Crosscut.com recently published a piece by Alec Connon, organizer at 350 Seattle, focusing on the fact that influential public officials don’t seem to understand the fact that burning wood is not “carbon-neutral”.
The debate over whether the burning of forest biomass (aka: wood) should be part of our national energy mix has been heating up for the past couple of years. In a floor speech last February, Senator Maria Cantwell, ranking member of the Senate Energy committee, spoke in favor of not only including forest biomass as part of our energy mix, but in declaring certain types of forest biomass as a “carbon-neutral” form of renewable energy, equivalent to either solar or wind energy.
“Regrowing trees to replace those cut to produce energy is carbon-neutral,” said the Washington Senator. This is the claim often made in favor of the burning of forest biomass: that the emissions produced by power plants burning wood don’t count because they will be “canceled out” by the carbon absorbed by new and growing trees.
This, however, omits one salient point: Burning wood releases carbon instantly, whereas it will take years, if not decades, for new trees to absorb an equivalent amount of carbon. Given the urgency of the climate crisis, this should be reason enough not to treat biomass as equivalent to solar and wind energy.