Leaving Trees Alone Might Be Better Than Planting New Ones

Yves here. My reflex response is that there are too many lawns in America, but there are responses other than planting trees as readers regularly discuss….such as wild gardens with flowers and other plants that appeal to pollinators. But this piece focuses on deforestation and large-scale climate change mitigation strategies. It makes a key point that planting trees does not do enough quickly enough to help carbon get into the soil.

By Fen Montaigne. Originally published by Yale Environment 360 and reproduced at Grist as part of its Climate Desk collaboration

William Moomaw has had a distinguished career as a physical chemist and environmental scientist, helping found the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School and serving as lead author on five reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In recent years, Moomaw has turned his attention to working on natural solutions to climate change and has become a leading proponent of what he calls “proforestation” — leaving older and middle-aged forests intact because of their superior carbon-sequestration abilities.

While Moomaw lauds intensifying efforts to plant billions of young trees, he says that preserving existing mature forests will have an even more profound effect on slowing global warming in the coming decades, since immature trees sequester far less CO2 than older ones. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Moomaw explains the benefits of proforestation, discusses the policy changes that would lead to the preservation of existing forests, and sharply criticizes the recent trend of converting forests in the Southeastern U.S. to wood pellets that can be burned to produce electricity in Europe and elsewhere.

“The most effective thing that we can do is to allow trees that are already planted, that are already growing, to continue growing to reach their full ecological potential, to store carbon, and develop a forest that has its full complement of environmental services,” said Moomaw. “Cutting trees to burn them is not a way to get there.”

Q. How do you define proforestation?

A. So I began looking at some of the data and some of the papers that had come out recently, and I found that if we managed our forests and grasslands in a different way they could be sequestering twice as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they currently do. One paper found in multi-aged forests around the world of all types, that half of the carbon is stored in the largest one-percent diameter trees. So I began thinking about this, and I realized that the most effective thing that we can do is to allow trees that are already planted, that are already growing, to continue growing to reach their ecological potential, to store carbon, and develop a forest that has its full complement of environmental services.

We needed a name for that, so I began thinking about names. I actually sat down and went to Google and searched for prefixes, found a whole bunch of them, and the one that I settled on was ‘pro.’ Proforestation. It’s not that we shouldn’t do afforestation [planting new trees] and we shouldn’t do reforestation. We should. But recognize that their contribution will be farther in the future, which is important. But in order to meet our climate goals, we have to have greater sequestration by natural systems now. So that entails protecting the carbon stocks that we already have in forests, or at least a large enough fraction of them that they matter. We have to protect wetlands, which are actually storing an amount of carbon in the United States that equals what’s in our standing forests. We need to protect and improve the carbon sequestration by agricultural soils and grazing lands.

It’s taken a very long time for people to focus on something besides reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. And to recognize that even though we’re putting almost 11 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year, the increase is only 4.7 billion tons. So where is the rest going? It’s going into plants on land and plants in the ocean. And the largest single place that’s removing carbon dioxide [from the atmosphere] on an annual basis is forests. Even what we think of as mature forests are still accumulating carbon because carbon makes up about roughly half of the dry weight of wood, but it is also in the soils. Even older forests continue to accumulate carbon in the soils. In fact there are forests where there’s more carbon in the soils than there is in the standing trees. As trees get older, they absorb more carbon every year, and because they are bigger they store more carbon.

We’ve seen a lot of interest lately in planting more trees. And planting trees is great and it makes us all feel good and it’s a wonderful thing to do and we absolutely should be reforesting areas that have been cut. A recent paper talked about how we could plant more than a trillion trees on nearly a billion hectares of land and how much that would do to solve the problem. These are great things to do, but they will not make much of a difference in the next two or three decades because little trees just don’t store much carbon. Letting existing natural forests grow is essential to any climate goal we have.

Q. In terms of CO2 emissions, we’re putting 30 to 35 billion tons of CO2 from burning fossil fuels into the atmosphere every year, while at the same time there’s this dramatic destruction of forests in the Amazon and in Southeast Asia. What we’re looking at right now is really a perfect storm for soaring CO2 emissions.

A. That’s right. But don’t leave out the United States. The most disturbed forests in the world are in the United States, not the Amazon and not Indonesia. I don’t wish to lessen the significance of the Amazon and Indonesia. But the loss of forest canopy is the greatest in the Southeastern United States of any place on the planet.

Q.Let’s talk about what’s happening in the Southeastern U.S. and the wood pellet and biomass-burning industry that is driving that deforestation and what can be done about it.

A. Well, a little over a decade ago, as a result of a rule change in the European Union, they declared bioenergy, like burning wood pellets, to basically be a carbon-neutral and renewable energy source. But bioenergy is more expensive than all the fossil fuels, more expensive than wind and solar, and the industry would not be economically viable without huge subsidies. So the EU, particularly the UK, is giving bioenergy huge subsidies. The U.K. has reduced their coal use a lot, but their emissions have not been reduced at the same rate as their coal reductions would indicate because a big part of their replacement is from burning wood in the form of wood pellets that primarily come from the Southeastern U.S. The largest coal plant [in the U.K.], Drax, has converted half of its units to burning wood pellets instead of coal. And there are a bunch of other power plants in the U.K. that are doing the same thing, and the same thing is happening on the continent. And they claim it’s carbon-neutral.

The tragedy in the Southeastern U.S. [where large amounts of wood for biomass burning originates] is it’s the most biodiversity-rich region in North America and has more species of animals and plants than anyplace else. That is being decimated. For pellets, wetland, hardwood forests are preferable to the pines and the pine plantations, which don’t burn as hot, so those wetland hardwood forests are really being gone after. For a long time, the companies made the claim they were only using the residuals, the branches and so on. An NGO down there called Dogwood Alliance documented that that isn’t true. They’re converting whole trees [into pellets].

Q.What is the solution here, both in the U.S. and in Europe?

A. As you may recall, [former U.S. EPA administrator] Scott Pruitt made the declaration that all forest bioenergy was carbon-neutral. [U.S. Senator] Susan Collins of Maine actually introduced an amendment, which is still binding, that states that all federal agencies must consider all forest bioenergy from sustainably managed forests to be carbon-neutral. There have been lots of letters by scientists and statements that that is just false.

We’ll continue to need and want forestry products — that’s understood. But the attitude in much of the forestry industry is that all forests must be managed by principles that improve forests for timber production. But we have to recognize that there’s a distinction between industrial production forests and natural forests, and we must make clear that natural forests are managed for biodiversity and the full set of ecosystem services that forests provide. And, by the way, which biodiversity are we shortest of? The biodiversity that’s associated with older forests. We hardly have any older forests left in the Lower 48 states. It’s in the small single digits of our original forests. The Forest Service says that less than 7 percent of U.S. forests are over 100 years old.

Q. Talk about the need to expand protections of forests that now have little or no protection.

A. Except for the designated federal wilderness areas and national forests, the rest of our forests are almost all devoted to timber production. And as you’ve seen, the Trump administration is now going after the roadless areas, as well. We need to have a conversation about which forests are most capable of sequestering carbon in the near term. And those are forests that are generally in the age range of 70 to 125 years — they are the ones that are going to add the most carbon in the coming decades. Unfortunately, 70 years, for many species, is the perfect size for the sawmill. So it is going to mean saying ,well, we’re going to not cut these. This has to apply to federal and state forests. In Connecticut, there is not a single acre of state forest that is not subject to being cut.

Q. And this is New England, the legendary home of reforestation in the last century.

A. That’s right. And that all happened by benign neglect, which worked out in our favor. The [U.S.] Forest Service has just moved into Massachusetts in an alliance with the state and is creating cooperative organizations that will lead to more cutting of this now very carbon-dense, rich forest that we have in this part of New England. The Department of Energy Resources in Massachusetts has put forth proposed changes and regulations that would increase the amount of forests that qualify for subsidies for bioenergy as a renewable resource, as an alternative energy resource. The outcry from the scientific community, the nonprofit community, and citizens has been enormous. There’s pressure to build a wood-burning electric power generating station in a low-income neighborhood in Springfield, Massachusetts. And that’s being pushed back against very hard by the public. But the governor and his team are pushing forward to make it happen, with more subsidies — subsidies that come from our electric bills. That subsidy doesn’t go to solar panels, it goes to burning wood. We’ve got a real problem here.

Q. So what policies do you pursue to have a sustainable forest products industry?

A. I think what you do is you concentrate it on an appropriate set of lands. [Biologist] E.O. Wilson argues that we need “half earth” — that is, half the world needs to be left to nature in order to function. I suppose with one kidney and one lung, we can make it.

One policy that I would suggest is that with privately owned forests and relatively small forest plots, people be paid for the ecosystem services of storing carbon and promoting old-growth biodiversity and the resiliency to climate change that these forests provide. We need to compensate private land owners for leaving their forests standing. Not everybody will do it, but that might get us a mechanism where we get closer to our goal.

The other thing — and there’s legislation proposed here in Massachusetts — is that there be no more timber harvesting on state forest lands. We now have a regulatory system that sets aside about 60 percent of forest lands as either parks or reserves. This would say that the remaining state woodlands would become reserves or parks and not harvested. Well, that would mean that 13 percent of the forests in Massachusetts would not be available for timber. The howling has been unbelievable — “This is the end of the world!” And yet, today, the regulatory system is not controlling this adequately at all.

Q. What about in the Southeastern U.S.? How do you slow down what’s happening with the wood pellet industry?

A. The best thing of course would be to remove subsidies. That would end it.

The other thing is there’s a social justice issue here. The plants that make the pellets are all being built in low-income, African American communities that have five times the asthma rate as the state of North Carolina as a whole. These plants produce a tremendous amount of dust and particulate matter. Some of these communities are beginning to fight back. There’s a big push down there politically to deal with this. You know, it’s really amazing how short-term economic interest can dominate social justice, climate outcomes, everything else. So I think one way is to fight fire with fire and turn the subsidies around. Get rid of the subsidies for bioenergy, begin to support the maintenance of existing forests for private landowners, and really change our policies on state and federal public lands.

Q. Is there any progress in Europe in terms of recognizing that this is not a carbon-neutral source of energy and should not be supported or subsidized?

A. Yes, there are efforts. There’s an organization called Biofuelwatch in the U.K. They are an amazingly well-informed, spunky bunch of activists. The scientific community in Europe is beginning to shift its views on this. It turns out that almost two-thirds of all the renewables used in Europe are bioenergy.

Q. If we do a better job of protecting these older forests, what difference could it make in moderating temperature increases?

A. If we get to net-zero emissions by 2050 and we continue to reduce our emissions after that, and if we continue to increase the biological sequestration — the nature-based solutions as they’re sometimes referred to — we would actually start reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere between 2050 and 2100. The more we can increase the sequestration rate and the faster we can reduce the emissions, the better off we’ll be. But cutting trees to burn them is not a way to get there.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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40 comments

  1. Stadist

    One paper found in multi-aged forests around the world of all types, that half of the carbon is stored in the largest one-percent diameter trees.

    I have been telling people for many months now: Need to grow more forests, let the trees grow to full size and then at the end of cycle these same trees need to be used for sustainable and durable construction, preferably into buildings that stand for over 100 years. This is by far the easiest carbon sequestration ‘technology’ available and it’s completely implementable right now. In Nordic countries they are already building some small apartment buildings from mostly wood, this is doable.

    But then we look at the EU and how EU decision making process works. Most countries are just looking at their own advantage and naturally relatively wood-poor large countries in EU do not want to implement wood use positive rules and legislation because then the relatively wood-rich Nordic countries would get huge economic advantage. Instead the EU is mostly concentrated on traffic, and this concentration can also be viewed from this advantage perspective: Most vehicle manufacturing happens in the larger EU countries so naturally these same countries support legislation that creates essentially new demand for their industries (although admittely german passenger vehicle manufacturers seem to have really bad start at EVs).
    All this circles back to my main gripes with EU: It’s pretending to be somehow fair and technocratic, where in reality most of the actions are revealed to be brutal realpolitik where the big countries will machinate a solution always in the manner that will provide maximum benefits for themselves despite everyone else. There is no solidarity in here. Even the seemingly dysfunctional USA seems to possess far larger levels of solidarity between states than the EU.
    Same brutal realpolitik can be seen splendidly right now with Germany and China. Germany will do anything to protect itself and it’s economy and if this demands aligning themselves with China then so be it.
    Perhaps in quite bitter ironic manner the germans came up with the term Finnlandisierung to describe and make fun of Finlands behaviour with Soviet Union during the cold war. Lo and behold, here we have germans showcasing exemplary modern version of Finnlandisierung with China which I like to call neo-finnlandisierung.
    Note that this ‘Findlandization’ was mostly used in derogatory manner and therefore I find it more than welcome for it be revieved with modern Germany in same derogatory manner.

    Reply
  2. vlade

    There are also different things – some forests store most of their carbons above ground, and it takes a loooong time to get it into the ground (well, IIRC, it could be actually most of the forests are like that, while long-grass has it the other way around where most of the stored carbon is underground).

    Also, it’s tricky re old vs new trees. For conifers, more carbon is captured early on in their life, as they grow (above and blow ground) – the replacement for the leaves (needles) is relatively small compared to broadleaves. The leaf turnover cycle is pretty important part in the carbon capture.
    Also, very mature forests tend to have considerably lower tree density, and also, depending on the species, much less undergrowth (which can have substantial carbon load) due to the mature trees canopy outcompeting just about everything for sunlight.

    In other words, it’s IMO not mature vs young trees, it’s the type of ecosystem you have. CO2 is a complex problem, and it will need complex solutions..

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    1. Stadist

      I disagree with CO2 being a complex problem. From my point of view it seems quite straightforward, produce less and store more. There are ubiquitous number of ways how individuals and societies can reduce CO2 production, however many people are still in denial, the nice shiny car and driving everywhere is just so nice compared to the alternatives. And no, just changing to EV and continuing otherwise in the same old merry ways isn’t enough. Even getting and EV and installing solar panels on roof isn’t enough. People need to consume less of everything, and this is the hardest part to accept.

      As for storing carbon, well known easy ways exist already, but the modern technohubris is obsessed with making carbon storage in to good business through technological invention. This can happen, but I’m quite pessimistic myself. Fossil fuels have been used as energy source because they have been cheap, plentiful and relatively easy to store and transport. Turning CO2 back into useful products is kind of reverse flow and as chemical state changes are state functions they are independent of the histories: This means that as turning carbon chains to CO2 afforded us plenty of energy and warmth then driving this same process backwards is demanding equal or very similar amounts of energy input. Almost only applicable free energy source there is is sunlight, and photosynthesis is the best known carbon storage method available, but this approach isn’t actively encouraged because it’s not good business to grow trees and other plants to maximum volume. We don’t really need to come up with new technologies for this, we have all the necessary tools given to use we are just ignoring to use them because the privileged elite likes to keep their privileged status. Anti-consumerism is almost like anti-capitalism at this point.

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      1. vlade

        ‘From my point of view it seems quite straightforward, produce less and store more’

        Ah, the easy solutions.. The problem is that the world (and I don’t mean only our human world) is so internally complex that second and third order effects are hard to identify and often can dwarf the first-order issues.

        Say there’s quite a few ways how to reduce CO2 cheaply. Except it’s into methane, even more powerful greenhouse gas (which in theory you could burn to recycle it into CO2….)

        Or look at coral reefs. Everyone loves coral reefs. They absorb about twice the CO2 amount the (1.5kg/m2) than forests do. Except, due to how they create CaCO3 they emit the same amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. So no, they are not a carbon sink and killing them may in fact very slightly reduce CO2 emitted (not that I want them gone – second and third order effects).

        Ecosystem is a very complex beast. There are really no obvious ‘turn this lever to reduce CO2’ signs on the ecosystem.

        Unlike our human system, where I 100% agree with your that consuming less of everything will produce less CO2. But that’s not about ecosystem. It’s about our social and political economy.

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        1. Stadist

          It’s about our social and political economy.

          But if it’s about our social and political economy, and I do agree with you, how can it be beyond our control? Being part of our social and economical system is in our control by definition. Sure I’m pessimistic whether especially the western societies of today can survive the drastic reductions needed to stop the climate change, but that’s the thing actually. Western countries could do those reductions and it doesn’t demand any sort of loss of life, except maybe for some people with serious illnesses. The most immediate losses would be in the superficial quality of life ‘indicators’ like tvs, smartphones, cars, clothes and similar things also known as the consumption. There are no credible reasons why we couldn’t live with less consumption, the thing is we just refuse to change our behaviour and so do the developing countries if we refuse. But it’s easy for us to refuse because the external costs are carried mostly by the poor in africa and other less developed places. There is no solidarity, people are selfish and we are selfish.

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          1. vlade

            Social and political economy we can (try to) control.

            An ecosystem is not social and political economy. You can pass laws that will dictate to the bacteria what they should be doing where, or to the trees that they should sequester X CO2 molecules. But…

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        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          “Don’t overthink it” as the kids like to say. We know that the more plants we grow more of, the more CO2 they suck down out of the air. Once they get it sucked down, we already know some ways to keep it from re-reducing back up to methane. Bury it under shallow water as peat in swamps and marshes and bogs. Nature already does that. Bury it shallowly in the ground as roots and as humus between the roots formed from soil life turning root-exudates into glomalin and other pre-humus carbon compounds which then further bio-burn down to stable humus. Make biochar from above-ground plant parts ( maily woody stems/branches/trunks/etc) and mix it into soil.

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      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        Can you offer a way for the majority of middles and poors to selectively target their “using less” against those “areas-of-use” which most directly support and profitize the uppers and the Overclass?
        If you can do that, you can suggest ways to targetize and weaponize the selective application of “using less” so as to cause maximum economic torture and economic terror against the uppers and the Overclass.

        If you can do that, you may get recruits to “use less”.

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      3. rjs

        we can build large forests made out of plastic trees; that would store a lot more carbon longer than any trees of the green variety..

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        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          But we have to burn fossil carbon to get the energy to work up other fossil carbon into the plastic. So making plastic trees is very energy intensive and very oil intensive.

          Whereas letting cellulolignose bio-trees build themselves with bio-water, bio-nutrients and bio-CO2 is a solar powered process with zero fossil energy input or petrochemical input needed at all.

          So overall net-net, a live solar-powered phyto-bio forest is more carbon reducing than a forest-load of plastic trees.

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      1. Anon

        This study seems to be assessing soil carbon sequestration: Root ‘myco’ and soil carbon derived from leaves and fallen (decomposing) branches of the trees. What percent of total carbon sequestration is in the living wood of the above ground trunk and branches?

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  3. Joe Well

    Thank you for sharing this. I really had no idea. Timber harvesting in state forests is even more indefensible now that we understand the crucial role of dead trees in sustaining ecosystems.

    Reply
    1. Adam1

      As Vlade says, it’s complex. And as the authors says there needs to be a conversation. Just this past weekend I was camping with a bunch of scouts on one of our council’s reserves. The reserve is trying to restore the forest to its traditional, pre-European settler make-up. That means removing invasive species and reducing other native but aggressive species like beech (the do well in the shaded under canopy but prevent oak saplings from thriving which are a target species for increased density). Additionally, the reserve is harvesting several dozen acres of ash while they are still commercially viable even though they’ll all be dead in about 5 years because of the Emerald Ash Borer (an invasive pest). There are millions of acres of state forest here in NY that are made up of rapidly planted pines during the depression era that could be harvested and converted back into broad leaf forests with better longer term carbon sequestration as well as better natural habitats.

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      1. Joe Well

        “better longer term carbon sequestration”

        That is the problem. As the author above notes, we can’t wait for the long term. We need carbon sequestration now. Leave those un-cool depression-era pine forests as they are, knock down some suburban sprawl and plant the hipster trees there. As the author above notes, we need to manage forests with a view toward carbon sequestration above all else, and we can’t afford to cut down 70-year-old trees.

        Also, obviously, culling trees to prevent an epidemic that will kill even more trees is a different subject.

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        1. divadab

          @Joe – “we can’t afford to cut down 70-year-old trees.”

          I agree if they will be burned for energy. But if processed into lumber the cO2 is sequestered.

          A 70-year old balsam fir is senescent – it’s no longer growing much and therefor not sequestering much CO2. For optimal management, balsam firs should be harvested at about 45 years. WHite pine, on the other hand, continues to grow for 2 – 300 years. Optimal harvest age is much older.

          I think I’ll write a longer comment below.

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          1. Joe Well

            Did you not read the article or are you just a bot for the timber industry?

            The whole point of the article is that old trees sequester much more carbon even if they stop growing. Just by living.

            Just one quote from above:

            “which forests are most capable of sequestering carbon in the near term. And those are forests that are generally in the age range of 70 to 125 years — they are the ones that are going to add the most carbon in the coming decades. Unfortunately, 70 years, for many species, is the perfect size for the sawmill.”

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  4. Jim A.

    There’s nothing wrong with a tree farm, but a tree farm is NOT a forest, just like a wheat farm is not a grassland.

    But we have to be thinking long term here, What happens to the carbon sequestered in a tree when it eventually dies? Does it re-release carbon as it rots? Certainly trees that die in forest fires re-release much of their carbon. You have to think about the ENTIRE lifecycle to get a good grasp on how effective forests are at carbon sequestraton.

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    1. divadab

      Yes. Forests need to be managed for optimal carbon sequestration. And clear-cutting is poor management. In a multi-species forest, I.e. a natural forest, selective harvest is a necessity.

      For example, balsam firs are short life-cycle tree – they stop growing and sequestering much CO2 at about 45 years. They make good lumber, and should be harvested on a 45 year cycle. IN contrast, hardwoods in Appalachian forests have longer lifecycles and harvest cycles should be more than 100 years. (note that in Western forests, the hardwoods (alder, big leaf maple) are on shorter lifecycles and the firs and cedars are longer lifecycle trees).

      In any event the focus should be on management for CO2 sequestration – meaning harvesting for sequestration as a priority (ie for lumber) – burning should be only for byproducts.

      The UK just announced their “renewable” energy exceeded fossil fuel energy last year for the first time ever – to the extent it is based on biomass electricity produced from pellets from clearcut US forests this is absolute BS. It’s just gaming the system.

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      1. xkeyscored

        I think if you look further, it was renewable electricity that exceeded fossil fuel electricity.
        Fossil fuel energy for transport was not factored in.

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  5. lyman alpha blob

    I can vouch for the reforestation in NE. Walked the property line of my father’s 80 or so acres of woods last month which we were able to do by following the old barbed wire and stone fences along the border. 70 years ago it was all pasture land for cows and sheep with maybe a handful of large shade trees. The family still runs a dairy farm but don’t use this area for pasture anymore.

    The thing that puts the land in jeopardy is the fact that it is extremely valuable for development purposes and without tax incentives my family likely wouldn’t be able to afford the taxes on it. The state gives a big tax break for current use, meaning it needs to serve some agricultural purpose, and since there are no herds, the use is logging. They don’t log it a lot, but they do need to harvest some trees every several years to keep getting the tax break.

    Much better would be to give the tax break for leaving it alone.

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    1. divadab

      Managing a forest for optimal CO2 sequestration requires selective harvest, since trees have a lifecycle and at a certain point they slow or stop sequestering CO2. Don;t feel guilty about harvesting older or unhealthy trees — the young trees you favor or plant in their place will sequester much more CO2.

      I get all my firewood and much of my lumber from selective harvest on a 40-acre woodlot. I cut about 50 trees a year and plant over a thousand. It’s a source of great satisfaction to see and feel the forest improving, and to get to know the trees and their micro-environments.

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      1. lyman alpha blob

        The part I left out is that my family used exclusively wood heat for decades – my father and I would cut about 5 cords a year and we did the selective harvest that you described, although we didn’t plant new trees – we let the forest do that on its own. My dad’s older now so they switched to propane in the last couple years.

        So my problem isn’t so much with removing trees – we’d do some logging whether there was a tax break or not – it’s that it’s required in order to get the tax break that allows us to keep property that’s been in the family for generations. My father handles all this so I could be mistaken, but my understanding is that cutting firewood for personal use doesn’t get the tax break so some commercial logging is needed on top of that to qualify for the current use.

        Ours is a small property and the people who log it for us are also our neighbors and they are very conscientious, only cutting trees that they decide on with my father and there is definitely no clear cutting. Right now I’d say that overall there is probably a net gain in tree mass on this property and there most definitely has been since it was pasture decades ago. But I’m sure that isn’t the case on all forest land being logged for current use.

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  6. Chauncey Gardiner

    Massive logging of the old growth Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, along with related road construction, as is being pushed by the current administration, does not seem to be the best idea. But as with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, unsurprising for a group that has demonstrated a callous disregard for the environment.

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  7. ptb

    Pro-forestation. I like that.

    Agriculture is a tremendous carbon user and opportunity-cost. Especially the ethanol-oriented agriculture of the US.

    We’re talking roughly 40% of feedgrain production being corn bound for ethanol (it will soon rise to 50% in response to latest Trump Admin changes to fuel ethanol regulations). And this is for a fuel, ethanol, that has an EROI just barely above 1.0 — i.e. just about worthless in terms of energy reduction. It is a fuel that is economical vs conventional fuel only because of a combination of subsidies and tax breaks for corn farming and ethanol production and distribution, and the glut-pricing-cheap natgas that gets transformed into the copious amounts of nitrogen fertilizer (ammonia) corn needs to grow at our latitudes. This significant use of natgas, by the way, is worse for the earth than using the same natgas to replace coal electric power plants, which are still being built elsewhere in the world. Alternatively, if the world runs short of oil but continues to have abundant natgas, the natgas can itself be used as a perfectly good motor fuel in diesels, so why are we wasting the natgas resource for a motor fuel we don’t need?

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    1. Michael Fiorillo

      And this secularist would go so far as to say that transforming food into liquid fuel is damn-near a mortal sin, even before factoring in the thermodynamic irrationality of corn-based ethanol.

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  8. oaf

    …forests are the gills or lungs of Earth; and the very best air scrubbers…they are our birthright; and we let it be sold for profit…

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    1. Anon

      Well, it’s actually photosynthesis, in general, that is the lungs of the earth. Algae in the oceans also function as “lungs”. Unfortunately, the CO2 > O2 is a daily event (sunlight/nightime) and some of the sequestered carbon dissolves into the water producing carbonic acid (which is increasing Ocean water pH and upsetting ocean ecosystems).

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  9. Wukchumni

    There’s 400,000+ acres of timberland behind me that hasn’t been touched hardly since Sequoia NP became the 2nd National Park in 1890, and its thick as thieves as fire suppression ruled supreme.

    It works as a gigantic pollution scrubber, and when you’re above the ‘smog line’ @ 9,000 feet and look down into the abyss in the summer, it has the look of an upside down dirty snow globe.

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    1. xkeyscored

      Rather like these guilt amelioration schemes whereby you plant a tree for every plane journey you make. All very well if the trees are still there in 50 or 100 years time, but who can guarantee that? You can, however, guarantee that your flight caused CO2 emissions.

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  10. dearieme

    as a result of a rule change in the European Union, they declared bioenergy, like burning wood pellets, to basically be a carbon-neutral and renewable energy source. … So the EU, particularly the UK, is giving bioenergy huge subsidies. … The largest coal plant [in the U.K.], Drax, has converted half of its units to burning wood pellets instead of coal.

    There are an awful lot of people like this chap. First they describe a problem caused by the stupidity, incompetence, or corruption of government. Then they explain that the answer is more government action; always, more government action. Because this time it will be different because I really, really mean well.

    Reply
    1. divadab

      Ya it’s a crap setup. Clearcutting appalachian hardwood forests, pelletising them, and shipping them to the UK where they are burned to make “clean”electricity is a scam and a fraud. Yet more filthy corporatist planet-destroyer lies.

      Proper forest management is selective, and requires foresters to walk and know their forests and manage them generationally.

      Reply
    2. notabanktoadie

      All the more reason to choose DE-PRIVILEGING the banks, rather than the MMT “solution” of INCREASING* their privileges while claiming that regulating what they may lend for is the way to go (so-called “asset side regulation”).

      *e.g. unlimited deposit insurance for FREE.
      e.g. unlimited Central Bank loans at ZERO percent.

      Reply
  11. PKMKII

    The other thing that can be done is, where applicable, to grow and use more efficient wood substitutes like bamboo. When wood is a luxury rather than a necessity, then go with the more eco-friendly alternatives.

    Reply
    1. Susan the Other

      We turn our noses up at the thought, but recycled plastics make good construction material. The trade off would be the energy it takes to remake the plastics – but it could be done with the understanding that these new materials must be designed to last a very long time without decaying or crumbling. So the duration of these products would be a definite plus. Houses, instead of being torn down because they are getting wobbly and moldy, could be more successfully deconstructed and many parts used again in new construction. So: direct recycling. And to carry this efficiency further, why would anyone cut down trees to make pellets for a pellet stove when there is so much paper and cardboard out there to make fuel for a different kind of stove. Pellet stoves are a problem. But paper/cardboard sticks and logs are very doable. And etc.

      Reply
  12. rtah100

    If dearieme won’t plug him this time (I saw you were a fan on a previous thread), a shout out here to dearieme’s favourite dendrographer, Oliver Rackham. His books on Engllsh woodlands are indeed magisterial (not forestry, there’s a difference – the tree farm comment was well judged). He is also, I believe, still alive. He’s an emeritus fellow of a Cambridge college, Sidney Sussex from memory.

    His book covers this topic. It also covers the experiment one of the Rothschild’s ran, of closing a gate on a field and not touching it for a hundred years. It is now a nice mature woodland, without a single tree planted (at least, not by man; maybe some squirrels absent-mindedly helped).

    Reply
  13. drumlin woodchuckles

    The new word ” proforestation” shows the power and value of some new words. If enough people use it and keep using it because it proves itself to be so useful, then proforestation will become a new word.

    I will offer another new word in case it might be useful. Forestatus quo. We want to preserve the Forestatus Quo in the Amazon basin, the Congo basin, the Tongass, the multi-hardwood forests of Appalachia and the Southeast, etc.

    Forestatus Quo.

    Reply

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