Photo: Aaron Molina (Flickr)
There’s nothing simple about addressing anthropogenic climate change.
The chaotic dynamics of earth’s atmosphere, the mind-numbing intricacies of economic and political forces, and the sheer scope of the problem mean there are no panaceas — no one-size-fits-all solutions.
According to a paper just published by researchers at the University of California, Davis, even calculating the carbon dioxide emissions associated with something as seemingly straightforward as chopping down trees is a rather complicated task.
Wheres And Hows Matter
That logging has a positive carbon footprint there can be no question. A tree that’s no longer photosynthesizing is a tree that’s not pulling CO2 out of the air anymore. And CO2 in the air is CO2 warming the planet.
(An acre stand of 25-year-old maples, beeches and birches can sequester some 1,760 pounds of carbon per year!)
The trouble is, in the past, climate models have assumed that the environmental impact of clear cutting five hectares of forest is always the same, regardless of where the tract is located and how the wood is ultimately used.
But, say the UC Davis scientists, because trees in the U.S. and Canada tend to become lumber for construction, while trees in the tropics are used for fuel and paper, this assumption of uniformity skews climatologists’ predictions.
In other words, deforestation doesn’t invariably translate to an immediate release of carbon stored in felled trees. Whereas burning a log sends greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere right away, building a deck out of one doesn’t.
Sound forecasting and policy-making will require sensitivity to these differences.
- Timing of carbon emissions from global forest clearance (Nature Climate Change)
- Time, place and how wood is used are factors in carbon emissions from deforestation (Phys.org)
- Study shows trees absorb less carbon than earlier thought (Phys.org)