Trilink Harvester ChainWhy Industry Professionals Must Concern Themselves with Greenhouse Gas Emissions

By Jack Petree

Whether tree feller, landowner, equipment operator, sawmill owner, or forest-based commodities trader, every participant in the forest products industry is impacted by the ongoing, and often rancorous, discussion about climate change.

Keeping Learning

It is more important today than ever before that industry participants learn all they can about the climate change discussion, then participate in that discussion, offering up informed opinions about the place the forest products industry can fill in moderating the impacts of climate change on the nation’s forests.

It is not necessary to take “sides” in the climate change discussion to acknowledge that the discussion will influence the shape of the forest industry for decades to come in three major areas: public policy regarding forestry and forest harvest, product choice by end users, and public perception of the industry.

Public and Product

Regarding public policy about the use of our forests, one of the USDA Forest Service’s most clear-headed and influential scientists over the past decade, Constance Millar, wrote in 2016, “Variation in Earth’s climate system has always been a primary driver of ecosystem processes and biological evolution. In recent decades, however, the prospect of anthropogenically driven change to the climate system has become an increasingly dominant concern for scientists and conservation biologists.” (Falk, Donald A.; Millar, Constance I. 2016. The influence of climate variability and change on the science and practice of restoration ecology).

Regarding product choice, the forest products industry competes with other industries for a share of the marketplace. From the smallest harvesting firm to the giants of the industry, market share is, in part, determined by the decisions architects, building contractors, product manufacturers, and everyday citizens make as they specify building products. Despite its immense carbon emissions, concrete has a step up on wood, due for the most part to its preferential treatment in the LEED certification process. Steel also competes vigorously for a place in the mind of the architect as does bamboo, an imported grass perceived to be environmentally friendly. Other competitors abound.

While those working in the forest products industry know for certain that wood is the best environmental choice by far when it comes to most construction projects, that same certainty is not always present in the minds of those making product decisions.  It is up to the industry to inform decision-makers in a way allowing for knowledge-based product selections favoring forest products.

For better or for worse, based on fact or based on myth, greenhouse gas emissions are the aces in the card deck of much decision making about product in today’s world. “All other things” don’t have to be equal to tilt the decision about product choice toward the product seen as environmentally beneficial. And greenhouse gas emissions are, at least today and for the foreseeable future, the touchstone for defining the term “environmentally beneficial.”

Public Perception

Last, public perception has a huge impact on nearly every aspect of the forest products industry; sometimes an all too often negative impact. Here, the greenhouse gas emissions discussion is paramount as well. By way of example, the activist group Center For Sustainable Economy, which touts itself as “Building the DNA of the new economy,” released a report in 2018 claiming, “OSU Research Confirms that Big Timber is Oregon’s Leading Source of GHG Emissions,” purporting to support the idea that, “All forms of logging generate carbon dioxide emissions because roughly 80 percent of the carbon dioxide stored in trees ends up being lost to the waste stream or burned in the manufacturing and consumption of lumber, paper, or biomass products.” 

The Center’s study formed the basis for an intensive lobbying effort to the Oregon State legislature for changes that, if implemented, could end much, if not most, timber harvest in Oregon. Of course, the results of that “study,” and others like it, are also used nationwide by both the Center and other activist groups to lobby for dramatic change in the nation’s harvest approach.

The lesson?

In the future, as never before, the forest products industry must better address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the industry’s activities. 

Just a few thought provokers for deeper investigation might include:

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “In the United States overall, since 1990, Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry activities have resulted in more removal of CO2 from the atmosphere than emissions.” https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions#land-use-and-forestry

“Globally, CO2 emissions from cement production were estimated at 829 MMTCO2 in 20007, approximately 3.4 percent of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production.” https://www3.epa.gov/ttnchie1/conference/ei13/ghg/hanle.pdf

In 2013, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) News reported, “Production of a ton of steel generates almost two tons of CO2 emissions, according to steel industry figures, accounting for as much as 5 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.” http://news.mit.edu/2013/steel-without-greenhouse-gas-emissions-0508

TimberWest November/December 2013
September/October 2019

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A Talk with Pat Weiler
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Guest Column
Why industry professional must concern themselves with greenhouse gas emissions.

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