Just say no to the ‘biomass’ boondoggle

Climate activists and policy wonks are gathered in Cancun this week for the latest round of global climate talks.  Expectations are low.  In the meantime, one bright spot is California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, which survived a fierce oil industry attack in November (Prop 23).  The devil, however, is in the details, and the California Air Resources Board is now in the process of figuring out how exactly carbon emissions will be priced and capped in the Golden State.

One of the pretend solutions to climate change is burning ‘biomass’ to generate electricity instead of fossil fuels.  ‘Biomass” has a pleasant eco-friendly ring to it but, upon closer inspection, it’s a dangerous boondoggle (I’m not sure what exactly a “boondoggle” is but it’s a great word, isn’t it?).  Biomass is any natural material you can burn–food waste, cow poop, crop residue, forest debris.  In certain limited situations, it may make sense–for example, I know a walnut farmer who generates all his own electricity using discarded walnut shells as feedstock.  But, in general, what biomass proponents like to think of as “waste” is actually vitally important materials needed to replenish agricultural soil and forest floors–as these materials decompose (in a compost bin or simply left to slowly rot in the forest), they release nutrients back into the earth. If we interrupt this process by burning these materials, we’re essentially mining nutrients from the earth without replacing them.  That’s a practice with an inevitably ugly endgame.

This just in from sungevity.org partner, the Center for Biological Diversity. If you love your California forests, please help protect them–allowing trees to be clearcut and burned as “biomass” is not the solution to climate change…

On December 16, the California Air Resources Board will consider adopting a cap-and-trade program that would allow industrial polluters to purchase carbon “offset credits” instead of reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the current proposal, a large number of those carbon offset credits could come from forest management projects that allow clearcutting. This not only subsidizes the most environmentally damaging logging practices, but also threatens to incentivize the conversion of natural forests into tree farms.

The proposed cap-and-trade rule also would allow industrial polluters to avoid greenhouse gas emissions limits by burning forest “biomass” — including whole, live trees — to generate energy. Biomass combustion would be exempt from the carbon cap, even though the actual greenhouse gas emissions would be even higher than burning fossil fuels.

This not only would encourage the logging of California’s forests to provide fuel for industrial and electrical power generation, but also would risk increasing overall greenhouse gas emissions. Please take one minute today to tell the California Air Resources Board that the cap-and-trade program must not be allowed to threaten forest ecosystems.

–Erica Etelson (with extensive plagiarizing from the Center for Biological Diversity)

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