1. Why isn’t burning wood included in the domestic heating emissions?
Treating existing levels of wood burning as carbon neutral, but with a caution that it isn’t the solution for switching away from fossil fuels. Reasons are:
- Where does the wood come from? If it’s been grown to burn (locally), it’s closer to being able to be treated as zero carbon than if not. Or, if it’s from trees that had to be felled anyway. For example, we’re going to have a lot of local ash over the next 10 years. I guess we’d want as much as poss used for furniture etc (?) but there’ll be plenty to burn.
- Scale matters. For a rural area like ours, with natural dead wood to burn, it seems part of the life cycle. But that’s not scaleable upwards. This is why there’s understandable anger over the EPA’s announcement in the US that wood be treated as carbon neutral. Similar with Drax power station switching to wood. It means large scale tree plantations, which is bad for biodiversity. And pushing for a sudden, huge, increase in the burning of wood (for power stations) means cutting down trees that haven’t been grown for burning. It would be different if the power stations planted trees and waited for them to reach maturity, but that’s not what they’re doing. But also, we need to plant lots of trees anyway to act as a carbon sink. A large scale switch to wood as a replacement for fossil fuels would limit our ability to do that by taking up the land area we should be using for general increased tree planting. Then there’s the fact that it would be bad for air quality if many more people started burning wood to reduce oil or gas.
- Wood pellet systems can be problematic as pellets are quite often imported long distances, and it’s difficult to be sure that for this commercial production of wood (often in other countries), replacement trees are planted for every tree cut.
- Measurement. Unlike oil, gas, electricity, there is no ‘metering’ of amounts of wood burned, so we’d be limited anyway in our data gathering.
For further information, take a look at the following articles:
2. Why are we worrying about climate change – isn’t it just hyped up?
There are a number of myths generally originating from organisations funded by fossil fuel companies. Certain UK newspapers have pushed these, owned as they are by wealth oil & gas investors. For example: “the climate has changed before”, or “it’s the sun”. The Skeptical Science website provides scientific arguments to bust these myths.
3. Can I offset my emissions by planting trees?
Planting trees is a great thing to do. The UK was originally totally covered in woodland. Only around 10% of the land area in England is now wooded. Trees are great way to lock up carbon naturally, and we need a lot of planting. But it takes many decades for trees to grow large enough to absorb any significant amounts of carbon per year. This graph gives you an idea.
And this link to sequestration rates per hundred trees for different tree types shows 100 trees locking up an average of around 0.5 to 0.75 tonnes per year in the first decade of their life, albeit with quite some variation between varieties.
The main point is that whilst trees are an essential to tackling climate change in the long run, we need other shorter term solutions to keep emissions under control the next couple of decades to avoid runaway climate change.
For a simple offsetting solution, have a look at Leapfrog.org. You can pay an amount based on a guesstimate of your annual emissions. BUT there is a strong argument that the sort of measures that Leapfrog are financing should be happening anyway, and that it isn’t enough for us to pay over some money and carrying on emitted large amounts of carbon. But it’s not easy to lower your emissions, and this is perhaps a good interim solution whilst you try.