Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, ForestsTags , , ,

Op-Ed: Don’t burn trees to fight climate change—let them grow

Bill McKibben, THE NEW YORKER

f all the solutions to climate change, ones that involve trees make people the happiest. Earlier this year, when a Swiss study announced that planting 1.2 trillion trees might cancel out a decade’s worth of carbon emissions, people swooned (at least on Twitter). And last month, when Ethiopian officials announced that twenty-three million of their citizens had planted three hundred and fifty million trees in a single day, the swooning intensified. Someone tweeted, “This should be like the ice bucket challenge thing.”

So it may surprise you to learn that, at the moment, the main way in which the world employs trees to fight climate change is by cutting them down and burning them. Across much of Europe, countries and utilities are meeting their carbon-reduction targets by importing wood pellets from the southeastern United States and burning them in place of coal: giant ships keep up a steady flow of wood across the Atlantic. “Biomass makes up fifty per cent of the renewables mix in the E.U.,” Rita Frost, a campaigner for the Dogwood Alliance, a nonprofit organization based in Asheville, North Carolina, told me. And the practice could be on the rise in the United States, where new renewable-energy targets proposed by some Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as by the E.P.A., treat “biomass”—fuels derived from plants—as “carbon-neutral,” much to the pleasure of the forestry industry. “Big logging groups are up on Capitol Hill working hard,” Alexandra Wisner, the associate director of the Rachel Carson Council, told me, when I spoke with her recently.

The story of how this happened begins with good intentions. As concern about climate change rose during the nineteen-nineties, back when solar power, for instance, cost ten times what it does now, people casting about for alternatives to fossil fuels looked to trees. Trees, of course, are carbon—when you burn them you release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But the logic went like this: if you cut down a tree, another will grow in its place. And, as that tree grows, it will suck up carbon from the atmosphere—so, in carbon terms, it should be a wash. In 2009, Middlebury College, where I teach, was lauded for replacing its oil-fired boilers with a small biomass plant; I remember how proud the students who first presented the idea to the board of trustees were.

Read more at https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/dont-burn-trees-to-fight-climate-changelet-them-grow

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, ForestsTags , , ,

Chopping down and burning our forests for electricity is not a climate solution

Mary Anne Hitt and Danna Smith, THE HILL

Addressing the climate crisis has finally become a major national priority for the public this election season, but that’s also prompted troubling discussions in the energy sector and on Capitol Hill about increasing the use of biomass energy, or burning plant materials like wood, to produce electricity.

We need to set the record straight on this: chopping down our forests and burning them for electricity will not reduce carbon pollution and will actually exacerbate the climate crisis. The best course of action is to dramatically build out our clean energy resources, like solar, wind, and energy efficiency, and retire all biomass and fossil fuel plants. Period.

Forests should never be used to serve our electricity needs, they are too valuable as “carbon sinks” – sucking carbon out of the atmosphere as opposed to putting carbon into it. Additionally, biomass energy inevitably leads to deforestation. For example, the EU’s use of biomass in place of coal is already accelerating logging in wetlands and coastal hardwood forests across the Southeastern U.S. After being ripped out of these historic forests, trees designated for biomass are reduced to wood pellets and shipped to power plants where they are burned, releasing large amounts of carbon pollution in the process.

The reality is that utility companies and the biomass industry are attempting to paint burning trees as “renewable, green, climate friendly energy” so that they and their allies can exploit government subsidies and continue raking in big profits at the expense of public health and technologies that are actually sustainable. The biomass industry’s argument depends on claims that the forests they cut grow back, thereby reabsorbing any carbon that was emitted. But, this is not the case.

The truth is that when forests are clear-cut and the trees burned for fuel, carbon that was otherwise stored in the forest is emitted to the atmosphere. It can take a forest anywhere from 40 to 100 years of regrowth to reabsorb that same amount of carbon, and the science shows that our climate can’t wait that long. To have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate impacts, we must reduce emissions rapidly over the next decade and start restoring degraded forests across the world, including here in the U.S.

Read more at https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/energy-environment/456977-chopping-down-and-burning-our-forests-for-electricity

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, ForestsTags , , ,

Logging plays bigger climate change role than U.S. acknowledges, report says

Georgina Gustin, INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS
The U.S. has consistently underestimated the impact that logging has on accelerating climate change and the role that preserving its forests can play in sucking carbon out of the atmosphere. That’s the conclusion of a new report that also seeks to rebut the notion that burning wood is a “carbon neutral” alternative to burning coal and oil for electricity.
Published by the Dogwood Alliance, a North Carolina-based forest conservation group, the report argues that the U.S. has placed too much emphasis on protecting the world’s tropical forests, while ignoring the logging industry’s impact on greenhouse gases released from cutting its own natural woodlands, especially older forests.
“The U.S. has just failed to acknowledge the role that the logging industry has played in the climate crisis, and has failed to embrace the need to restore old growth, intact forests across the U.S. as a critical piece of the puzzle in solving the climate crisis,” said Danna Smith, a co-author of the report.
The report comes as the issue of burning wood for energy is getting fresh attention in Washington. This week, Congress, backed by the logging industry, included language in its budget deal that would declare the burning of woody biomass for electricity “carbon neutral,” sparking the latest controversy in a long-running debate.
“We can’t log our way out of climate change,” said Kirin Kennedy, associate legislative director for lands at wildlife at the Sierra Club. “Burning wood products actually contributes more toward the increase of emissions into the atmosphere.”
Read more at: Logging Plays Bigger Climate Change Role Than U.S. Acknowledges, Report Says | InsideClimate News