Chainsaw As Climate Adaptation Tool: Image credit:Chainsaw Art, Funny Part
As the Canadian climate has warmed, pine beetles have spread across vast acreages of Canadian forest land: estimated to presently constitute 7 percent of Earth's total forests. In response to the threat of expanding pine beetle infestations, forest managers set "back-fires" to isolate infested areas, liberating plenty of C02 and putting the climate feedback loop in a still more wide-open position. It didn't stop the spread, of course; and, it's just too big a problem to solve with pesticides. So...what do you suppose they are proposing?Why, to cut the diseased forests, of course. (For this to work all they need is for the world economy to respond to 'stimulus packages', allowing the US building industry to kick the MegaMansion demand cycle back into gear.)
The pro-logging logic, in a nutshell, is that if Canada does not harvest diseased or drought-stressed trees, thereby sequestering carbon in building beams, struts, envelopes, floors, furnishings, and ultimately in landfills, that massive amounts of carbon will be quickly liberated to the atmosphere by decay or forest fires, adding to the net climate risk.
The scale of the disease- and drought-driven changes to the Canadian forest resource has been confirmed as very large and long-term:
In an alarming yet little-noticed series of recent studies, [un-named] scientists have concluded that Canada's precious forests, stressed from damage caused by global warming, insect infestations and persistent fires, have crossed an ominous line and are now pumping out more climate-changing carbon dioxide than they are sequestering.In calling for logging, Canadian foresters seem to be following the Bush Administration playbook, as originally put to use in the US Western States. But they have gone past simple economics, with a climate-protection spin.
...[Canadian] government scientists contend that a logging moratorium is no solution to the global warming problem and would in fact increase carbon emissions over the long term.
That's because, they argue, essential wood products for construction, furniture and other uses would have to be replaced with other man-made materials, such as plastic, steel or concrete, which require the burning of even more fossil fuels—and therefore carbon emissions—during their manufacturing process.
Several highly questionable assumptions are inherent in the pro-logging logic (stated in the last paragraph of the above text block).
The logic assumes buildings will be designed, upgraded, and furnished much as they had been in recent decades: constructed with relatively high content of man-made, energy intensive materials, and following the high-square-footage-per-resident model that became commonplace in the mid-1990s. (Ironically, if buildings used much more wood and far less energy intensive synthetics, their argument would ring more true.)
The objective weakness of the logic can be explained by analogy to a recent public policy debacle. The environmental efficacy of a single commodity product, corn-based ethanol, remains highly challenged after decades of life cycle study. See the problem?
Consumers will not likely be accepting of trade-off assertions that subjectively compare life cycle carbon burdens stemming from a multitude of construction products done by third parties, using different methods, at different points in time. And if the public and policy makers do accept such assertions without a high level, third party peer review, then the human species gets a Darwin Award.
There is more to consider.
Canadian foresters may not realize it yet, but by making this trade-off comparison, they have thrown the gauntlet in front of global suppliers of a multitude of 'man-made' construction products who want "in" on the green building market. Classic challenge and response scenario has just been initiated.
Not only that, but NAFTA terms are about to be re-opened on environmental and labor grounds. Popcorn anyone?
The foreign policy ramifications are serious. I can already imagine the headline:
Amazon Rain Forest Logging Companies Declare "We had to clear cut to save the world from a climate catastrophe!" Interviewed in front of the government building, industry spokesmen said "we found bugs in the woods. It was only a matter of time."
Of course, there is an NGO-side to the debate, already in play.
Environmentalists contend that the extreme stresses on Canada's forests, particularly the old-growth northern forest, mean that logging ought to be sharply curtailed to preserve the remaining trees—and the carbon stored within them—for as long as possible.
Moreover, they argue that the disruptive process of logging releases even more carbon stored in the forest peat, threatening to set off what they describe as a virtual "carbon bomb"—the estimated 186 billion tons of carbon stored in Canada's forests, which is equivalent to 27 years worth of global carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
All cites above are via:Chicago Tribune, Canada's forests, once huge help on greenhouse gases, now contribute to climate change
Why forestry agencies alone should not be charged with deciding and overseeing policy.
State, Provincial, and Federal forestry agencies, in North America, and likely elsewhere, were historically chartered with one of their main missions being to serve the forest products industry. This happened nearly a century ago - on the tail of the Paul Bunyan era - when extant national forest acreages were much larger than they are now, global demand for forest products were relatively low compared to today, and when the several national forest resources of developed nations were not understood to be tightly and significantly coupled into global climate cycles.
This is not a decision to be taken only in a single national or industry sector framework. The concept of a feed-back loop stuck in the full open position is not easily chained into bureaucratic decision making. But the respective forestry departments of Canada, Brazil, USA, Indonesia and so on must understand that they have the power of mutually assured destruction of the earth, tactically (but not strategically) similar to nuclear armed states during the cold war style confrontations of the 1960's.
How do we find a resolution?
There needs to be an international scientific and policy review of this issue, bringing in unbiased experts who can evaluate not only climate models but the global tradeoffs being used to evaluate policy. No doubt this is a good space for the respective academies of science of Canada and the USA to work in. Then on to IPCC; and back to signatory nations of Kyoto and whatever lies beyond it.
Update: Looked at from an economists view point, if the diseased acres were logged sufficient to mitigate the supposed carbon emissions factor, there would most certainly be a glut of timber on the market. (You can't have it both ways.) So lets assume, then, for sake of discussion that the building markets come back and lumber from Canada becomes very plentiful and cheap. What are the secondary consequences? Well, one obvious one is that cheap lumber means lowered building costs in one category of materials, opening up the opportunity to spend a bit more on concrete and vinyl and steel and copper, etc. So much for the trade-off argument made.
This update gets to the meta-point that you can use climate change to rationalize pretty much any thing you want. And the scarier climate change is seen, the is the easier it is for the PR spin doctors and lobbyists to use it to rationalize their view of policy needs.
We all need to stop listen look and think...critically...before we accept fear driven climate positioning as reasonable. As this case shows, it very often will be found to be badly thought out.
And yes, we need also to challenge ourselves at every turn. So, I welcome the comment lambastes you throw my way, knowing, as I do that, you will kindly read the whole post, and also check out the links, first.)
At the bottom of the woodpile.
Mountain Pine Beetle Invasion in Canada Poses Global Warming ...
There Goes the Forest: Bush Administration Opens 3 Million Acres ...
Canuck Forests Reduce Emissions by 62 Per Cent
By the Numbers: The Boreal Forest
Ontario Boreal Forest Half the Size of Texas to Be Protected ....