Cut Down Trees to Save the Environment

Why wood is a crucial component in fighting climate change.

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Brookfield Properties newly planned large wooden building at Pier 70 in San Fransisco

This may sound entirely wrong and counterproductive but a big part of stopping global warming will involve actually cutting down forest.

“You are crazy!” I can hear you say, “Don’t you know forrest’s store CO₂? We need more forrest, not less!”

Both statements are true, but misses some important facts:

If I cut down a tree and turn it into a wooden house, then that house will store in its walls exactly the same amount of CO₂ as the tree stored in its trunk. Thus you have not lost any CO₂ storage capacity.

A forrest only consumes CO₂ while its trees grow. An old forrest emits as much CO₂ as it consumes. It is a dead end. Its potential for getting rid of excess CO₂ is exhausted.

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In fact an old forrest stores only half the CO₂ of a young forrest according to NASA studies.

Reality is that we have put far too much CO₂ into the atmosphere from fossil fuel, and we cannot ever cover the Earth back with all the forrest we cut down previously, because our enormous population needs most of that land to grow food and feed itself.

Hence we must utilize the forrest areas we have to consume as much CO₂ as possible. The forrest cannot consume more CO₂ if it has stopped growing. But by cutting down lots of forrest and let it regrow we can capture new quantities of CO₂.

The challenge is to make sure the CO₂ from the cut down trees is stored permanently. If we burn the trees, then we are simply releasing the CO₂ back into the atmosphere and nothing is gained.

Thus what is needed is a massive increase in the use of wood to bind as much CO₂ as possible. There are many ways to do that.

One simple way is to become far more active in using wood in house and building construction. There is a revolution going on in the use of wood in construction of large buildings thanks to engineered wood:

Engineered wood, also called mass timber, composite wood, man-made wood, or manufactured board, includes a range of derivative wood products which are manufactured by binding or fixing the strands, particles, fibres, or veneers or boards of wood, together with adhesives, or other methods of fixation[1] to form composite material.

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With this type of wood one can make materials of wood which is stronger and lighter than steel. Wood is a lot easier to work with than concrete and steel which actually will make building buildings easier.

There is a lot of concern for fire safety with wood. But thick wood structures don’t actually burn. They char on the outside before they stop burning.

This is an old problem that the Japanese dealt with for centuries as their castle where in fact made from wood. They made them safe from enemy fire arrows by lacquering the surface of the wood or charing it with fire.

In fact wood keeps its strength better during heating than steel as it will not melt. So large buildings in wood are already being built and planned around the world.

The worlds tallest wood building (2020) Mjøstårnet was built in my home country Norway. It stands 85.4 meters tall.

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The building was constructed using cross-laminated timber (CLT). Much larger projects are being planned elsewhere in the world. E.g. this skyscraper in Tokyo called W350 which will be 350 meters tall.

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An interesting thing with wood is that it is such an old material that is becoming new again. The company which plans to build this high rise, Sumitomo Forestry can trace its origins in the timber industry back to 1691.

By turning our cities into wooden behemoths we can store enormous amount of CO₂. The space containing a 350 meter tall wooden high rise will or course store far more CO₂ per square meter than a forrest in the same area.

And regular houses are already made from wood. We just need to make it more common. If large buildings and houses are increasingly made from wood we are able to store a lot of CO₂ and we offset the CO₂ currently emitted from the production of concrete. Concrete production emits a lot of CO₂, which is hard to reduce to zero because limestone used in its production emits CO₂ as part of the process.

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Sustainable composable wooden cutlery and plates

However buildings are not the only place we can use more wood. Plates and cutlery which currently are made of plastic could be replaced by wood. Especially the one time use kind. This is not as durable as wooden houses. But given that at any given point a lot of wood plates and cutlery is used, then there will be CO₂ constantly bound in these products being in active use.

There are also various plastic products which can be made by combining wood.

So to conclude, when I say cut down the forrest I don’t mean cut in down and replace with farmland or houses. Rather I am talking about forestry. Cut down and plant new trees. In addition we should of course get active planting as many trees as possible wherever we can.

Written by

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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