Standing in deep woods after a long satisfactory rain, I can feel the trees breathe and expand. I am being quiet not to disturb the young bunny grazing near my feet. Red-bellied woodpeckers are working the trees along with sapsuckers while the passerines shoot by in short bursts of color and wings. I can see five nests from my vantage point, all different. Down by the creek this morning I found three different species of frogs and a perfect mud turtle making her slow way upstream. The woods are alive.
I stop for a second and try to imagine all the activity around me as forms of embodied energy. The cottontail which will nourish the hawk or the feral cat is fed by a miraculous combustion of sun and water and carbon dioxide in the form of plants which will create excess matter and feed the forest floor, each process or death an expression of the transformation of matter into energy.
Above me is the rammed-earth house we live in, and its hive of books and chairs and appliances and art, also forms of embodied energy. The difference is that many of these forms of embodied energy were purchased and transported at great cost to the ecosystem, involving the dangerous combustion of ancient irreplaceable fossil fuels. My house is lovely and sheltering, but it is not alive. It will not replenish the forest floor except in geologic time.
Here at Dogwood we are deeply involved in conversations about energy. With biomass plants proposed throughout the South and the burning of trees supported even by some of our allies as a “renewable source”, we can see the potential for increased industrial logging of our native forests to feed the maw of big power companies. The South already leads the world in the percentage of forest cover loss, and this could be another deadly extraction with its usual losses: degradation of local ecologies and communities, pollution, increased carbon emissions.
We believe that forests have an intrinsic value in and of themselves which is greater than their use as a cheap energy source. We believe that we cannot effectively address climate change without protecting, restoring and improving the management of the world’s forests.
I have a definition of biomass which is scientific and spiritual, gathered from such diverse teachers as Starhawk and Wendell Berry. Biomass is the energy embodied in the living things around me, all the biological life in a given environment. It’s a relationship filled with wonder and reciprocity.
Let us respect it in all that we do.