In honor of Earth Day 2016, and its focus on planting trees, here’s a blog about about wood pellets, and why you should think twice about them.
The Dogwood Alliance, a North Carolina environmental group, recently conducted a thorough investigation of the wood pellet industry, which, up until now, has been thought to fortify the economy of the southern United States. State and European officials have long touted the benefits of the industry on rural communities, citing primarily the growth of jobs. However, multiple findings of the report indicate otherwise: “The bottom line? The wood pellet export market is simply not a very smart 21st century economic development strategy…”
Wood pellets are exactly what they sound like— small wooden kernels composed of sawdust and lumber industrial waste, though evidence indicates that young, lower-grade trees are also cut down. Cutting down trees is sometimes rationalized because trees are a renewable energy source— a newly planted tree can replace a fallen one. Yet trees are weapons against climate change. “It’s just crazy that there’s an idea out there to cut down the things that are supposed to protect us from climate change. It’s backwards thinking,” said Adam Macon, campaign director at Dogwood Alliance in a National Geographic article.
Standing, living forests have economic value and enable diversification. Forests play a large part in attracting businesses and residents and, more obviously, keep the timber market alive. Forest protection and restoration alone can provide for economic growth and well-being. The restoration industry is a $25 billion dollar per year industry, employing more people than the logging, steel, and coal industries. And of course, economics aside, they purify our water, protect us from storms, and provide for climate stability.
In large part, the growth of this industry has been fueled by Europe’s attempt to cut back on coal consumption. This has led to mass amounts of deforestation in the southern United States, where corporations produce wood pellets as an energy replacement. Yet, quite ironically, new studies have shown that switching to wood in order to reduce carbon emissions actually releases more carbon into the atmosphere. Predictions estimate 35 to 100 years for new plants to re-absorb lost carbon from wood pellet burns—in effect, more permanent emissions.
The South has long been wedded to wood products, as it is home to many saw and paper mills. More wood pellets mean less of these traditional jobs. Furthermore, the industry is entirely dependent on foreign government subsidies. These subsidies are not meant to last, and all signs indicate that it exists purely as a temporary market. Essentially, our natural resources currently serve short-term benefits to foreign governments and a few company executives, and when these exploiters abandon the industry, Danna Smith of Dogwood Alliance warns that “our rural communities will be left high and dry with a degraded landscape, stranded assets and lost jobs.”