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Burning Forests Is Not A Very Good Idea, Decides Guardian (Six Years Too Late)

December 17, 2019

By Paul Homewood



Crikey Jilly, you’re a bit late at the party, aren’t you? I was telling everybody about this six years ago!


Plans to shift Europe’s coal plants to burning wood pellets instead could accelerate rather than combat the climate crisis and lay waste to woodland equal to half the size of Germany’s Black Forest a year, according to campaigners.

The climate thinktank Sandbag said the heavily subsidised plans to cut carbon emissions would result in a “staggering” amount of tree cutting, potentially destroying forests faster than they can regrow.

Sandbag found that Europe’s planned biomass conversion projects would require 36m tonnes of wood pellets every year, equal to the entire current global wood pellet production. This would require forests covering 2,700 sq km to be cut down annually, the equivalent of half the Black Forest in Germany.

EU carbon target threatened by biomass ‘insanity’

The majority of wood pellets are imported from the US and Canada, “meaning that there’s a huge added environmental cost in transporting the wood from the other side of the Atlantic”, said the report’s author, Charles Moore.

The planned biomass conversions – with Finland, Germany and the Netherlands leading the way – would emit 67m tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, which would be unlikely to be reabsorbed by growing trees over the timescales relevant to meeting the targets set by Paris climate agreement, warned Sandbag.

In return, the forest-hungry power plants would produce less than 2% of the EU’s electricity needs – the same generation capacity built in Europe every year by wind and solar farm developers.

“It’s impossible to believe coal companies when they argue that the switch to burning forests could be good for the climate,” Moore said.

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EU regulators consider biomass as a carbon neutral renewable alternative, saying that the growth of new trees can absorb as much carbon as wood pellets release when they are burned to generate electricity.

The Drax energy complex in North Yorkshire has used this logic to underpin its plan to become the world’s first “carbon negative” company within 10 years by burning biomass in conjunction with technology that can capture carbon from its power plant flues.

Drax robustly defends the sustainability record of its biomass supply chain. Its wood pellets, shipped from the US, are made mostly from sawmill residue and forest overgrowth, which is carefully cleared to improve the quality of forests. Drax has pledged never to source biomass from farming practices that lead to deforestation.

Burning wood for power is ‘misguided’ say climate experts

But Alex Mason, from WWF’s EU office, said burning forests was “literally the opposite of what we should be doing” to help tackle the climate crisis.

“As 800 scientists pointed out last year, converting coal plants to biomass will increase emissions for decades, if not centuries. This new report is yet more evidence that the EU must use the new EU Green Deal to fix EU bioenergy rules before this ticking time-bomb of a policy does any more damage,” he said.

Prof Michael Norton, a director at the European Academies Science Advisory Council, said large-scale forest removal to meet the demand for biomass would be “horrifying from a climate perspective” and already risks overshooting the Paris agreement targets.

He said European countries were moving ahead with plans for giant biomass plants despite reports showing “the counter-productive nature of biomass” and the urgent need to stop deforestation.

  1. December 17, 2019 12:10 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate-

  2. Stonyground permalink
    December 17, 2019 12:24 pm

    Isn’t all this obvious to anyone who thinks about it for even a second? Burning trees means there will be fewer trees, who knew?

    • Broadlands permalink
      December 17, 2019 1:52 pm

      Shouldn’t it be obvious that burning ethanol derived from plants on agricultural lands is even worse? Biofuel is 90% fossil fuel. And It isn’t stored. It’s immediately used for transportation. And “we” make a lot of it. It adds tons of CO2 to the atmosphere.

    • December 17, 2019 7:28 pm

      It certainly wasn’t obvious to Roger Harrabin who, several years ago, was almost wetting himself with excitement as Drax was converting some of its units to burn woodchips rather than coal. You can’t argue with Harrabin, who is the ultimate expert on all things green and on combating the climate emergency. Burning wwodchips is the best thing since indoor plumbing and sliced bread (according to Harrabin). Has he responded to this Grauniad article to tell them they have it all wrong?

  3. johnbillscott permalink
    December 17, 2019 12:38 pm

    Wood pellets were made from lumber wastes mainly for domestic wood pellet stoves in North American towns and cities. Those living in the countryside burned seasoned hardwood and still do even more so when the cost of fuel oil rose. The wood pellets have resulted in clearcutting of large areas – not a pretty sight. Saying bio-mass is sustainable is a bit of a stretch as their is a 25 to 50 year interval between seedling and harvest. When one includes cutting, pelletizing, trucking and shipping costs the advantages reduce. Ton for ton coal is a much better solution – ask the Chinese and Aussies.

  4. st3ve permalink
    December 17, 2019 12:49 pm

    One might buy this, if the trees were planted first and they waited 25-50 years to harvest them.
    This is currently NOT a ‘regret free’ solution – ie it’s a kneejerk reaction with inevitable unintended consequences – and akin to carbon trading double counting.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      December 17, 2019 3:54 pm

      I figured something similar, except maybe the delay from planting to burning should be a couple of million years. (You mean it’s already been done? Coal pellets? You don’t say)/s

  5. Trevor Shurmer permalink
    December 17, 2019 12:54 pm

    Yes but the Sandbag mob are promoting renewables instead, implying renewables are the way forward. What I would like to fully understand is why intermittent, unreliable, uncontrollable energy can be promoted. Whilst there is an attack on fossil fuels in general these so called think tanks provide no meaningful answers.

  6. December 17, 2019 1:16 pm

    Reblogged this on Wolsten and commented:
    Doh! Yet more stuff that you really cannot make up.

  7. johnbillscott permalink
    December 17, 2019 1:17 pm

    Timely comments:

  8. Chaswarnertoo permalink
    December 17, 2019 1:50 pm

    Why are leftards so effin slow? DKUATBT!

  9. MrGrimNasty permalink
    December 17, 2019 1:54 pm

    Having had unequivocal research that the EU bio-fuel mandate had had the opposite effect to that intended, actually increasing CO2 emissions, politicians are still calling for a higher %, and the recent increased % was implemented regardless.

  10. Malcolm Bell permalink
    December 17, 2019 2:22 pm

    I have been saying this for many many years. But the arts graduate climate experts sneer at me and call me an ignorant right wing denier. OK. The nice lady at Drax last year smiled nicely at me and said they wouldn’t be investing millions if the “top scientists” hadn’t worked it out exactly.

    I am only a graduate Engineer – how could I know better than a social “scientist”, of course even less than a teenage Swede! I will back my training and professional judgement against a failed organic market gardener every day.

    Logic has nothing to do with this new religion. Unfortunately our children will be smashed by the unintended (but blindingly obvious to those who really understand Engineering) consequences of these ignorant knee jerkers.

    • Pancho Plail permalink
      December 18, 2019 9:01 am

      Amen to that, Malcolm.

  11. December 17, 2019 2:28 pm

    “Drax robustly defends the sustainability record of its biomass supply chain. Its wood pellets, shipped from the US, are made mostly from sawmill residue and forest overgrowth, which is carefully cleared to improve the quality of forests.”


    If clearcutting a forest led to 25% useable wood, the company involved wouldn’t do it. But if they can shift the rubbish to Drax, they’ll clearcut, use the good wood and pellet the rest. In other words, the market for pellets subsidizes the destruction of forests. There will be replanting, but this will be of rapidly-growing species forming a monoculture with no habitat structure and next to no biodiversity.

    Drax, built on a coal mine, now devouring more wood than the entire UK forestry produces.

    Dogwood Alliance has some interesting pics of Enviva’s pellet plants and “forestry”. They seem to think that pelleted hardwoods from clearcutting find their way to Drax. And if you look at some of the pics, it certainly looks as if entire trees are being used, not “sawmill residue and forest overgrowth.”

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      December 17, 2019 5:55 pm

      There have been several journalist investigations of the Drax wood sources, repeatedly they find evidence of clear cut wood heading straight to Drax. Every-time they say it was an exceptional case – the land owner wanted to replant etc. The reality has been known for a long time.

      “The new documentary evidence revealed today shows how hardwood forests in the region are clear cut and vast quantities of whole trees and other large-diameter wood are sent to industrial mills to be manufactured into pellets to feed Drax’s boilers.”

      “Devastating US forests.”

      Click to access global-markets-biomass-energy-06172019.pdf

      Don’t forget millions of trees are also being destroyed for windmills and transmission lines, from the Scottish hills, to ancient German forest, to Tasmanian rain forest. Nothing is sacred when it comes to wind turbines.

    • Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
      December 17, 2019 8:12 pm

      Prior to last century (1900s) sawmill by-products were mostly considered waste. Piles of sawdust lasted a long time and in the 1950s we could collect some for the garden.
      Then companies realized the “waste” was, in fact, a resource. Particle board . . .

      . . . and other products used most of this resource, and on-site thermal electricity production became important.

      The term “forest overgrowth” is a way of saying mis-management.
      One can see the confusion with this statement from WikiDiff

      Undergrowth is an antonym of overgrowth.
      As nouns the difference between undergrowth and overgrowth is that undergrowth is the plants in a forest which only reach a relatively low height (such as shrubs and bushes) while overgrowth is a usually abundant, luxuriant growth over or on something else a tangle of growth occurring at the top of trees involving vines and branches, common in jungles.

      The world has gone full crazy.

  12. GeoffB permalink
    December 17, 2019 3:56 pm

    You would have thought that Extinction Rebellion, who want no carbon emissions within 10 years would be protesting at Drax. If you plant a tree now, it is going to take 30 to 40 years before it will have absorbed all the CO2 from the one we just burnt. By that time we will all be extinct. Come on ….do your stuff.

    • Broadlands permalink
      December 17, 2019 5:08 pm

      “You would have thought that Extinction Rebellion, who want no carbon emissions within 10 years” would understand that no carbon emissions means no carbon FUEL emissions. And that means no viable transportation around the world to climate change meetings, much less to get back home and protest again.

  13. December 17, 2019 5:02 pm

    Remember also that bio-diesel using palm oil starts with clear cutting tropical rain forests to make room for the plantations.

    Remember 25 years ago when saving the rain forests was a popular thing to do?

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      December 17, 2019 8:18 pm

      Sean, I have been banging on about this for some time: that saving the planet with E-fuel means cutting down the rain-forests so that subsidised indigenous peoples – who are pawns in the game – can plant palm-oil groves.
      It’s not about Saving the planet, for the people, it’s about Having the planet for the the few (the Marxists).

  14. Adamsson permalink
    December 17, 2019 5:02 pm

    Yes, that may very well be true but you can HUGE subsidies for burning wood and it’s very profitable for all concerned. (Well except for the consumers who don’t matter) Also without Drax we would all be sitting in the cold and dark.

  15. Ian Phillips permalink
    December 17, 2019 5:24 pm

    Tragically, the whole emphasis is still focused on Carbon Dioxide, when cloud cover is a far more potent factor in reducing solar input. The informal research pamphlet “The Nile Climate Engine”, by Conor McMenemie, discusses the effect of damming the Nile over the last 100 years…No flooding therefore less plant life and tree growth in mid to northern Africa, therefore less transpiration and less water vapour to form cloud for the Easterly air flow to carry to the Atlantic, and thus shield our oceans from direct sunlight. (available from St. Matthews publishing, 1 Barnfield, Hemingford Abbots, PE28 9AX).

    Several other peer reviewed papers on the importance of cloud cover have been quoted on this website, making much the same point.
    When is everyone going to wake up to the reality that it’s not just all about CO2?

    The Drax burning of timber is almost as crazy as trying to extract CO2 from the atmosphere and bury it underground. There should be an annual prizes for the most dotty XR type activity, pseudo science statement, and climate obsessed individual.

  16. Skyman permalink
    December 17, 2019 5:26 pm

    Did I read that Drax gets £2m in subsides per day to burn the wood pellets? If this is correct just think where the money would so easily be better spent – NHS, schools etc.

  17. Gerry, England permalink
    December 17, 2019 5:47 pm

    The market for selling wood has never been better in the UK. The Ramsgate plant needs a truck of wood every hour to keep it going so you can easily sell any thinnings or even brash to them. In fact truckloads are coming from all over England and even Wales as the south east can’t supply it alone. UK forestry is a responsible industry as the extents are quite small but with the money to be made I can see why it is less so in countries with large tracts of forest.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      December 17, 2019 6:35 pm

      Back then the DM had a different editor and it’s coverage of climate/pollution/energy issues were much more honest.

      • December 17, 2019 7:28 pm

        It was David Rose who first alerted me a few years ago to the environmemtal disasters brought by the devastation of virgin forests in the US, all to feed Drax

        Sadly we rarely hear from him these days.

  18. gosportmike permalink
    December 17, 2019 6:02 pm

    I know I’m probably suffering from senile decay but all this argument concerning CO2 seems to be missing one obvious point. The world’s population is increasing. More, it is doing so more quickly in the developing countries.
    An increase in population needs an increase in food supply. Reducing CO2 will reduce plant growth requiring an increase in area under the plough. That area is being reduced by building homes and spreading solar and wind farms.
    Anyway, I’m 94 and I look forward to this infinitesimal increase in natural warmth.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      December 17, 2019 8:23 pm

      Large families are the result of minimal, inefficient energy supplies. If third-world countries had access to cheap, available and reliable (Fossil-fuel?) energy, they would have no need of over-procreation. China has twigged….

    • Malcolm Bell permalink
      December 17, 2019 9:27 pm

      Correct, there is actually only one problem – too many people.

      We can address that with human solutions or Mother Nature will do it in her usually way: disease, famine and blood. The choice is ours.

    • Broadlands permalink
      December 17, 2019 10:01 pm

      Gosportmike: Reducing CO2 is totally different from reducing carbon fuel emissions. The former can only be done meaningfully by global industrial CO2 capture and long-term geological storage. Few seem to understand that important distinction. As the world population keeps rising the dilemma increases.

      • gosportmike permalink
        December 18, 2019 4:34 pm

        Broadlands. Global industrial CO2 capture and geological storage is PhD fodder. Neither of us will live to see it.

  19. Patsy Lacey permalink
    December 17, 2019 6:10 pm

    Neil Burdett, Drax head of enviroment said “Our whole business case is built on subsidy like the rest of the renewable industry. We are simply responding to government policy.”..
    Company spokesman Matt Willey added “We’re a power company. We’ve been told to take coal out of the equation. What would you have us do build a dirty great windfarm?”
    Out of the mouths of babes etc

    • OldCynic permalink
      December 17, 2019 7:35 pm

      Patsy, are you able to cite the interview, or whatever, in which these statements were made?

      • MrGrimNasty permalink
        December 17, 2019 8:54 pm

        It’s in the DM article linked in the Dec 17 5:58PM post.

  20. george linker permalink
    December 17, 2019 8:29 pm

    yet another article that shows the disconnect of people in the environment activists camp. They fight to save the forests so that they can burn in giant forest fires which do more to create warmer temps. Total lack of understanding beyond what some fanatic has taught them. When you learn from do nothing fanatics you do not and screw up everything.

  21. MrGrimNasty permalink
    December 17, 2019 8:50 pm

    If you deny people economic prosperity and cheap reliable energy (i.e. fossil fuels), they will ravage the environment around them. Be it eating bush meat, hunting animals for black-market pseudo-medicinal properties and souvenirs/crafts, or stripping the vegetation for fuel so quickly that the countryside might turn into desert. And breathing the smoke when cooking etc. is real life-shortening pollution, unlike the wildly exaggerated UK traffic pollution claims.

  22. dennisambler permalink
    December 17, 2019 11:53 pm

    “Rebecca Heaton is responsible for Drax Group’s efforts to mitigate climate change, ensuring that sound science underpins climate change polices and business strategy. She is also responsible for developing sustainability and climate change research programmes.”
    Sandbag was founded in 2008 by Baroness Bryony Worthington to shine a light on what was really going on in emissions trading in the EU and to enable people to buy and remove the surplus carbon allowances from the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS).
    Baroness Worthington is the Executive Director of Environmental Defense Fund Europe. She was appointed to the role in 2016 and is the first to hold this position for the European affiliate of the international nonprofit organization, Environmental Defense Fund.
    Mr Fred Krupp, President, Environmental Defense Fund

    Wheels within wheels , within wheels….

  23. matelot65 permalink
    December 18, 2019 8:36 am

    Personally I’m trying to understand the proposed ban on woodburning domestic stoves, which save on Electricity and Gas with running places like Drax on wood…but then I’m old.

  24. Vernon E permalink
    December 18, 2019 11:55 am

    I’m with MrGrimNasty: plenty of investigative journalism in print and film have shown that fresh woodland in the US is being destroyed to source fuel for Drax, and Drax executives are fully aware of this so they are LYING on an industrial scale.

  25. December 19, 2019 10:35 pm

    Burning wood for anything is stupid. We have highly concentrated energy carriers buried beneath the Earth that give us anything we need. They are easy to produce and store, they are highly energetic and efficient, today’s technology allows us to use them without spoiling the environment, and the CO2 their combustion gives us helps nourish plants to get ready for the cold times that are upon us. If hydrocarbons did not exist, someone would have to invent them. Humanity would still be living like medieval peasants without it. We should celebrate fossil fuels. And use the wood for decorative purposes. Or leave the trees alone.

  26. nickreality65 permalink
    December 21, 2019 3:28 pm

    Here’s some accurate and heretical science, the best kind.

    Because of the non-radiative heat transfer processes of a contiguous participating media, i.e. conduction, convection, advection and latent energy from the atmospheric molecules, 0.97 emissivity ideal black body long wave radiation from the earth’s surface is not possible.

    That means:
    No 396 W/m^2 “extra” energy upwelling from the surface
    No 333 W/m^2 “extra” energy perpetual looping from cold to hot without work
    No GHG warming
    No man caused climate change or global warming.

    It’s that simple.
    It’s all science.
    It’s backed up by classical science experiments.

    Nick Schroeder, BSME CU ‘78

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