You’re pulling my Yang. Ten dead-on reasons for using dead tree stuff.

Some anti-logging activists have latched onto a fact like mistletoe on a branch; it looks green but it’s hurting the trees rather than helping. The fact: Trees remove carbon dioxide from the air, and via photosynthesis combine the CO2 with hydrogen to make wood, and expel oxygen. This process pulls CO2 , a greenhouse gas, out of the atmosphere and is useful in the effort against global warming. Then, a priori, trees must not be cut down because they are waaaay too precious to be made into crass commercial stuff.

One such post on the web is “10 big reasons to stop using dead trees.” The reasons are a combination of fact and fabrication. Here’s a fact: “One tree can absorb as much carbon in a year as a car produces while driving 26,000 miles.” Fine. While the Yin might be correct, the writer has neglected the Yang. We can’t talk only of how great trees are at holding carbon and neglect the other side of the demand equation. If we don’t cut the trees what will take their place? (Hint: you can’t say “nothing does” because something will; every day 6.5 billion of us get out of bed and need to live.)

Using wood beats the scary here’s-what-happens-if-you-use-wood statistics. At the threat of being called a Once-ler, let me give you ten dead-on reasons for using dead tree stuff:

1. Wood comes from a renewable resource.

Logic should lead to the conclusion that using renewable resources rather than nonrenewable substitutes would be better for the environment. Apparently unwillingness to look at what happens if we don’t harvest trees for wood (and instead use plastics, etc.) causes this disconnect.

2. Wood products require less energy to produce.

Consider aluminum, from raw material extraction to finished product, the energy input is 70 times greater than an equivalent amount of wood; steel is 17 times greater and cement 3 times. It should be obvious that we must consider the minuses of not using wood as well as the pluses for a balanced decision. We can’t just look at the carbon that won’t be captured when the tree is harvested. We must also look at emissions due to fossil fuel use in the production (and disposal) of substitute products.

3. Using wood decreases CO2 in the atmosphere.

Once a tree is cut, it doesn’t immediately start spewing all of its CO2 into the air. In fact, when made into products, the carbon can be held for centuries.

4. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says using wood is good for the planet.

In fact, the UN says sustainable forestry can halt deforestation and forest degradation, while curbing up to 25% of the CO2. Using wood products instead of non-wood products (all of which require more fossil fuel-based energy and materials) delivers the most bang for the buck for the long run. “In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber… will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.” By sustainable forestry the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change means harvesting the net growth (or less), assuring the harvested area is restocked, and doing other forestry practices to assure the forest remains healthy. (For more see the 2007 Mitigation report)
Here are the numbers of net carbon emissions from producing a metric ton of product:

Net Carbon Emissions In Producing A Ton Of
Material Kg C/metric ton
Lumber -460
Concrete 45
Brick 148
Glass 630
Steel 1,090
Aluminum 2,400
Plastic 2,810
Source: Honey and Buchanan, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, NZ, 1992.

    5. Wood biodegrades.

    Plastic is virtually forever. Steel oxidizes.

    6. Wood is versatile.

    It can be used to build a home and to heat the home. It is also used for paper, photographic film, plastic tape, rayon fabric, and many other products.

    7. Wood is not a good conductor.

    Which means wood insulates very well: 8.5 times better than concrete and 400 times better than steel.’[1] And, wood doesn’t conduct electricity (when dry).

    8. The timber industry is the only net-carbon sector in our economy.

    California’s forests, where I live, pull more than 14 million metric tons (MMT) annually from the atmosphere. About 10 MMT get returned to the atmosphere by fires, harvesting, insect kill, disease, and the decomposition of forest products in landfills and composting facilities. That still leaves 4MMT being sequestered. Name any other manufacturing industry that has a net carbon benefit.

    9. Forests and their inhabitants have evolved with disturbances.

    While harvesting is a temporary disturbance, this is something that forests and its inhabitants can cope with. It is the permanent loss of habitat that causes problems.
    We need to weigh not just the carbon lost when a tree is harvested but also the carbon dioxide emissions due to fossil fuel use in the production of the substitutes.

    10. We simply need to use wood.

    A lowered demand for wood means greater demand for something else. Without an incentive to keep a forest in production owners will need to sell off their lands, which more often than not, get subdivided into ever-smaller parcels.


    There has been a concerted effort to restrict logging by labeling it deforestation or degradation. Some green activists call for zero-cutting on publicly-owned lands. If green organizations truly cared about reducing CO2, they would embrace forest management. They would promote using forests because finished wood products store carbon and other products emit carbon. Rather than calling for zero-cut, they would demand that the national forests begin harvesting timber in greater quantities. They would insist that we begin using wood instead of concrete, aluminum, steel, and other substitutes. And they would see harvesting not as the end but the beginning of a new forest.

    Let’s face it, we do consume stuff. The stuff we consume should be wood-based over most other products. What do you think?

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    [1] Patrick Moore

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