View Videos from the Speaker Series Protecting Forests in a Time of Climate Change — Spring 2020
Deforestation is the second leading cause of global warming and produces about 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions1. Scientists say that deforestation in tropical rainforests adds more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than the sum total of all the cars and trucks on the world’s roads.
How do forests help us?
There are many benefits of forests, which include:
- Remove and store carbon from the atmosphere
- Make and release oxygen
- Shade and cool homes
- Reduce flooding and prevent soil erosion
- Clean the air and water
- Keep the water cycle going
Proforestation is an approach where existing forests are kept intact for the purpose of maximizing carbon sequestration and ecosystem services. Bill Moomaw’s article, Intact Forests in the United States: Proforestation Mitigates Climate Change and Serves the Greatest Good, explains why proforestation is the best strategy to increase negative emissions using forests and how to best implement it.
Studies have shown that older trees absorb more carbon than younger trees, therefore it’s important that we protect these older forests and protect the forests that are becoming older.
Forest Protection Organizations
The Issue of Solar vs. Trees
Bill Moomaw 2021 interview:
A Clark University study pointed out that half of land conversions in Massachusetts have been for solar panels–not for urban development, not for agriculture, not for highways. An informal study was done in Berkshire County where 37 solar arrays were put in place and just over half of those involved cutting forests. No one seems to have looked at wha this means for biodiversity. No one’s looked at connectivity for wildlife and plant migration as the climate warms. We have fabulous connectivity in corridors going from Western Massachusetts and Western Connecticut going all the way down into NY state and all the way up to Canada. These need to be maintained for adaptation to climate change. Massachusetts Sierran, 2021 (v.26 n.1)
Who is working on this issue?
Smart Solar Western Mass. and Save the Pine Barrens have formed an alliance to protect both ends of the state from development. Another organization, The Partnership for Public Integrity, has provided research and testimony, including a May 2021 report stating:
“It is shocking to see that the state’s renewable energy policy is actually incentivizing forest clearing for solar. Climate change mitigation is not just about reducing fossil fuel emissions. Climate modeling is crystal-clear that we need to not only reduce emissions, but actually sequester CO2 that has already been emitted. Restoring and expanding forests is the only means under our control to achieve this at scale…. The state should not have a policy that pits solar against forests. Policies should offer incentives for preserving and expanding forests, not destroying them.”
This 2016 video from Greenpeace Unearthed shows in a minute and a half what difference 750 billion trees make with climate change.
In the next video, the BBC explains how the fungal network in the ground supports the forest.
More on how trees talk to each other: Canadian ecologist Suzanne Simard’s 18 minute TED talk from June 2016.
What the water cycle brings to the big picture
The biotic pump allows forests to “bring the rain” and lower the chance of drought.
For an in-depth explanation of the water vapor, hydrologic processes and climate disruption from deforestation, read the interview with Australian microbiologist Walter Jehne. He is a founder of Healthy Soils Australia. He describes soil as a cathedral:
What’s awe-inspiring about a cathedral are the voids and the ethereal spaces — the nothingness they create — not the bricks and the cement. Well-aggregated soil is like a cathedral. The mineral particles in the soil are like the stones of a cathedral. Soil organic matter is analogous to the cement that holds the stones together. … About 66 percent of a healthy soil is just space, air — nothing — and that creates massive capacity for the sponge to hold water. It allows water to infiltrate and be retained and made available over time. It’s really the “nothing” that we add to soil which creates its health and viability, like a cathedral. What nature has done is exquisitely beautiful.
Another animation of Jimi Eisenstein shows the relationship of the water cycle to climate change in 3 minutes.
The Issue Around Bioenergy/Biomass
“According to Professor Bill Moomaw of Tufts (lead author on several IPCC reports), “wood energy is not low carbon.” While forest-based bioenergy is widely considered to be a renewable fuel source (new trees can grow to replace those that are consumed) burning wood to generate electricity is typically 50 percent more carbon-intensive than coal-fired generation2. Today 60 percent of the European Union’s renewable energy comes from bioenergy. It does not make economic sense to import eight million tons of wood pellets yearly across the Atlantic Ocean – but the British government provides over $1 billion in annual subsidies to utilities to pay the cost of pellet production and transport. The U.S. forest products industry and U.K. power companies are profiting from activities that have serious harmful impacts on Earth’s climate. A significant percentage of U.S. southeastern forests have been clear-cut to supply this subsidized demand. And efforts are well underway to do the same in the northeast. We need to stop this trend!
This article describes these dynamics in detail.
500 scientists say “Trees are more valuable alive than dead both for climate and for biodiversity. To meet future net zero emission goals, your governments should work to preserve and restore forests and not to burn them.” Here is their letter telling leaders in the EU, Japan and the U.S. not to cut and burn trees for energy.
The Issue of Solar vs. Trees
Significant progress has been made to create a solar ordinance in Northampton that balances the need to protect trees with the need to develop ground-mounted solar arrays. At a meeting of the city’s Legislative Matters Subcommittee of City Council on May 13, 2020 a draft was approved that requires Special Permitting (not just Site Plan Review) for anything involving over 2 acres of tree removal. To obtain a special permit, the developer would need to submit a report that shows the development does not adversely impact the environment according to a detailed set of scientific criteria. Read the current draft.
If you live in a town where this issue is pressing, you may want to urge your town to pass a temporary moratorium on permitting large scale solar arrays on land that you need to cut down trees for it until they can better research and pass stronger local regulation. The town of Leicester has model language available.
Please download and read the transcript of a video Professor Bill Moomaw made that touches on the issue of trees and solar panels.
(2) “Carbon emissions from burning biomass for energy,” Partnership for Policy Integrity.