Q&A on Forests and Climate

This short video explains how forests and our climate are so closely connected. Forests are our greatest land based carbon stores, shade the earth, moderate our climate and provide clouds and rainfall.

Our Q&A on forests and climate answer almost all the basic questions (with references if you need them) and is essential reading if you’re concerned about our climate. There are no arguments that can justify cutting down more forests to burn for power or ethanol. We need to preserve and start restoring our forest cover if we are to help turn around dangerous climate change.

Forest carbon cycle

How can protecting forests possibly help secure a safe climate?
The planet’s natural vegetation is the best and safest way to absorb and store bulk atmospheric carbon (pollution).  The very best of these is the rich dense tall vegetation we know as forests. Forests also shade and cool. They transpire (breathe out) water vapour which make clouds and rain. They continually make deep rich soil that also safely stores more carbon. An old tree of 10 metres around can have 600 years worth of carbon stored. Forests also moderate heavy rainfall, slowing down runoff. They store and slow-release water to streams in drought years. Forests are hard-working, multi-functional climate moderators!

But if forests are cut down don’t forests grow back and soak up carbon again?
failed regen and burnsThe young regrowing forest can never absorb the carbon that was lost. Forests are logged in cycles of 20-50 years. Some trees are over 800 years old and the understorey can be much older. This ancient stored carbon can't be recaptured with such a short time between being clearfelled again.

If we use the trees for timber and paper won’t that lock up the carbon?
Embedded carbon cartoonOf the entire biomass of a forest, only a very small part is used for making a product that will last. Most of the forest is wasted and left on the ground to rot or be burnt in a deliberate ‘management burn’.  Woodchips for producing paper make up the bulk of trees that are trucked from a forest. Most paper has a short life and soon ends up at rubbish tips. Furniture accounts for less than 0.1% of a forest's stored carbon.

What about burning forest wood to make electricty as a climate friendly, alternative to coal?
Tree smoke stackClean, renewable energy is the best way to make electricity, (solar, wind and waves) - not looking for new things to burn. We will be told it’s only ‘waste’ from logging (the branches and left over trees) that will be burnt. But we were told exactly the same to justify woodchipping in the 1970s. Woodchips now account for 85% of what is taken from our native forests and is the main reason for logging. If the government allows our forests to be incinerated for power using the 'waste' excuse, it would drive the logging. Forests are best left standing to make fresh air and capture carbon pollution.

How much would it cost to stop logging our forests then?
It wouldn’t cost us a cent. It would save us all money. For decades, governments have paid the logging industry’s way. Our taxes are used to keep this industry afloat. We would also save money by having less environmental degradation in water catchments.

I’ve heard we’d have to import timber if we stopped logging.
This is a lie the logging industry lobby groups and some politicians tell us. They never say that Australia has enough plantation wood to meet all our timber and paper needs. It’s not a case of our native forests or another country’s. Plantations are the logical alternative to cutting down native forests.

The logging in other countries would have to be worse surely?
Sadly – not much. Places like Indonesia and Malaysia clearfell entire landscapes of primary forest, burn the remains and replant the area with a commercial crop of palm oil. The same happens here, only we replant our forests with single age, single species eucalypt crops that suit woodchipping and paper making. Endangered wildlife is being killed here and overseas. We have ‘management’ and ‘codes’ but the end result is the same.Indonesian logging and Australian logging

We’re told that most forests are protected – is that right?
Clearfell, reqrowth and burnNo. Only 15% of Australia’s forests and woodlands are protected. Some of the best and most environmentally valuable forests are left out of our parks to meet the demands of the logging industry. They want forests on the richest soils for the quality wood that grows there. They claim they only cut down a small % each year, but these forests are the last remaining stands of unprotected old growth and high conservation value forests left.

If the government’s target is just 5% reduction, and yet by protecting forests we can store 15% why isn’t the government already doing something about it?
Rent a politician cartoonFor unknown reasons, every government in power has supported logging despite huge public outcry and huge cost to tax-payers. It is a small industry but has a lot of political muscle which governments don’t want to challenge.

Compared to plans for pumping carbon underground, how do forests compare?
old fashioned climate regulating deviceForests can do it right now, safely, efficiently, economically and it’s a proven ‘technology’. Healthy forests also have spin offs that benefit us all. They don’t need years of costly research that might or might not find an answer that might or might not be safe. The solution to climate change is urgent. We can’t wait 20 or 30 years.

We lose all that carbon in a bushfire, so why not log and manage them before they burn?
Carbon lost in logging and fire graphThe graph shows the difference in the amount of carbon lost from bush fires compared with logging. Logging is more than 10 times worse than a natural bushfire. [1]  Also, recent research after the Victorian bushfires show that logged forests are more flammable than unlogged forests. Logged forest also fails to recover well.  (Lindenmayer and Keith 2012) [1] Roxburg, SH et al..., Dean C. et al...