Red Shoulder Hawk

Red Shoulder Hawk

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Old-growth Forests and Atmospheric CO2

Steve and I are in a punctuated discussion. Not long ago, he posted this comment:

"Developers use an awful lot of lumber, all sustainable. In fact, if you believe Al Gore's tripe about carbon footprints, (I don't) wasting lumber is a great way to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and lock it up in solid form."

I'm less interested in sustainability and more interested in permaculture. Sustainability seems to have been co-opted by the reductionist viewpoint: "How much money can be made from this resource without losing the ability to make future money?" Permaculture seeks to mimic nature's methods so that we end up in a spiral of increasing abundance.

I read a fascinating article by Sharon Levy about trees and CO2 over at Beverly Law, a professor of global forest science at Oregon State University, is using new techniques to study the interaction of forests and the atmosphere:

"Global warming has forced foresters to address the impact of logging on the flow of carbon between forests and the atmosphere, and many in the industry have insisted that stands of young, fast-growing trees capture carbon more efficiently than do older forests. Using a recently developed technology called the eddy covariance method-more commonly known as eddy flux measurement-Bev Law and her colleagues are showing that those assumptions are wrong."

When Steve writes that all lumber is sustainable, I suppose that could be true, in a really well managed forest. One of the difficulties in discussing this is that humans have short memories; the fact that London had to pass a moratorium on new buildings because England was burning up all its trees for firewood (before they discovered they could burn coal) is a fact known only to those who have studied the rise and fall of energy economies. Is a lumber industry sustainable? Trees do, in fact, grow back. Ecosystems, however, take much longer to recover (if they ever do). A lumber industry following permaculture principles would be more than sustainable; it might also reap rewards in improved water quality, better camping/sightseeing, sale of under-canopy food products (such as "wild" grapes, strawberries, currants) in addition to participating in the carbon-offset market.

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