Let’s Not Burn Our Forests for Heating

As the map clearly shows, supplying Northern Pulp and Bowater Mersey has been a destructive process for our forests.   We have clear cut far too much of our 12 million acres of our forests to supply a low value product – pulp wood.   Since the closure of the mills, some are advocating use of the wood, which used to be delivered to Northern Pulp, be used for area heating plants in our towns.  The proposal is looking for huge government funding to convert the wood into chips or pellets to heat groups of buildings. 

Canada’s Managed Forest and Logging CO2 – Data from Canada’s National Inventory Reports Based on aCHART by Barry Saxifrage & National Observer.com April 2021.    

The Chart “Canada’s Managed Forest CO2” shows how since 2000 we have managed our forest to destroy its Carbon Dioxide absorbing ability and turn it into a carbon dioxide emitter. 

Ideally our forests should be one of our defences against rising greenhouse gas levels and climate change. They were, but they are no longer. Mature forests absorb carbon dioxide. The bigger the trees the more they absorb. The tiny trees in clear cuts absorb very little CO2. When we ruthlessly cut old growth and clear cut forests, their capacity to absorb C02 declines. Clear cut forests, especially when turned into mono culture, do not regenerate well. Clear cutting with heavy machinery rips apart the forest floor exposing it to erosion, losing even more carbon dioxide that was stored in the forest’s earth. We are left with a degraded forest and degraded earth to nurture it.

Nova Scotian forest policies have made us a contributor to turning our forests from being part of the solution to being a growing part of the problem rather than a growing part of the solution. Worse still one of the major uses for wood from Nova Scotian forests is turning it into wood chips and shipping them to Europe to be burned. This use of wood as the chart below shows is far an environmental disaster.

CO2 PER UNIT OF ENERGY  – Tonnes of CO2 per TJ of heat from burning each carbon source.  Data from IPCC 2006 Table 2.2 Default Emissions Factors for Stationary Combustion.  Coal ranges for 95 for coking coal to 98 for anthracite and up to 101 for lignite.  National Observer April 2021

Work by Dr. Suzanne Simard, a forestry biologist at UBC, shows the intricate network of mutual sustenance different types of trees provide to each other in a mixed forest.  What we do not want to do is return to creating mono culture woodlands to produce a low grade of wood for a new low grade, low value use that accelerates climate change.  Using the forest for wood chips so we can return to the Northern Pulp, Mersey Bowater type of forest usage would ensure destroying even more forest.  It would ensure, that instead of helping combat climate change, our forests would increasingly contribute to climate change by burning wood.  It would leave our grandchildren to carry the terrible burden of our short sightedness.  It would also leave us with weak forests.  As Suzanne Simard’s work so clearly proves, the mono culture forest is an unhealthy forest. 

Part of the misleading claim made for the district heating option is that burning wood is using a renewable energy source and that it somehow helps with climate change.  The chart, “CO2 Per Unit of Energy,” points out the reality.  Burning wood produces carbon dioxide.  Even if technology can improve the efficiency and get CO2 emissions down to Fossil Gas and Diesel levels, using wood for area heating plants is doing exactly what our children and their children need us to urgently stop doing. 

We have just witnessed the financial power of the large players in the forest industry and the power of their misleading advertising to stampede the provincial government.  Let us remember we are living on the unceeded territory of the Mi’kmaq people.  Land we appropriated under the guise that we were a superior people.  Surely the least we can do is stop abusing that land.  Surely we are ready to stop stealing a reasonable life from future generations.   Forests have been around for 400 million years.  Indigenous people left them in pristine shape for us for at least 13,000 years.  It is time we learned to live with our forests and co-operate with them rather to destroying them for tomorrow’s quick buck.  Let’s opt for short term discomfort for long term gain.  Lets plan a high value added use of any wood we harvest that employs more people than slash and burn.

We need to abandon the bogus notion that forest biofuels are renewable energy and move on to a world that values and supports future generations rather than ripping their future apart. We need to turn to the forest management practices championed by Elanor Ostrom the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Economics. Lets make the management of the forests the responsibility of the people who work in them with a set of government policies that give incentives for high value uses and disincentives for low value uses, damaging biodiversity, degrading the forest soil and clear cutting. Co-operatives of wood lot owners encouraged to practice sylviculture and forest worker co-operatives with incentives to learn sylviculture.

This was initially written before the Climate Catastrophe spawned heat domes and record setting hot weather across Western Canada and around the world. Forests are blazing in the USA, Greece and Turkey as well as in Canada. What does it mean? The impact of the fires is to rapidly increase CO2 emissions and accelerate climate change. The reality our children must face is that the Governments of Alberta and Canada led by Jason Kenny and Justin Trudeau are accelerating the burning of not just our forests but forests around the world. The realty is that every Canadian is paying a substantial tax bill to subsidize expansion of oil and gas and paying taxes so big oil can have more and more to produce and sell without regard for the catastrophic impact. We are financing an attack on our grandchildren.

BC forest net CO2 balance, without logging emissions

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