Europe has high hopes of obtaining much of its energy from sustainable sources, and to meet its goals, it has made some dubious choices. Biomass—the fancy word for burning wood—is one such example. This supposedly renewable resource may not be so green.The argument for biomass’s green credentials is fairly straightforward. If you plant a tree for each one you cut down, in the long term, the carbon dioxide taken out of the air by these new trees should counteract what’s emitted by burning the old trees. But, as the FT reports, a group of 60 scientists recently penned a letter to the UK energy secretary Ed Davey urging him to drop subsidies for biomass:
[T]he scientists behind the letter to Mr Davey say forests are being threatened as a result of what they say are flawed assumptions about the environmental benefits of burning wood instead of fossil fuels such as coal.“I think the EU conceived these policies in good faith,” Dr Schlesinger told the FT. “But they didn’t think about what would happen outside the borders of the EU.” […]The scientists’ letter to Mr Davey says nearly 90 per cent of southeastern US forests are privately owned and there are few regulatory safeguards to ensure harvested trees are replaced by sustainably managed new forests.
Private owners will obviously be tempted not to manage forests sustainably. They can make a quick buck by clear-cutting wood and selling it to energy-hungry Europeans, and there’s no guarantee that these foresters will plant replacements as promised. And harvesting and shipping all of that wood requires fuel—which itself gives off plenty of emissions.Countries that use several types of energy sources are less susceptible to shortages of any one resource, so many may still stock up on biomass. But let’s not whitewash the problems with this resource—or should we say, greenwash them.