The fact that trees are capable of absorbing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere makes them the ideal building material, according to a recent study.
Researchers at the University of Washington say that using wood in place of steel and concrete that devour fossil fuels and produce harmful emissions during manufacturing could quadruple the amount of carbon dioxide taken out of the atmosphere over 100 years.
“Every time you see a wood building, it’s a storehouse of carbon from the forest. When you see steel or concrete, you’re seeing the emissions of carbon dioxide that had to go into the atmosphere for those structures to go up,” said Bruce Lippke, University of Washington professor emeritus of forest resources.
Lippke suggests that sustainably-managed forests are essentially carbon neutral as they provide an equal, two-way flow of carbon dioxide: the gas that trees absorb while growing eventually goes back to the atmosphere when, for example, a tree falls in the forest and decays or a wood cabinet goes to a landfill and rots.
According to the study’s contributors, which include Mid Sweden University and the U.S. Forest Service, it’s better to harvest the wood for building and other products instead of letting a wildfire or beetle infestation release all that carefully stored carbon.
While the reasoning seems to make sense, it’s important to remember that forests do a lot more than just sit there. They also provide shelter and food for millions of creatures; their root system helps stabilize the soil and hold entire hillsides together; and their leaves fall to the forest floor each season, enriching its natural hummus.
Still, the researchers maintain they’re not advocating the destruction of all forests for wood: they say potential materials for products and building projects should undergo life cycle analysis to help determine the amount of carbon that could be offset by using wood instead of steel or concrete.
Narrowly looking just at the carbon lost when wood products are disposed of through burning or being sent to landfills, has led to incentives not to cut trees in the first place, Lippke says.
“What’s missing in the analysis and policy making,” he said, “is how much carbon dioxide can be kept out of the atmosphere by using wood products, instead of those that take lot of fossil fuels to produce.”
Sound Off! Do you agree with the logic of this study, or do you think it’s a clever ploy by the USFS to convince people that logging is really good for the planet. Share your thoughts in a comment!
Image Credit: Flickr – Peg Syverson