Tuesday, 22 March 2011

With reference to case studies outline ways in which the fuelwood supply could be managed more sustainably [15 marks]

Theoretically, fuelwood is a sustainable source of energy as trees can be replanted to replace those that are cut down. Reforestation and afforestation schemes are often successful in the countries that implement them but such schemes are often costly and so are only implemented in more developed countries. This means that, globally, the fuelwood supply could be managed more sustainably as it is often the developing countries that rely on fuelwood as a source of energy which often leads to deforestation.
In Nepal, 87% of their primary energy is sourced from fuelwood and the ever increasing demand has led to the destruction of 71% of their forest coverage. This has resulted in the risk of flooding and landslides in both Nepal and neighbouring Bangladesh being greatly increased as the absence of trees increases surface runoff by reducing the interception store and it means that there is a lack of roots to bind the soil. One way to manage the fuelwood supply is to reduce people’s dependency on it by offering other alternatives. In Nepal, to reduce people’s dependency on fuelwood, appropriate technology has been used to give people an alternative to fuelwood. Biogas stoves have been installed in rural areas which run on the methane that is produced when livestock manure decomposes. Not only has this reduced the number of trees that have been cut down but it has health benefits as well as respiratory problems are associated with the smoke produced when fuelwood is burned. The Sahel is another area that has suffered environmental damage due to the unsustainable way in which fuelwood has been gathered. Excessive fuelwood gathering has led to desertification and salinisation and, in an attempt to remedy the problems provoked by deforestation; other alternatives are being introduced to reduce people’s reliance on fuelwood as a source of energy. In the Sahel, solar cookers have been introduced which means that people do not have to rely on fuelwood at all to provide the heat required for cooking. Both of these examples of appropriate technology have reduced the number of trees that are cut down. In developing countries, like Nepal and the African nations, forms of appropriate technology, like solar stoves, are possibly a better and more sustainable way of managing the fuelwood supply than implementing afforestation and reforestation schemes as, by offering an alternative source of energy, people are less reliant on fuelwood. Also many forms of appropriate technology don’t rely on fossil fuels as energy sources which are why they are often very environmentally sustainable.
Another method that could be used to manage fuelwood supplies is to implement afforestation and reforestation schemes. In Europe farmers are given grants, by the European Union, to turn farmland back to forests. However, a similar scheme could only be set up in countries that can afford to offer attractive incentives. A similar method of managing the fuelwood supply has been introduced in Nepal and also involves encouraging the local people to get involved. The aim of the project is to promote the regeneration of the fuelwood supply by encouraging locals to help with the planting of trees which are grown in local nurseries. Such schemes are often very successful as not only do they help to regenerate the forests but also provide locals with the skills required to continue with the replanting of trees in the future. Other countries have also initiated schemes that involve replanting trees and China is an example.  China, due to their large population, cut down many of their trees and this has led to the expansion of the Gobi Desert.  To prevent further expansion, in 1981, China introduced a law that said that every citizen over the age of 11 has to plant at least one tree every year. As a result of this law, China has the highest afforestation rate in the world and in 2008, 47,000 square kilometres worth of trees were planted. This has helped to solve the deforestation problem but, at present, fuelwood is no longer a major source of energy for China. As China tries to industrialise they have started to use other, more commercial, sources of energy like coal. This shows how finding other alternatives to fuelwood is one approach to managing fuelwood supplies and, in developing countries, this is where forms of appropriate  technology that can be used to supply energy are very beneficial for both the local people and the environment.
As fuelwood is, theoretically, a sustainable energy source the easiest way to manage the supply would be to ensure that trees are replanted to replace those that are cut down. In developed countries, that can afford to employ afforestation and reforestation schemes, this has been a successful method however this can work in developing countries too. For example, the replanting tree project in Nepal is a more sustainable way of managing the fuelwood supply as not only does it help to regenerate the forests but it also provides the locals with the skills required to continue this scheme in the future. Another way that the fuelwood supply could be managed more sustainably is by offering some alternatives, like solar cookers, so that people are not totally dependent on fuelwood. Reducing people’s reliance on fuelwood is an important way of managing and preserving the fuelwood supply, as when fuelwood is not the only option the forests are not exploited to the extent that the gathering of fuelwood has a negative and lasting impact on the environment. If measures like these are implemented then fuelwood can be a sustainable energy source for future generations and not have as many negative impacts on the environment compared to those that are created by the current, unsustainable, way of gathering fuelwood.
Millie's comments: Millie felt that I needed to address the issue of the start up costs of implementing afforestation and reforestation schemes in more detail and talk about why this is important, in relation to managing fuelwood supplies.  Her biggest criticism of this essay was that it lacked the addressing of how development plays a huge role in determining the management of fuelwood supplies. I failed to mention how,although schemes are great and important, they are not widely implemented due to a lack of both education and funds to kick start them. The fact that developing countries have other priorities, such as securing food, clean water and developing a health and education system, which therefore attract the most funding should also have been mentioned.
A note for Millie incase she reads this: - I found out about the replanting tree scheme, in China, in the second Al Gore book, Our Choice and I can remember that when I first read it, it shocked me slightly and definetly stuck in my mind. This is the extract from the book if you are interested "China stopped deforestation more than 10 years ago, and in 1981, the National People's Congress declared that all citizens of China above the age of 11 (and until age 60) have a duty to plant at least three trees each year. The planting usually takes place in March and April, during spring for most of China. The Chinese tree-planting program is driven by the central government in Beijing, with cooperation from regional leaders. The Chinese people planted 11.7 million acres of forest in 2008 alone - a 22% increase over 2007, according to the statistics released by the Chinese National Greening Committee. Chinese schools require each student to plant at least one tree before graduating, and most schools set aside time for a 'green education, program. The nation announced last year that it will spend almost $9 billion on its tree planting program for the year and set a goal of covering 20% of the nation in forests by next year. The president of China, Hu Jintao, has personally taken part in the tree planting to underscore its importance as a national priority". Apart from this, I am ensure of any other details - especially how a scheme like this is enforced - but I still think it is quite interesting and the statistics released, although I don't know any more recent ones, suggest that it is working.
My comments: This was my lowest scoring essay and I am very tempted, as part of my revision to redo it, especially as I found it the most challenging of the three to start writing about, and include the bits I missed - especially as, on reflection, they are rather crucial points. Levels of development are crucial to consider in practically any essay in relation to the energy module as differences in energy sourcing and consumption patterns ultimately come down to different levels of development and therefore, in this essay, I really should have considered it.
The essay below it just the one we did on the environmental impacts of fuelwood gathering and it was only a 10 mark essay but I thought I would include it anyway as, by realising the impacts of fuelwood gathering, it helpe me to evaluate the steps taken by countries to manage their supplies and the effectiveness of such steps.....
What are the environmental impacts of fuelwood gathering? (10)
Fuelwood is an important source of energy and is heavily utilised in developing countries and even though it is, theoretically, a sustainable source of energy, there are many negative impacts that fuelwood gathering has on the environment – especially if it is not managed. For small, isolated communities fuelwood is normally the most appropriate energy source to utilise and they do not use enough to cause lasting damage to the surrounding environment. However, as the population increases at a rapid rate the number of trees cut down to feed the increasing demand can cause substantial damage to the environment.
 87% of Nepal’s domestic energy is sourced from fuelwood and around 71% of the forest coverage has been cut down and this has had many negative impacts on the local environment. In wet climates deforestation reduces the interception store and thereby increases surface runoff which increases the risk of flooding. Deforestation in Nepal, which is situated in the foothills of the Himalayas and so experiences heavy precipitation, has increased the risk of flooding and landslides in neighbouring Bangladesh. The risk of landslides is increased as the absence of trees means that there are no roots to bind the soil. Also the removal of trees means that, during times of flood, there is no large vegetation to prevent the movement of sediment and this increases the impacts flooding has on the local area. Another environmental impact of excessive fuelwood gathering is that it has led to the destruction of animal’s habitats. The forests of Nepal are home to thousands of animals, many of which are endangered or endemic and deforestation, caused by both over-grazing of cattle and the cutting down of trees for fuelwood, has meant that many of these animals have been forced to move or have died.
In regions that have dry climates, like the Sahel, deforestation leads to desertification as a lack of trees means that transpiration doesn’t occur as much and so rainfall happens less frequently. Also there are no roots to bind the soil and, as the soil is more exposed to the elements, it becomes more susceptible to soil erosion. Salinisation often occurs in unison with desertification as the antecedent moisture in the exposed soil is easily evaporated and when this happens the salts in the soil, which are highly toxic to the majority of vegetation, are drawn from the soil and this means that the land becomes even more unproductive than it already was. The combination of both desertification and salinisation has led to prolonged droughts and famines in the Sahel which have been experienced annually since the 1970’s.
Despite the impacts that excessive fuelwood gathering can have on the environment, when it is managed properly and the demand for wood doesn’t exceed the amount of trees that are being replanted, it does have some benefits for the environment. The burning of fuelwood produces a lower quantity of atmospheric pollutants than the combustion of coal and the other fossil fuels. Also the carbon dioxide that it released from the burning of fuelwood is offset by the uptake of carbon dioxide that would have occurred during the trees growth. For people in remote locations, it allows them to have an energy source that they would otherwise be without as they are not connected to a national grid and so can’t access electricity, which they probably wouldn’t be able to afford anyway even if they were connected a national grid. Also, as they can source this energy locally, the pollutants emitted from vehicles, that would have to be used to transport other energy sources like oil or coal, are not emitted.
It is clear that, if the use of fuelwood is not controlled and policies to replace the trees that are cut down are not implemented, the environmental impacts of excessively gathering fuelwood can be disastrous. However, for many developing countries, fuelwood is the only accessible and available energy source for isolated communities and at present, is possibly one of the best alternatives for them to coal, which is the energy source that industrialising countries often turn to next.

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