Seedling image courtesy of jggrz/Pixabay

Wood-burning: carbon hero or carbon villain? Q&A with forest modeling scientist Michael Ter-Mikaelian

By Dan Drollette Jr, May 10, 2022

Seedling image courtesy of jggrz/Pixabay

Proponents of replacing fossil fuel with wood often envision vast plantations producing plant matter exclusively to fuel converted coal-fired power plants. They argue that the forests are renewable and restorable, and that tree restoration is the most effective solution to climate change to date. But others say this may not be the best way to deal with climate change and may even make the problem worse, because clear-cutting removes existing forest land—which has been actively removing carbon emissions from the atmosphere—for prolonged periods. Much of the promise of burning wood in place of fossil fuel hinges on the assumption that the trees will grow back quickly enough to take more carbon out of the atmosphere.

Researcher Michael Ter-Mikaelian, of the Ontario Forest Research Institute in Canada, talks with the Bulletin’s Dan Drollette Jr. about some of the problems to finding out if burning wood makes sense to fight climate change. He and his team discovered that much depends upon the original reference points, the conditions under which the trees were grown and harvested, the length of the time frame used for calculating carbon emissions and uptake, and what would have happened to the forest had it not been harvested.

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