In December 2014 the Times reported ‘Leading US academics urge UK policy makers to take a scientific approach to biomass’. A Prof. Malmsheimer, USA forestry academic, has urged UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey to “take a science-based approach” to policymaking on biomass. http://www.backbiomass.co.uk/newsroom-story.php?id=390
Here is a critical examination of the Malmsheimer document:
The authors of this document portray forests as a resource for capitalisation, investment and intensive exploitation.
The fact that forests are ecosystems, teeming with biodiversity that is vital to the world’s environment, is apparently lost on these learned individuals.
In the southern United States, the old growth forest that is being clear cut is the habitat of a wide variety of wildlife which will be irreplaceable because those forests are being replaced with a monoculture of genetically modified eucalyptus trees dependent on chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
The same is happening in South America, where in many cases indigenous people have been forcibly removed from their homes, often brutally when they resist.
Of course there is no mention of the destruction of ecosystems or of gross human rights abuses in this scientific paper.
I take issue with Fundamental 1, which states:
“The carbon benefits of sustainable forest biomass energy are well established.”
All of the evidence which I have encountered over the last 10 years has indicated the opposite.
“The long-term benefits of forest biomass energy are well-established in science literature.”
Perhaps in science literature such as this paper but not in many alternative studies.
Research by the Massachusetts Environmental Energy Alliance indicates that burning trees for energy produces 1.5 times as much carbon as coal and three to four times more than natural gas. It can take 30 years or longer for new trees to absorb the carbon released by cutting down and burning wood for fuel – a disastrous strategy in the face of dangerous climate change. (see tinyurl.com/4ymkzsg)
Another problem with wood-burning is that it emits considerable amounts of pollutants such as nitrogen oxide, micro particulates and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). Even modern pellet boilers generate much more pollutants than oil or natural gas boilers.
These pollutants can seriously affect the health of the local population, being linked to respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
Strange then that this ‘scientific’ paper omits to mention this.
Burning biomass (wood) to generate electricity is certainly not ‘greener’ than burning fossil fuels. The myth that wood is “renewable” and “carbon neutral” is false.
Another aspect of burning biomass for energy that has been omitted from this ‘scientific’ paper:
When land used for food or feed production is turned over to growing biofuel crops for Europe, agriculture has to expand elsewhere – often into forests and habitats in South America and Southeast Asia – resulting in substantial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as well as deforestation, and loss of biodiversity: ‘indirect land use change’ (ILUC). This is currently not accounted for when the carbon balance for biofuels is calculated.
Science clearly shows that most biofuel feed stocks will overall be worse for the climate than fossil fuels, as a result of the knock-on effects of ILUC.
Yet some industry groups (such as Edelman and the authors of this ‘scientific’ paper) are trying to discredit the real science in order to maintain business as usual and to keep subsidies going.
The UK government should listen to scientists, not to narrow corporate interests, when designing biofuels policies.
David Callaghan for Transition Hull, December 2014