NAFO: Carbon Debt Sequel Gets A Thumbs Down

Published by the National Alliance of Forest Owners

Recently the media has reported on release of the sequel to the infamously flawed “carbon debt” argument, asserting that biomass energy contributes to carbon build-up in the atmosphere. The sequel gets a thumbs down by pre-eminent carbon science leaders as did the original version.

Carbon debt proponents argue that a tree or part of a tree removed from the forest for biomass energy releases carbon into the air as a “debt” that can only be repaid when that carbon is recaptured by growing a new tree in the same spot to replace the wood used for energy.

This view conveniently overlooks that modern forest management exists in a continuous cycle that has no real beginning or end. Arbitrarily picking a starting point as the beginning simply manipulates that cycle – one could just as easily argue that the wood used for energy is only returning carbon to the atmosphere that was recently removed by a growing tree. The truth is that both arguments are neither entirely right nor entirely wrong in a continuous cycle.

Perhaps that is why leading experts are quickly giving the carbon debt sequel a thumbs down.

Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory – considered by many to be the pre-eminent authority on bioenergy lifecycle analysis – have stated that assessing the carbon implications of using biomass for energy must “adopt a comprehensive basis for estimates of GHG implications,” and that the carbon debt proponents “bluntly denied a role that bioenergy may play in the future for sustainable environmental development and energy supply.”

Likewise, the highly credible Energy and Environment Study Institute (EESI) responded to the carbon debt sequel by pointing out that it is “based on a false assumption,” and that it “lacks a basic understanding of the complexities of agricultural and working forest land use [and] emerging research on the carbon cycle in working lands.”

These condemnations are buttressed by the exhaustively researched conclusions of forest scientists all over America that the long-term carbon benefits of biomass energy are well accepted and that biomass decreases overall carbon accumulation in the atmosphere over time compared to fossil fuels.

Sometimes a sequel fails because it is too different from the original. In this case, the carbon debt sequel fails precisely because it is the original story. Leading authorities didn’t accept it before, and have given it a thumbs down again. Policy makers would be well-advised to do the same.

More Information

Gretchen Schaefer
Vice President for Communications
National Alliance of Forest Owners
202-747-0756 (office phone is forwarded to mobile during non-working hours)

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