I have an Oregon Global Warming Commission meeting later today and I’ve got a couple things on my mind: We just had the driest April in Oregon history and one reason lumber prices are up over 100%+ is due to the terrible climate change-encouraged fires and beetle invasions which have destroyed so much forest land in the Pacific Northwest, especially in British Columbia.
Our OGWC recent agenda has focused on our ‘working’ lands, so called because they represent the very large parts of Oregon’s natural ecosystem subjugated to human desire. There are many great things we can do to sequester more carbon in these working lands, such as no till agriculture, conservation crop rotation, and propagating kelp forests in the oceans. How we should manage our terrestrial forests, though, has puzzled me.
The heretical conclusion which keeps coming back to me is that actions we take to reduce forestry in the Pacific Northwest displace lumber harvesting to the tropics, where the cutting causes worse biological devastation and climate impacts. Much worse. There’s also the worrisome problem that if things continue on their current trajectory, the forests we try to save here will burn.
Our last meeting opened with a presentation by Robert Brunoe from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. The heart of his presentation was a devastating series of slides which showed the extent of forest fires in the Warm Springs Reservation over the last 70 years. While forest fires are a natural and needed part of the PNW forest ecosystem, they’ve been getting bigger and more destructive because we have replanted trees to maximize short term profits (all at once, close together) and climate change is bringing more drought, heat, and lightning storms.
Tragically, the fires last summer destroyed a forest the tribes had planted to sequester carbon.
So what to do? I think a future of drought, heat, and extreme forest fire risk is locked in. Close to 100% odds. No matter what we do. We still have time to prevent the apocalyptic scenarios but we need to start adapting immediately to the future we know is coming 30 and 50 years from now. We need to think in tree time.
To me this means our forestry strategy should be all about the health and survival of our planetary forests. Absolutely no more logging of old growth in the Pacific Northwest. These are the most resilient forests and the most biologically and spiritually precious. Where we have mangled our replanting of clear cuts, we should probably start thinning the trees so they are not so packed together. We should stop clear cutting and replanting all at once.
We should do this in a way that is as supportive as possible to the Pacific Northwest timber industry. Because until we are ready to stop building homes out of wood*, we need to remember when lumber prices are up 100%+++, timber companies in Indonesia fire up their chainsaws and start destroying Orangutan habitat. It’s not the timber companies’ fault. It’s ours. They are the chainsaw. Our purchase of the lumber is the pull cord.
At the end of our last meeting I commented that while there are innumerable benefits to sequestering carbon in our working lands, it won’t matter much if we keep consuming the wrong things excessively. One of the great falsehoods we Americans have bought into in my lifetime has been the illusion of environmental progress. We Oregonians like to be proud of the declines in our direct carbon emissions as we grow our clean energy production. Yet when we include the emissions associated with our consumption of food and products (so often built with high carbon Chinese electrons), our carbon emissions have steadily marched upward.
It’s time we faced reality: we need to address our consumption if we really want to solve the climate crisis.
*Sun Tsu reportedly advised giving your enemies a golden bridge over which to retreat. According to this logic, it makes sense to develop ways to use hydrocarbons besides burning them. We should accelerate adoption of lumber-like products made out of recycled plastic, and when we exhaust that resource, out of virgin materials derived from hydrocarbons. PS – Indow window inserts are a GREAT way to lock up hydrocarbons while reducing emissions.
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