Bioenergy From Cleared Forests A Climate Killer

What are the climate-change ramifications of clearing away forests? In a finding that could influence how climatologists forecast the pace of global warming – and strike a blow against some forms of bioenergy – UC Davis researchers say it all depends on what’s done with the wood taken out of the forests.

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, the Davis scientists say that if the wood from cleared forests is used to produce bioenergy or pulp for paper, all the carbon is released immediately. But if the forest wood is used as solid wood products – as lumber for housing, for instance – a big portion of the carbon could remain stored away for decades.

deforestation,carbon release,uc davis study

image via Shutterstock

“We found that 30 years after a forest clearing, between 0 percent and 62 percent of carbon from that forest might remain in storage,” J. Mason Earles, a doctoral student with the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies and a lead author of the study, says in a statement. “Previous models generally assumed that it was all released immediately.”

To reach their conclusions, the Davis researchers looked at how forests are harvested in 169 countries. They found stark differences: In the coniferous forests of Europe, Canada and the United States, wood from cleared forests tends to become lumber; in the tropical forests of the Southern Hemisphere, the wood is used to generate power and to make paper.

“Carbon stored in forests outside Europe, the USA and Canada, for example, in tropical climates such as Brazil and Indonesia, will be almost entirely lost shortly after clearance,” the study states.

Bioenergy – biofuels and biomass – has its supporters, but the last decade has seen a succession of scientific reports calling into question its environmental impact. Just this spring researchers from Purdue and Stanford reported that the extra volatility that climate change could bring to the corn market would be further exacerbated by biofuel mandates, which they claimed could help to increase price volatility by about 50 percent.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • mememine

    Q: Was climate change a catastrophic end for all
    or just an exciting research opportunity?

    A: It was a consultant’s wet dream of some worst
    case scenario research of the effects (almost never the causes), of an assumed
    to be real crisis and the crisis couldn’t be proven or disproved anyways.

    Q: How many climate change scientists does it
    take to change a light bulb?

    Q: None, but they do have full consensus that it
    WILL change.

    Q: How do we stop heating of the planet?

    A: Easy! We tax the air we breathe with taxes
    from bank funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by politicians
    and we let Liberal Dems control the temperature of the planet and tame the wild
    weather.

    Q: What is that the world of science agrees on
    with climate change?

    A: They *agree the effects from Human CO2 on the
    climate will be negligible to unstoppable heating of the entire planet Earth.

    *They all agree AGW is real while very few call
    climate change a deadly crisis but lazy copy and paste news editors will print
    anything.