Save the Carbon, Harvest the Forest?

Government policies across the world generally favour locking-up forests for carbon sequestration. But a new study by the NSW Government’s Department of Primary Industries suggests: Total greenhouse gas emissions abatement and carbon storage from a multiple use production forest exceed the carbon storage benefit of a conservation forest.

The report stresses that to quantify the climate change impacts of forestry, the entire forestry system should be considered: the carbon dynamics of the forest, the life cycle of forest products; the substitution benefit of biomass and wood products, the risk of leakage resulting from deforestation and forest degradation in other countries.

The study compares the overall greenhouse gas balance for two coastal harvested versus two conservation forests. The accounting method used shows that most of the savings for the harvested forests is in the area of “product substitution”; the idea being that substitution of wood through the use of cement, steel and aluminium creates emissions.

If you are interested in the crooked business of carbon accounting, or looking to justify the harvesting of forests for more fashionable reasons than economics, the report is worth a read:

Harvested forests provide the greatest ongoing greenhouse gas benefits. By Fabiano Ximenes et al. NSW Government, June 2012.

19 Responses to Save the Carbon, Harvest the Forest?

  1. spangled drongo June 28, 2012 at 11:26 am #

    I think we had a better handle on it a century ago, before the geniuses stepped in with all these beaut theories and their carbon manuals.

    It was called SILVICULTURE:

    “the practice of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health, and quality of forests to meet diverse needs and values.”

    I suspect that if you applied good silviculture practice to any native forest you would be ahead with total CO2 emission balance as well as flora/fauna diversity.

    The trouble was it required strict management and supervision in the forest and it seems that was more than bureaucrats could cope with.

  2. Debbie June 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm #


    Well said Spangled

    ‘The trouble was it required strict management and supervision in the forest and it seems that was more than bureaucrats could cope with.’

    That ‘too hard’ and ‘it’s oh so complex’ argument is really starting to look totally ridiculous.
    That ‘Precautionary Principle’ seems to have turned turned bureaucracies into cowards!
    We do indeed have plenty of examples of smarter ways to manage natural resources.
    That old saying…’don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’….applies here in absolute spades.

  3. Robert June 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    sd, SILVICULTURE is a fine word, one which bespeaks centuries of understanding and experience of the natural world.

    Its antonym is BOB CARR NATIONAL PARK.

  4. spangled drongo June 28, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    Debbie and Robert, we’ve been trying to regenerate our backyard for the last 20-odd years but now we should just give up and bring in the bulldozers.

    There’s gotta be a grant in there somewhere. ☺☻

  5. cementafriend June 28, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    A few interesting points in the report but also a lot of nonsense. Fig 1,1 is deliberately misleading. The measured CO2 levels going back to the early 1800’s with very accurate measurements in the early 1900,s (including some by Nobel prize winners) have been ignored and deliberately omitted by the few powerful IPCC lead authors who have little or no understanding of technical issues surrounding climate assessment.
    Fancy refering to Garnaut who has no technical qualifications and a very doubtful record of financial competence (look at the losses he caused as chairman at Lihir gold through stupid hedging contracts and look at the environmental and financial mess at OK Tedi while he was a director)
    Timber has its place for furniture but a doubtful place in construction. Timber catches fire, did not large parts of Roman, London, Chicago and Kyoto burn to the ground. Timber rots (mainly when it gets wet but also dry rot); termites and various or insects eat it. Egyptians (the pyramids), Greeks and Romans (eg Pantheon) built with concrete which has lasted thousands of years. Concrete is a necessary part of modern life. Cement manufacture is the leader for GDP growth in developing countries. China is now the largest consumer of cement per capita (over 1 tonne per annum per person) and of course the largest total producer. Brazil and India are building cement plants but have a long way to go to reach the cement per capita of China. Indonesa with about 250 million people has only a few modern plants although there is one which produces about as much as the whole of Australia. One can not build roads, bridges, dams, airports, container terminals, high rise buildings etc with timber.

    On top of that all there is no evidence that CO2 has any harmful effect. On the contrary there is plenty of evidence that CO2 is beneficial for plant growth.
    Timber growing for harvesting has a place. Multiple use makes economical sense. Attempting to justify timber growing or multiple use harvesting on the poor science of greenhouse makes no sense and will only lead to poor misguided policy which in the long term will harm the population

  6. mate June 28, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

    This flying pig won’t get off the ground no matter how much lipstick you put on it.

    “3.3.1 When forests are harvested the amount of biomass removed for processing into wood products various between 45 and 65% (Figure 3.2).”

    Figure 3.2 Ximenes et al 2012:

    Crowns ~ 24 – 45%
    Bark ~ 6 – 7%
    Stumps ~ 2 – 6%
    Debarked log ~ 45 – 65%

    This figure is misleading because it is based on standing biomass and ignores total forest carbon:

    ~ 34% in soil profile
    ~ 8% root biomass (I have seen a figure of 60% of carbon in the soil but I can’t find the reference at the moment – compared to 42% from this reference)
    ~ 2% litter layer
    ~ 7% coarse woody debri
    ~ 6% dead biomass in stags

    Total so far ~57% (after Brendan G. Mackey, et al 2008)

    Leaves ~43% living biomass. So Ximenes’ figures actually refer to less than half of forest carbon.

    It also makes no mention of the carbon in:
    – ground cover (mosses, grasses, ferns etc), under-story, non target species
    – boles (trunks and other “waste”) left on site due to defects etc

    The misleading inference in this section of the paper is that 45-65% of forest carbon is removed as saw logs. At best, using their own dodgy figures, logs removed would account 20-30% of carbon on the site.

    In Victoria, around 85% of timber removed from coupes is woodchipped. If figures in NSW are similar that means ~4.5% of carbon released from the forest is designated for “sequestration” as sawlogs. What sort of recovery rates are you looking at for sawlogs? I’m feeling generous so, say 50% (30% more likely though), and that means ~2% of the original carbon in the forest might be sequestered. But for how long and where is the other 98% C? 5, 10, 20 years later even sawn native hardwood is another piece of disposable crap turning into methane in a landfill. Just like all the crap made from exported woodchips. The “45 – 65%” of figure 3.2 looks like junk science.

    I haven’t even looked at the silvicultural system or length of rotation they’ve used. This paper should keep me entertained for a while.

  7. Geoffrey Kelley June 29, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    I may be oversimplifying the problem, but is seems to me that if we harvest mature timber and store the fixed carbon (cellulose) in construction, new trees will grow in the space provided and fix more CO2 via visible light energy driving photosynthesis. Basically we are using primary renewable energy to reduce the CO2 load in the atmosphere.

    Conversely, if we cut down all the forests (Prof Lindsay Prior called them the lungs of the world) and denude South America and Indonesia, the rate of CO2 uptake will be reduced and CO2 levels will increase. Burning the timber is an obvious negative, but the CO2 produced by fire is not 100%. Much carbon is left as char available to the soil. New growth has a 100% uptake of CO2.

    So it makes sense to manage forests sensibly, use controlled burns and harvest timber products sustainably and store the harvested CO2 in useful construction.

    As an aside, the Romans and the Phoenecians knew how to make cement but we have forgotten the recipe. Modern concrete has a very limited life. Many buildings constructed in Melbourne (since WWII) had to be demolished within forty years in part caused by concrete failure.

  8. Kev June 29, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    timber catches fire – but remains structurally sound in comparison to ther structural building components, such as steel which reach a point of almost complete structural failure at above 700 degrees.

    Average building fire temperatures range from approximately 700º to 900º Celsius. Steel weakens dramatically as its temperature climbs above 230ºC, retaining only 10% of its strength at about 750ºC.

    Wood, on the other hand in the samed situation only loses 25% of its strength. These are both over a 1/2 hour period. I would prefer to be in the wooden building so I can get out before it collapses – if the wooden one collapses at all. It also is renewable, stores carbon and has a very low embodied energy in comparison to other building materials.

    Wood is far better for structural building components. and the technology for it’s use is greatly improving, with a 10 storey building being built in Melbourne very recently. We should really use more locally sourced wood where we can in place of these other materials and store more carbon to decrease Australia’s ecological footprint.

  9. val majkus June 29, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    PETITION against the carbon tax

  10. Robert June 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm #

    I’ve walked through clear-fells of young eucalypts in Galicia, seen whole hillsides shaved in one go. In oak country in France and Italy, where I’ve walked, silviculture involves relentless hunting, truffling and using enormous amounts of scrap wood as firewood. The land is far more resilient than we are ever allowed to say. But that’s Europe, and this is Oz. We don’t have their traditions, and its foolish to play at being European when you’re not. But here we’re starting to confuse paralysis and abandon with conservation, and there’s an assumption that the bush will look after itself. That would surprise all those who came before us in our great forests, especially the kouris.

    This is not an argument for excess. I live in koala country. I’m grateful for the export dollars from the two million koala pelts exported in just one year in the twenties. Maybe we really did need the money then, and maybe the money was spent well. But now we have to spend and fuss like crazy to preserve the species. The red cedar is now a relic, there’s no hope of growing it in plantations. You just cannot get away from the need to CONSERVE. I’m in tallowood, turpentine and even brush-box country. Taking these species too young or in too great quantity is just like the frenzied cash-and-mineral grab we’re seeing on prime food-production land (under tree-hugger governments, of course.)

    Look, we have a head start. Around 2007 there was an actual “climate change” our Green Betters don’t want to discuss. I’d talk about PDO, but I don’t believe in explaining vast things as simplistic levers and mechanisms based on scraps of recently acquired knowledge. But the bush is growing, big time. This “carbon boom” has coincided with reduced or absent forestry activity.

    We’ve seen how many billions government can fritter on non-productive or counter-productive green fetishism. Surely all our forests can have a few on-site guardians and workers, intensive and realistic fire and vermin maintenance programs, and modest exploitation. You can’t run it at a profit, but heritage is a legit role of government. “User pays” and “market forces” are wonderful principles which make lousy dogma, especially when half-digested by Big Lever leftists.

    Lastly, there is nothing natural about hot burns. When the dry westerlies again come whistling across the Divide some Spring – or even Summer, God help us – are we just going to have massive conflagrations again – while bureaucrats are running about checking how much “durrdy carrrbon p’luttion” you toaster is responsible for emitting?

    Of course, you need real wealth to have real conservation. You need pluralism and freedom for wealth. So, first job is to get rid of the collectivists, dogmatists and impoverishers.

  11. John Sayers June 29, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    Apparently at the last Sydney City Council meeting they spent hours discussing the carbon footprint of inner city people’s pets!!!

  12. Larry Fields June 29, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    I agree with Spangled about silviculture. I also agree with the multiple use philosophy of the U.S. Forest Service, regarding their lands that are not managed for wilderness values.

    That said, I have mixed feelings about the political thrust of “Save the Carbon, Harvest the Forest?” On the one hand, this blog post casts reasonable doubt on the carbon accounting scam.

    On the other hand, that comes at the expense of partially legitimizing the bigger lie about the Flying CO2 Monster. My feeling about evidence-based environmental politics is that we should place more emphasize on our strongest points.

    Repeal the Carbon Tax? Yes. Save the dugongs? Absolutely. Pander to Warmist fundamentalists in order to make a point about forest management? That’s a two-edged sword.

  13. Bronson June 29, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

    Gee mate and then you go and read on in the report and you find in section 4 the following which kind of indicates you haven’t read the report nor do you understand it;

    ‘The full life cycle of carbon in forests and wood products is considered. The simulation was run over a period of 200 years. The two management scenarios take into account:

    carbon sequestration in standing trees in the forest;

    carbon storage in harvest residues (above and below-ground);

    long-term carbon storage in wood products;

    GHG emissions due to the establishment and management of forests, harvesting, log transport, manufacture, transport to customer and disposal of products;

    emissions avoidance associated with of the use of wood products in place of more greenhouse-intensive alternatives. A 100% substitution for non-wood materials was assumed;

    fossil-fuel substitution benefits of using a proportion of harvest residues for bioenergy generation;

    GHG emissions due to the forest management, harvesting, log transport, manufacture, transport to customer and disposal of products.’

    You also said, ‘5, 10, 20 years later even sawn native hardwood is another piece of disposable crap turning into methane in a landfill’ 3.3.1 of the report says, ‘DPI research (e.g., Ximenes et al 2008a), and a recently published study in the USA (Wang et al 2011), has demonstrated that harvested wood products in landfill represent a long term carbon store, with minimal or no decomposition taking place’. Again read the report and do try and keep up the comprehension!

    Oh and don’t forget to add the losses from bushfires in your calculations.

  14. Tony Price June 30, 2012 at 12:01 am #

    Satellite maps of the distribution of CO2 across the earth’s surface show that the highest concentrations are over the tropical forests, and not over large urban and industrial areas, as might be expected. Should we be worried? No, because it’s trees that have reduced the CO2 in the atmosphere to its present low level. Nothing else has the capacity to do this; not grass, not algae, not plankton, nothing else. Certainly not animals; fauna contain little carbon compared with flora, and most flora very little compared with trees.

    Grassland plants contain a few grams per square metre of carbon; dense forests can contain up to a tonne or more per square metre. Trees matter; little else does, in the grand scheme of things. A visitor from a distant galaxy would conclude (from Earth orbit) that the population here was tall and brown with little green bits attached, rather boring, and not worth the trouble of attempting to engage in conversation.

    Thank God for trees; the little green men will leave us alone.

  15. George B June 30, 2012 at 5:13 am #

    If one wanted to sequester CO2, we have a rather simple way of doing that. First you mine some coal and burn it. Then you cut down some trees, turn them into paper and use it for some economic purpose such as a telephone directory. When that paper is no longer useful, you pulp it into a slurry pump it into the coal mine and squeeze the water out of it using technology much like “rammed earth”. Pound for pound, paper has more carbon than coal. Simply put the carbon back where it came from in the first place. Also, packing these mines solid with highly compressed paper pulp could reduce problems later that come from caving in of old mine shafts.

    And who knows, maybe after several thousand years that paper could be dug out and burned again.

    One of the most common misconceptions is that recycling paper somehow benefits the environment. It doesn’t. Trees for paper, at least in the US, are farmed like corn. If you reduce demand for virgin pulp by recycling, it results in fewer trees being planted and the land sold off for other uses such as residential or commercial development. Recycling paper decreases the number of trees in the environment, it does not “save” any.

  16. Neville June 30, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    Willis Eschenbach looks at a new study (using models, what else) about future temp changes around lake Eyre. Unbelievable BS from Uni of wankerdom.

  17. John Sayers June 30, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    It’s that “Dr John Tibby from the University of Adelaide’s Discipline of Geography, Environment and Population.” again Neville.

  18. Farmer Doug 2 June 30, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

    Well now I’m in a quandry. A dozen years ago when I was “accepting the science” I began to see discrepancies with the management of trees as I felt it should be to manage CO2. So I looked harder and the whole thing fell apart. If the principals in this had been accepted then I might still be a warmist.

    Now of course the whole premis is undone. (Re Larry @ 5.46PM).

    The question is “Is anybody reading these revelations”? and “do we promot them and support the bigger lie?”



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