American Forests Felled to Meet European Renewable Energy Targets


Visualization by Pitch Interactive. Data: Climate Analysis Indicators Tool 2.0, World Resources Institute; Earth Observatory, NASA; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Forest Legality Alliance; Global Canopy Programme; Global Forest Resources Assessment, 2010; Global Forest Watch; Greenpeace; Hansen et al., Science, 15 November 2013; Natural Resources Canada; United States Department of Agriculture; United States Forest Service; World Wildlife Fund.


So renewable energy is green?  Talk about the opposite.

T. Edward Nickens via Audubon:

It seems to defy common sense that trees from forests in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and other southern states could be cut, trucked to a mill, pulverized and pelletized, shipped to a seaport, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, and delivered to a power plant in the Netherlands, all in the name of reducing global warming. Yet that’s what’s happening. And during the past five years, such an unlikely scenario has spawned an entirely new industry. Conservationists are concerned that this latest rush to purportedly green energy is not only a carbon emissions boondoggle but a potential train wreck for wildlife and some of the most diverse forests remaining in North America.

The volume of pellets being shipped overseas is exploding. Exports from North America to Europe doubled in two years, to 4.7 million tons in 2013. Southern forests accounted for nearly two-thirds of that volume. At the new Enviva Biomass pellet plant in northeastern North Carolina, a transfer truck is filled with wood pellets about every 28 minutes, each one bound for Europe.

That continent’s appetite for wood pellets is fueled by the European Union’s 2020 climate and energy package, which set binding goals for reducing greenhouse gases, increasing energy produced by renewable resources, and improving overall energy efficiency. The basis of the flawed logic leading to U.S. wood being burned to power Europe, conservationists say, is an accounting formula: According to E.U. policy, wood pellets are considered a carbon-neutral fuel source, based on the principle that regenerating forests will eventually recapture the carbon released when the trees were cut. But a growing chorus of scientists and conservationists points to new research showing that harvesting, transporting, and burning trees for large-scale energy production actually produces a “carbon debt” that isn’t repaid for 35 to 50 years—an eon in the rapidly shrinking timeline of climate change. Europe’s policies were put into place “before scientists came to the conclusion that not all biomass is created equal,” explains Ginny Kreitler, a senior adviser on energy and the environment for National Audubon. Derb Carter, director of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Chapel Hill, North Carolina, office, puts it more bluntly. “Europe equates woody biomass with solar panels and wind turbines,” he says. “The entire accounting policy is flawed and, frankly, dangerous.”

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