[OPINION] Three Reasons Why It’s Time to Stop Burning Forests for Energy
– by Brett Leuenberger, July 24, 2016, Bangor Daily News
I’d like to make a few comments about the important environmental issues associated with using forest biomass for energy and heat. Foremost, the assertion from stakeholders that advocate woody biomass as a carbon neutral renewable energy source is misleading and scientifically inaccurate. Just like fossil fuels, woody biomass is a carbon-based fuel that emits atmospheric carbon dioxide when ignited; in fact, fossil fuels are derived from biomass.
Why woody biomass fails as renewable energy
There are three major reasons why we should question the carbon neutrality of woody biomass. Burning forest biomass re-emits sequestered carbon, creates a cycle of ongoing carbon emissions and causes ocean acidification.
Between January 1966 and January 2016, our atmospheric CO2 emissions have steadily increased nearly 25 percent, according to data from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. Tree growth is mostly driven by carbon dioxide directly absorbed from the atmosphere, which includes our harmful anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Essentially, our forests work as carbon sinks and provide a natural pathway of carbon capture and storage. Every time we burn trees for bioenergy, we’re just re-emitting the same carbon the trees had worked so effectively to sequester.
The woody biomass industry is unnaturally emitting huge amounts of CO2 into our atmosphere, which creates a cycle of ongoing carbon emissions. Biomass emissions have a timeline of sequestration known as the carbon recovery period. Every day a new timeline of biomass emissions with its own carbon recovery period is stacked into our atmosphere waiting to be sequestered. As those emission timelines overlap, the cumulative amount of CO2 rises dramatically, creating a massive ongoing bubble of carbon emissions. For example, it’s easy to understand that if we burn a 40-year-old tree in one day, we’re going to have a carbon debt.
Bioenergy is the only renewable energy that contributes to ocean acidification. Every day the woody biomass industry is systematically dumping tons of atmospheric carbon into our oceans, causing them to acidify. Nearly 25 percent of the biomass industry’s CO2 emissions will end up in our oceans, exacerbating ocean acidification. Yet, the industry has never publicly acknowledged any responsibility for its role in this accruing ecological disaster. If left unchecked, ocean acidification from forest bioenergy has the potential to render long-term damage to regional marine ecosystems and disrupt local seafood economies.