Those of us in the forest sector already know wood is the most sustainable building material available. We all understand the importance of marketing wood products to environmentally-conscious consumers. But this doesn’t mean we’re immune to the turbulent politics of carbon policy. You can’t afford not to participate in the climate debate. Fortunately we have a positive story to tell.
Recent polls find Americans are increasingly concerned about climate change even if they’re divided on the causes and solutions to this issue. Politicians, especially on the West Coast and other parts of the country, are eager to address those concerns often by increasing regulations on industry. If you live and operate in California, or have witnessed the debate over “cap and trade” legislation in Oregon, you know what I mean.
As with many political issues, climate policies have been weaponized by our opponents. They exploit public concerns about deforestation, even though the volume of trees grown in the United States has increased by 50 percent over the past half century. They disseminate flawed and agenda-driven studies accusing the wood products industry of being significant carbon polluters. Even though the forest sector manufactures products with renewable materials, using far less fossil fuel energy than steel and concrete.
It is easy for us to dismiss the lies and falsehoods spread by our opponents. The problem, however, is that politicians often use their misinformation to develop punitive policies that hurt our domestic industry. Cap and trade proposals, for example, often promote “carbon offsets” by paying private forest land owners not to harvest trees. This would starve our manufacturers of raw material, even though young, growing trees pull carbon from the atmosphere at a higher rate than older trees. Without markets for trees, forest owners have less incentive to pay for forest health treatments.
These proposals place arbitrary limits on carbon emissions to squeeze manufacturers, while raising the costs of energy that are ultimately borne by consumers. It is common sense that if American timber production and wood manufacturing was sharply curtailed, American consumers would simply use more imported wood. However, in many cases it will come from third-world counties that don’t manage forests as sustainably as we do. Or Americans would simply substitute wood with fossil fuel-intensive products.
The wood products industry is constantly threatened by such short-sided and misguided policies. But we are not helpless. We have a good story to tell about sustainability, and armed with the facts, we must participate in the process and explain how carbon solutions can be found when consumers use more domestic wood products, not less.
We win the debate when we share useful information from credible sources. The International Panel on Climate Change has found that sustainable forest management and wood products are essential to solving the carbon problem. According to the 2010 United Nations Global Forest Resources Assessment, “increasing the global forest land base and increasing the capacity of each forest, while using them as a sustainable supply of wood for building materials and fuel to offset the need for other energy‐intensive materials and fossil fuels, represents an important carbon mitigation option over the long term.”
Climate change is increasingly a factor in public lands management as our opponents seek to eliminate timber harvests under the guise of carbon sequestration. The decline in timber harvests and thinning on federal lands, combined with a century of wildfire suppression, have left many national forests unnaturally overgrown. If a burned forest is not rehabilitated, as is often the case on federal lands, trees may not naturally regenerate and dead logs left by the fires emit carbon long after the fires have been extinguished. Instead of serving as a carbon sink, many national forests are becoming a carbon source and a net polluter. We must tell that story.
Researchers estimate that harvested and regenerated forests will provide approximately 30 percent more total carbon sequestration benefits than unmanaged forests. That’s because more than half of those benefits come from replacing fossil fuels with carbon-storing wood products. Through active forest management, harvesting a ton of wood provides more sequestration benefits than leaving that ton growing in the forest.
The American wood products industry has a lot to lose if policymakers enact the wrong solutions to climate change. But the industry also has a lot to gain if each of us gets involved in the policy-making process. Wood is the most sustainable building material available. We must tell this story every day.