Biomass

Photo by Bill Keeton, University of Vermont
One way to fight climate change is to switch to renewable energy that doesn’t add climate-change-causing carbon pollution to the air.

Using trees, or biomass, has been suggested as a form of renewable energy, since the trees grow back. However, biomass is not always “carbon neutral” as assumed, and if not carefully managed the drawbacks to biomass as an energy source could hurt our forests and climate rather than help.

The climate impact

Carbon pollution, like that created by cars, is the main contributor to climate change. In order to slow down climate change, we need energy sources that don’t add carbon to the air. Burning waste wood from timber cutting could provide such energy. When trees grow back, they absorb the carbon released by burning them.

However, there are some concerns with using trees as fuel:

Accounting

Wood actually releases more carbon at the smokestack than many fossil fuels. Using trees as fuel can reduce carbon emissions only if an equal amount of carbon is quickly reabsorbed by new trees. This requires both healthy intact forests and sustainable harvest practices..

Protecting healthy forests

Another concern with biomass is the effect it could have on the healthy forests of the Northeast. Poor harvest practices can destroy ecosystems, threatening clean water and wildlife habitat. To be considered a renewable energy source, biomass has to be collected in ways that don’t threaten healthy forests.