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Rough Cut
Mexico: The Business of Saving Trees
How one woman has created a biosphere
 

 

Jason Margolis

Jason Margolis is a reporter with the public radio program, The World, where he covers a range of issues, from politics and energy to the environment. Previously, Margolis reported for KQED Public Radio in Sacramento, The Seattle Times and MarketWatch. Margolis is a San Francisco native, but now calls Boston home. He has a master's degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in history from UCLA. Of all his travels, the best place he's discovered is the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.

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Length: 10:12

In recent years, as the world has become increasingly aware of global warming, an entire industry has grown up around the idea of trading carbon to help eliminate greenhouse gases, most notably CO2. As soon as developed nations began capping carbon emissions, driven primarily by the European Union (EU), a brisk global market for trading carbon developed. (Just last week, a carbon trading exchange, called the New Green Exchange, opened in New York.)

While the practice has its detractors, there's certainly interest among businesses in high-polluting industrialized nations such as the United States to limit their carbon footprint -- if not by polluting less, at least by buying carbon credits from countries that are lesser polluters, which is basically how the system works. But here's the rub: Critics say rather than encouraging the world's worst offenders to lower their emissions, carbon trading gives them license to buy their way out of a jam.

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Pati Ruiz Corzo (left) is the director of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve.

This week's Rough Cut isn't about carbon trading per se. But it does show the potential for poorer developing countries to capitalize on a growing market by doing something as simple as planting more trees and protecting existing ones -- and getting paid to do it. In 2007, in fact, the carbon trading market was worth $60 billion (up 80 percent from 2006), according to the research firm Point Carbon.

Jason Margolis, who first reported this story for PRI's radio program The World, travels with producer Loren Mendell to the heart of rural Mexico to discover how a former schoolteacher is using carbon trading to revitalize an entire region.

Pati Ruiz Corzo is the director of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, a protected area about the size of Rhode Island that is a five-hour drive north of Mexico City. When she left her teaching job in the city and moved to the region 25 years ago searching for a simpler life, she found the place littered with trash and stripped of much of its natural vegetation. She decided it would be her life's work to restore the forest and to create new jobs for the people living in the biosphere.

"I'm a kind of stranger in the modern life," she tells Margolis. "I'm free, I'm wild, I'm simple. I love to lie under a forest and have a nap and a snore like a wild boar. Here living with nature, I found the answers I was looking for."

Recognizing Corzo's commitment to the environment, the Mexican government declared the Sierra Gorda region a protected area 11 years ago.

Corzo's efforts are beginning to transform the once-depleted landscape into a thriving habitat with fertile topsoil, a replenished water table and an abundance of newly planted vegetation. She's also developing an eco-tourism industry with rustic lodge accommodations and craft shops for local artisans. It's already a popular destination for birdwatchers. But Margolis also learns that many of the men in the community still head to the United States to find work, as they struggle to support their families off the local land.

Now with carbon trading a hot "commodity," Corzo sees an opportunity to use her forest to raise money on the carbon market. Currently, she is working with nonprofits such as Earth Island Institute, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. The company lets individuals donate money to causes like Corzo's to offset their own personal carbon footprint. These donations, made mostly online, help plant more trees and create sustainable jobs for the people living in Sierra Gorda.

Working with environmental business consultants, Corzo estimates that her forest is worth $1.1 billion on the carbon exchange. Down the road, she hopes that trading this carbon will provide enormous benefits for the bio-region she has nurtured.

Despite debate among scientists about how effective trees are in reducing carbon in the atmosphere -- a lot depends on what types of trees are planted and where, and whether there's some unforeseen slash-and-burn policy down the line -- most experts agree that the growing appetite for trading carbon will help generate much-needed capital for greener energy solutions overall.

-- Jackie Bennion

Mexico: The Business of Saving Trees is made possible by the Skoll Foundation through a grant to the PBS Foundation.

Skoll FoundationPBS Foundation

FRONTLINE/World Social Entrepreneurs
This story is part of our ongoing Social Entrepreneurs series, officially launched in 2006 to focus on individuals whose ideas are creating new and sustainable markets that benefit underserved communities in the developing world. You'll find more stories in the series here.

REACTIONS

Pinal de Amoles, Qro.
Me causa cierta desconfianza esta forma de "salvamiento" de la tierra, pareciera ser que la gente que habitamos esta zona del planeta fueramos tan malos que necesitaramos que alguien nos diera "educacion ambiental", en todo caso quienes deberian aducarse son aquellas personas que viven en las grandes ciudades, ellos que no tienen un contacto directo con la naturaleza y que por tanto no tienen conciencia de la misma, comprendo la preocupacion que a todos nos incumbe, pero no somos tan inhumanos como para devastar la casa que tenemos, no somos nosotros unos asesinos de la naturaleza, nosotros vivimos aqui, aqui desarrolamos nuestra vida y siempre bu
scamos la forma mas equilibrada, la mas adecuada, la mas coincidente con la
naturaleza; ciertamente hay especies en extincion, pero es un motivo mas global, en eso no solo nosotros somos culpables, la tierra es una sola, el planeta es uno solo, es una totalidad DEBEMOS RESCATAR AL PLANETA COMPLETO.

Juanluis Gonzalez - Hayward, California
My congratulations go to Pati for the excellent job. She showed us that we all can be world citizens. After watching the video I feel so proud for what she is doing. I am from San Luis Potosi State and part of the Sierra Gorda runs thru the southern part of my home state.Keep up the good work Pati.

Shiba Prosad Bhattacharyya - NEW DELHI, NEW DELHI
The begining is simple to mark. What a wonderful lession for the World. Her great spirit and the project echoes are truly endless. It is a lesson for every one of us to learn: which bridge in life to use.

Las Vergas, NV
What a wonderful role model for all of our children and her life is or should be a kick start fot people to do SOMETHING, ANYTHING to be a part of the solution. Standing or sitting along the wayside is just as damning to our inner soul as those other folks who actively contribute to the death of our planet by conspicuous consumption, non-vegetatian lifestyles,smoking, driving big cars, and so on. To do nothing in the state of emergency the earth is in is criminal. Our children pay more attention to what we do rather than to what we say. Don't litter, recycle, walk and bicycle, move closer to your work, everything helps

alejandro rodriguez - union city,ca, california
I just hope that we all can try to educate ours self. Thank you for informing me about this issue. The question is how can we inform common people about this issue?

Brian kisinger - Plainwell, Michigan
It is time to become citizens of the world.

Richmond Hill, Ontario Canada
Thank you for making available this great documentary. You do not have to be Einstein to realize how vital the trees are. Also this piece makes you think that a good part of the U.S ilegal immigration mess would be resolved if the Bush administration re-assigned to projects like Sierra Gorda a fraction of the funds wasted in Iraq.

Roger Reyes - Los Angeles, Calif.
When I read about some scientists questioning how effective trees are in cleaning the air, I question who it is they work for. Any scientist worth his salt knows that trees convert carbon into oxygen. We would suffocate without them.

katy, tx
I am glad to see you focusing on someone doing things to help,and showing how the people can help themselves.I have tried to not rake leaves but let them lie and use the earth underneath instead of buying potting soils and amendments.

Fabian Romero - Whittier, California
Clap, clap, clap! You deserve a round of applause.

Susan Brooks - San Diego, CA
Very interesting story about an extremely impressive and admirable woman.

Mike Garcia - Chicago, IL
Good piece. Pati is really doing her work with passion. It's always exciting to see someone who believes in something and lives their life by that conviction.
She's clearly making a positive difference in her community, her country and her environment. Personally, I don't buy into the whole "green economy" or "man made global warming" garabge we get fed every day in the media. Nor do I buy into the whole "carbon credits" idea presented in the piece; it seems very arbitrary. The reasons I don't are because the majority of the people promoting the above movements don't really live up to their rhetoric. However, Pati clearly does.We need more Pati Corzos.

connie wagner - voorhees, nj
The faces and endeavors of our heroes are changing but this goal of offering hope and instilling life values is one of the most noble ever, not only for those directly involved but for those of us who can observe and spiritually benefit. Thank you for the emotional relief and providing examples for future role leaders.

robert j - east windsor, nj
Thank you for including the environment subject in your program, in my opinion, it surely needs more attention, much more for example, than is given to the failed policies of the war in Iraq.I appreciate the great effort of reforestation as well as helping local communities to sustain their livelihoods. Individuals like her are unfortunately hard to come by and so far, many more trees are cut than planted everyday, and not enough is being done to save the planet.

Larry M - San Mateo, Ca
Fabulous story. She is saving the environment while creating jobs. What an admirable combination.

Margarita Christlieb - Queretaro, Queretaro
This is an exemplary project. Paty and her group have shown leadership and enthusiasm in a GOOD project. One that REALLY improves the long term quality of life for everyone.