By Jeff Gibbs
Our community takes great pride in being exceptional stewards of the environment and leaders in the movement to stop global warming. But in the rush to find alternatives to fossil fuelsan effort I whole-heartedly endorsenot everything is as green as it seems. One option is in fact worse than fossil fuels.
Its called biomass.
Biomass involves burning our forests as woodchips and calling it green energy. Sometimes tires, old houses, and garbage also get lumped in as biomass.
Burning wood is not greenit emits 50% more CO2 than coal.
Burning wood is not clean--it emits as much as 1,000 times more deadly particulates than natural gas and more even than coal.
We are all eager to move ahead on green energy and there are so many options being proposed its hard to keep up. But just as we learned that ethanol is not as green as it seems, the tide is turning against woody biomass as a green energy source as well.
Traverse City Light and Power is considering from three to five such biomass burning plants in a well-intended effort to meet our communities energy objectives. But new data has emerged and I call upon them to remove biomass from the energy mix, as burning wood and trees is the most climate and forest unfriendly option available.
I call upon TCLP to open up their planning and biomass stakeholder meetings to the public. If someone is even THINKING about putting wood and waste burning power plants in our community in a general way, those discussions need to happen in the open.
Recently (and this is new information) top scientists have called for woody biomasss removal from the United Nations list of renewable energy options.
Timothy D. Searchinger, Princeton University:
In reality, if an existing stand of forest land is cleared for fuel, the stored carbon is released and the forests ability to absorb carbon dioxide is diminished, thus concentration of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere goes up.
Fixing a Critical Climate Accounting Error, Science
And this from Oregon:
During simulated timber harvest, on-site carbon storage is reduced considerably and does not approach old-growth storage capacity for at least 200 years.
Effects on Carbon Storage of Conversion of Old-Growth Forests to Young Forests
-- Harmon, Ferrell, and Franklin
This has been the end result of Europes recent woodchip binge:
Europe is going to cook the worlds tropical forests to fight climate change; its crazy. -- Simone Lovera, of the Global Forest Coalition in Paraguay, Who Says Its Green to Burn Woodchips? The Independent
And this about the health effects of wood smoke:
Scientists have long known that wood smoke contains carbon monoxide and cancer-causing chemicals. But
research shows that wood smokes major ingredient tiny particles of soot and liquid pollution worsens heart disease and triggers asthma attacks.
Hidden Costs in Wood Burning, U.S.A. Today
If someone wanted to devise a plan to make global warming worse, it seems like cutting down trees and burning them in power plants would be about the most efficient way to do it. But in any event, I dont believe our forests and our clean air and water can take any more than what we are already doing to them.
Jeff Gibbs is a local filmmaker and composer and is currently working on a project about how were going to solve our twin environmental and energy
conundrums. You can reach him at