Monday, May 07, 2007

- and he built a carbon house -

Considering trees as feedstock for liquid fuel is an excellent thought clarifier. Many people who would happily burn a stalk of corn to or two in order to roll their monkey wagon a few centimeters down the road are not so sanguine when trees are considered for the same purpose. I mean, it is worth a pause for most of us. A wooden chair is one thing, a heap of ash another.

And yet, outside today, trees are serving as feedstock for global warming. Weakened by years of drought, gnawed at by beetles and other infestious critters of nature, they finally burn and burn. A funeral pyre stacked high, flame chewing the corpse of centuries.

Some experts worry that the widespread damage may be part of a vast ecological shift in response to warming temperatures. "As the climate is changing, these ecosystems are rearranging themselves," said Dr. Craig Allen, a research ecologist with the United States Geological Survey in New Mexico. "Massive forest die-back is one way these systems will reassemble."

On the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, where climate warming has been especially dramatic, nearly four million contiguous acres of white spruce trees have been killed by spruce bark beetles. In British Columbia, the beetle has killed more than 10 million acres of trees, doubling in each of the last four years.

In such soon to be temperate northern climates, one can imagine and predict that southern trees will migrate north, looking for work, singing their Okie songs. Seedlings will spring up in the decaying trunks of their stately, yet obsolete, cousins.

More ominously - - in the hotter climes of China, the United States or Australia - - Dust Bowl country will rule. The trees, houses and roads will be heaped with sand, in some places simply freed from long rest under a crust of turf. Desertification.

And what should be done with the hapless carbon stalks in those parts? Burn it or let burn?


Dead wood from a dying ecosystem is more valuable to the globe stacked high as timber than burned for fuel. It is more valuable carefully interred in solid form than if it is left to rot and decay in place.

It should be taken as some evidence of a twisted pathology on a global scale that “we” as a human race are cutting down forests we do actually need, whilst letting broken down old forests simply twist and burn in the summer wind.

Something brilliant should be done in the face of our in-progress long emergency. The chainsaws must be called out of Brazil and Indonesia to come take down the wood which is in the kill zone of ongoing drought, not for fuel, but as a precious store of non-atmospheric carbon.

It’s not enough by itself, by any stretch, but I’m getting tired of sipping tea as I write my diatribes, all the while watching the global climate engine tilt into the red. Yeah, I’m really freaking glad we’re all ”talking honestly” about global warming now, and I’m touched that peak oil is “on the radar”, but the consequences of studied inaction are Katrina-real, an F-5 to the puss, five dollah gasoline by the fourth of july (there is my provincialism again) and so it goes.

At the end of this century, if our grandchildren can build a wooden house, a carbon construct, out of thoughtfully harvested and stored Pinion pine, well and good. Perhaps even chic. On the obverse, a house built from sugar cane stalks seems like a dumb idea, but weeds and drowned coastlines may be all that is left if the outer bands of stupidity continue to be heavily traveled.