Kyoto Land. Get used to it. What is it? That’s what delegates from
more than 150 nations are trying to decide in Bonn, Germany. Entering the
second week of negotiations, the delegates at the U.N. global warming
talks are finding precise definitions hard to come by.
Kyoto Land refers to land that may be identified as a “carbon
sink.” The Kyoto Protocol requires that “land use, land use change,
and forests” (LULUCF) be included in determining how much carbon dioxide
is in the atmosphere at any given time.
That means, simply, that land use, land use changes, and forest use
and growth, must be monitored and reported to the United Nations.
Exactly which lands and which forests are among the issues on which the
delegates are finding it so difficult to reach agreement.
Then comes the question of measurements. How do you measure how much
carbon is absorbed by a tree, or a forest, or a pasture? At what point
in a tree’s life does it stop absorbing carbon and begin to generate
Then, of course, there is the question of what to do with the
information, assuming that the other questions get resolved. A 1998
study published in Science, a highly regarded scientific journal,
reported that carbon sinks in North America absorbed more carbon dioxide
than was produced by human activity. Which, if correct, seems to negate
the purpose of the Protocol altogether.
But wait, Richard Houghton at the Woods Hole Research Center, claims
study is flawed, and he conducted a study that reported only 10 to 30
percent of man-made carbon to be absorbed by the sinks. So goes the
to-and-fro of scientific debate surrounding the entire global warming
The scientific controversy seems to be irrelevant to the
negotiators. What’s important is agreeing on which lands are going to
be monitored, how the monitoring will be conducted and reported
uniformly among the nations, and how much, if any, credit is given to
nations that have vast carbon sinks.
All of this would be painfully boring if it were not for the fact
that whatever decisions are taken regarding Kyoto Lands, will have
direct impact upon landowners in America.
In America, it would not seem improper at all for a land owner to ask
what business the United Nations has snooping around on his property
counting trees and cows and measuring how much the grass has grown. At
these U.N. meetings, it’s almost unthinkable that a private land user
would dare question the government about anything. In fact, a nation
that permits its citizens to ask such impertinent questions is likely to
be labeled as breeding “xenophobic nationalism.”
The fact is that most of America is a carbon sink. By any definition
of carbon sinks yet proposed at these meetings, most of America will
become Kyoto Lands. Exactly what that means to private landowners has
yet to be determined. The very fact, however, that thousands of
international diplomats and NGO (non-government organization) observers
are spending tons of tax dollars meeting in Bonn, discussing the
consequences of land use and land use changes in America, should make
blood pressures rise among the ranks of private landowners.
The use of private land has already been severely constricted by
wetlands, kangaroo rat lands, “Legacy” lands, heritage lands, viewshed
lands, and open-space lands. All of these constrictions have come
about, directly or indirectly, as a result of United Nations policies.
The addition of Kyoto Lands may be the straw that breaks the camel’s
Americans have no quarrel with protecting the environment.
is prudent and won’t hurt even if there is no such thing as global
Americans don’t even mind if the White House squanders a few hundred
sending delegates to all these U.N. meetings. But there is a limit to
patience, and there is a point beyond which caution becomes absurd.
Kyoto Land could well be that point.
It is one thing to increase taxes. Americans grumble, and then pay.
It’s another thing to impose restrictions on land use. Americans
grumble, but unless they are personally affected, they go on about their
business. Kyoto Land, by its very nature, is likely to stir up a
hornet’s nest so ferocious that delegates to future U.N. meetings may
choose to stay home.
Few delegates know the feeling that comes over a person who has
worked all his life to own a piece of land in America. Nor can they
have any appreciation for the feeling that inspires a landowner when he
watches the sun rise above that land, to announce a new day of
opportunity. Nor can they have any understanding of the investment in
time and effort, sweat and blood, a landowner willingly puts into “his”
land. Most importantly, few delegates can possibly have any
comprehension of the extent to which a landowner may go to protect his
In America, there is an unwritten, rarely spoken, code of ethics
among landowners: don’t mess with my family, and don’t mess with my
America is not only the land of the free, it is still the home of the
brave. Whenever the challenge is sufficient, the brave will do whatever
it takes to keep the land free. The challenge presented by Kyoto Lands
may be sufficient.