Cut Down A Tree, Save The Climate?

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Robison Wells

The prevailing train of thought in environmentalism has long been to plant more trees, but it may be that forestry has more than one way it can help reduce climate change.

Reducing carbon emissions has traditionally consisted of a two-pronged approach, decreasing power and transportation. Planting trees has always been high on the list as well, especially for a proactive approach. But new studies from MIT say that one area that could take a chunk out of carbon emissions is replacing steel with engineered wood.

Recent reports show that engineered wood, which is made up of wood products and adhesives, uses far less power and cost than the production of mineral-based structural solutions. Nearly ten percent of all carbon emissions come from the production of cement and steel, something which can be solved, in part, by lumber.

“To our knowledge, this study is the first economy-wide analysis to evaluate the economic and emissions impacts of substituting lumber products for more CO2-intensive materials in the construction sector,” says the study’s lead author Niven Winchester, a research scientist at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and Motu Economic and Public Policy Research. “There is no silver bullet to reduce GHGs [greenhouse gases], so exploiting a suite of emission-abatement options is required to mitigate climate change.”

When looked at as a matter of tons of CO2 emissions per dollar of output, lumber production was under 25 percent of cement and 50 percent of iron and steel.

“The source of lumber, and the conditions under which it is grown and harvested, and the fate of wood products deserve further attention to develop a full accounting of the carbon implications of expanded use of wood in building construction,” they write. “Setting aside those issues, lumber products appear to be advantageous compared with many other building materials, and offer one potential option for reducing emissions from sectors like cement, iron and steel, and fabricated metal products — by reducing the demand for these products themselves.”

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