisiana and contributes 31% of the value of Louisiana's agricultural commodities.
  • The impact of forestry and forest-products industries on the Louisiana economy in 2010 was $3.1 billion.
  • Louisiana forest landowners received $396.8 million in 2010, while timber contractors and their employees earned $426.6 million.
  • Forest industries are the second largest manufacturing employers in Louisiana, providing about 12,694 jobs.

So, what happens when these crucial forests are threatened? I've already posted about the value of forests in general, and about how climate change may result in shifting forest habitats across fairly rapid times scales (geologically speaking). I've also posted about a recent U.S. Forest Service report detailing the projected impacts that population growth and urbanization will have on southeastern forests over the next 50 years, reducing them by as much as 23 million acres (or 13%) - this is an amount equal to the entire forest acreage in the states of Alabama or Georgia. Given that forest destruction and degradation are responsible for 20% of annual global carbon emissions, while forests concomitantly sequester one-third of carbon emissions annually, the projected loss of southeastern forests could have profound impacts on carbon emissions in the U.S. While we typically think of the developing world as the location of most forest destruction, without a change in course we will see it occur literally in our own back yards.

The pride of states like Alabama and Louisiana has a far deeper history in the natural resources available in those states than it does in storied football programs. Forests have always been a crucial part of these states economic and ecological welfare, giving rise not only to a bustling industry in forest products, but also a diverse suite of recreational activities associated with the environment, from fishing and hunting to hiking and camping. Forests also happen to be a crucial resource needed to combat climate change, in addition to providing a variety of other values such as increased air quality, watershed protection, and biodiversity. It seems clear that planting a forest, or not cutting one down, is a far more cost-effective way of sequestering carbon than placing restrictions on industrial emissions (not that the latter should not be utilized - I am only asserting that preserving natural carbon sinks is more cost effective, a key point in the current political climate). So hopefully we can think more carefully and critically about all of the cultural aspects of our forested states that are worth preserving - both college football and preservation of crucial resources like Alabama and Louisiana forests.

- Blake Hudson

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