We must change our way of life to save the earth. We must stop the climate changing for the worse and make it change for the better instead. But how? The leaders of the World meet to discuss the problem but never seem to come up with any good solutions. Actions are taken, but what seems the right thing to do one day, turns out to be the opposite the next day. What on earth is going on?
What´s going on in the green World?
Let´s start by making one thing clear: It´s not about saving the environment, nature of the World. It´s about saving ourselves, humanity. The truth is that the environment and nature would do much, much better if humans disappeared from the face of the earth. After all, it´s us who have created most of the problems that we are now fighting.
Some people would probably say: “Let´s continue on the highway to hell for the environment’s sake.” Well, maybe it’s better to try to stay alive after all … Then something must be done to change the direction. But what?
Who are the saviors?
As we here in Sweden have no oil or gas, we have focused on what we do have – forest. Bioenergy from the forest, good, local fuel that we get anyway as we harvest forests for other purposes such as pulp, paper, and lumber. To use that instead of coal, oil, or nuclear power (that we also use) seemed to be a good idea. Ok, bioenergy is combusted, and combustion lets the carbon out, but as the growing forest stores carbon it kind of evens out. The net outcome is positive. The forest is renewable. If you cut a tree, you will have a new one within 100 years. If you mine a shovel of coal or a bucket of oil it will take billions of years before it comes back. So … to utilize the forest is good, isn´t it? Compared to the alternatives anyway …
Waterpower is very clean, maybe the cleanest, greenest of them all. But the local environment is affected in a negative way as rivers must be redirected and dams must be built. E.g., the salmon get problems moving upstream because of waterpower plants which affect their survival.
Some say that nuclear power is very clean. It only lets hot water out. People living in Harrisburg US, Tjernobyl Ukraine (former Soviet Union), and Fukushima Japan probably don´t agree.
Wind power is also clean, except for the big, ugly windmills that no one wants close to where they live. The argument that it is locally produced energy doesn´t help at all.
Solar power is maybe my favorite as there are so many flat surfaces where the panels could be mounted, rooftops, etc., and they are not so visible as the windmills. This is the kind of energy source that I have heard least negative critics about.
Waste combustion is common in many countries, like Sweden. It´s better than landfill, it produces heat and electricity, but it lets carbon out (just like a landfill).
Oil and coal are mentioned above. There are of course other methods to produce electricity as well.
Whatever we do …
One problem is that no matter which alternative we are discussing, there will always be someone, some “expert”, “scientist” or some self-appointed wannabe, who will say that “this is not good”. And the fact is that they are probably right – whatever we do, it´s not good for the environment. Everything we do affects the environment in one way or another, more or less negative.
In the meantime, we find ourselves in a situation where suddenly everything should be powered by electricity. Governments subsidize battery-powered bicycles and cars. But no one, or very few, seems to think about where and how all the electricity needed should be produced. “Get yourself some extra power outlets in the wall …” was one comment I read that wasn´t completely thought out. It shows how difficult it is to make people see the whole picture.
Comparing the alternatives, I still think that it´s us in the forest who are sitting on the best solution. For a long time, many others agreed, but …
New times new ideas
But then … when reading the new EU Forest Strategy for 2030 by the EU Commission, one starts to get doubts. Here it says that bioenergy is not good for the environment as it is about combustion. In other words, it releases carbon. The balance between the carbon storage in the growing forest and the released carbon from the combustion plants is not good enough, as we in the forest claim, according to the Eu Commission.
Some years ago, the British power supplier Drax decided to convert from coal to wood pellets in four of their combustion plants. This would make the company carbon neutral according to themselves and many forestry people. But Drax didn´t settle for that. By using the new BECCS technology (Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage) they would even create “negative carbon emissions”. Brilliant idea! or …?
The analyst Luke Sussams at Jefferies Financial Group, according to the Guardian claims that bioenergy is unlikely to make a positive contribution to climate action because of “uncertain and poor practices” in some parts of the timber industry regarding the sources of wood, forest management practices, supply chain emissions, and high combustion emissions.
These doubts over the sustainability in Drax´s wood-burning power plants have resulted in that the company has been kicked out from the S&P Global Clean Energy Index with all the consequences that follow that.
What shall we do?
It seems to me that whatever we (the forestry) come up with to contribute to a positive climate change, is kicked down by someone else. I guess other businesses feel the same. Bioenergy, wind power, water power, nuclear power, solar power, oil, gas, everything gets criticized but no one comes up with a better idea.
“Give us electricity and fuel that have no impact on the environment at all!”
“Give us toilet paper, wood furniture, wooden houses, plywood, OSB, cardboard, … but don´t you dare to touch the trees in the forest!”
But no one tells us how or mentions any alternatives. Sometimes I wonder why we bother.
Photos: Per Jonsson