Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Carbon Wars

Timber body under fire over climate aid claims
The Age, 27th July, 2009

A TIMBER industry body is being investigated over claims it misled the public by
asserting that buying wood products helps the fight against climate change.

The consumer watchdog has asked Forest & Wood Products Australia to respond to allegations it made two deceptive claims: that the carbon dioxide stored in trees is locked up when they are logged and converted into wood products, and that forestry is one of Australia's most greenhouse-friendly industries.

The "Wood. Naturally Better" print advertisement campaign was based on variations on the slogan "It's more than attractive furniture. It's a helping hand in climate change."

It prompted a complaint to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission by the Wilderness Society, backed by advice from community legal service, the Environment Defenders Office.

(Read More)

In the small amount of time that I've had dealing with forestry workers and professionals, this is another one of those issues where you can almost visibly see the hair on the forester's back prick-up, as they adopt that feline-esque pose that signals a mixture of aggression and outright fear.

The point of the matter comes down to a basic tenet of biological science - for a tree to grow, carbon dioxide is sequestered into the tree, stored as biomass in the leaves, limbs, stem or roots. Therefore, when it comes to mitigating the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, alongside driving your car less, eating vegetables, installing power-saving globes and never taking a plane anywhere, decking your house out with timber products is the best thing you can do.

However, you can't really imagine a Climate-Change-abatin' Green-voter saying to houseguest "You'd like a Chai? No problem. Come on in, just watch your head on the Tibetan prayer flags, we can sit around my Old-Growth Mountain Ash Coffee Table. 'Bout 350 years old, it is - whole lotta carbon in dat one!"

However, it's not totally that simple. For one, as The Wilderness Society point out, not all our forests are used for 'value-added' (as they call it in the biz) products such as furniture or high-quality flooring. Even as of 2003/04, around 75% of the log sales from native forests in East Gippsland, Central Victoria and Tasmania went straight to woodchipping - not exactly a secure resource when it comes to 'locking' up carbon.

But if we assume that, idealistically, we begin to treat our timber as high-value and make only the finest furniture and houses from it, what argument do we have against doing so? This is especially a question to consider when we acknowledge that the carbon emissions from wood as a construction material as opposed to, say, aluminium, concrete or steel, is vastly minimal, almost negligible.

And so, this issue touches on the one that rumbles on incessantly when it comes to dealing with our environment - and that is, how do we wish to use it? Do we want to use it? Or am I showing my ideological bias by even phrasing the question in terms of use? Where exactly does modern man sit with his land?

For the time being, the protectionists and productionists will continue the tug of war - and unfortunately for many foresters and scientists, their only input will be to silently watch from the sidelines.

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