We’ve known about the coming climate crisis for over 30 years. The necessity for action and the consequences of inaction are more urgent than ever. Our planet needs standing forests as a natural solution to climate change. We need forests to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. We need forests to clean our water, and we need forests to purify our air.
Forests have a far greater purpose than being chopped down for paper, packaging, or pellets. To slow climate change, we need standing forests, but we’re destroying them rapidly instead. We must take action to protect what we still have. Our forests could do so much more for the climate if we allow them to grow old.
Rural communities are at the heart of the climate change issue. Surrounded by privately-owned forests, rural communities receive benefits when trees are left to grow, but they suffer when forests are cut down. By working together, rural communities can reverse some of the worst impacts of climate change and forest destruction.
How The Forest Products Industry Hides Carbon Emissions
The forest products industry is the third largest emitter of carbon in North Carolina. The pattern is similar in states all across the US South. The forest products industry hides their carbon dioxide emissions behind the “net growth” of forests. In other words, the forest products industry gets to take credit for all of the trees growing in the US even if they don’t own the land.
For example, if a company is burning fossil fuels (like gas or diesel) to transport logs, the trees that are already growing in that region offset it. This is something that no other industry is allowed to do.
Agriculture can’t hide behind the cows that it raises. The fossil fuel industry certainly can’t hide behind the fossil fuels that they burn. Why, then, is the forest products industry allowed to claim credit for carbon it had no role in storing? Unfortunately, the truth is: markets, powerful lobbyists, and policymakers have swallowed the industry’s lie hook, line, and sinker.
The Number One Carbon Emitter In US Forests? It’s Logging
The forest products industry is huge. Nationally, greenhouse gas emissions from logging accounted for 85% of all carbon emissions from forests. That’s five times more than the carbon emissions from insects, drought, fire, and wind combined. In multiple studies, carbon dioxide emissions from forests have been overwhelmingly attributed to logging activities in the US – not fire, drought, or development. The rate of forest clearing in the US is four times that of tropical forests in the Amazon. This has an immediate impact on climate change goals and outcomes.
The worst part is that despite declines in employment in the forest products industry, forests are still being destroyed. Machines and technological advances have eliminated employees, but they haven’t reduced the rate or scale of production. They also haven’t reduced the amount of greenhouse gas emissions coming from harvest and forest degradation. Climate change is still happening, and it’s partially because of the forest products industry.
The Forest Products Industry Is Not “Green” Or “Clean”
Companies in the forest products industry have aced their “greenwashing” exam. Their websites are full of dubious claims of saving the planet by cutting down trees. Forest products manufacturers want you to keep buying their products. Cutting down trees is bad, but you definitely need the products they’re offering, right?
Forest degradation is no joke. Did you know that the carbon stored in our trees is great for climate change mitigation? But those trees get cut down, sometimes every 20 years, to feed the greed of forest products companies. Planting forests doesn’t solve the problem, protecting forests does.
How The Forest Products Industry Harms Communities
The forest products industry harms our forests and also our communities. In many places, especially in the rural South, people consider the forest products industry a job creator. However, the forest products industry doesn’t create that many jobs. It can actually prevent other, non-polluting industries from taking hold in rural communities. Not only that, clearing forests deprives communities of important life-giving natural amenities.
Rural Communities Are Missing Out On Jobs
No one wants to go for a hike in a clearcut. Yet in places where there’s a lot of logging, that’s exactly what happens. It scars the landscape. People don’t want to visit, build businesses, or work in places without forests, so those rural economies can’t grow and thrive.
Rural Communities Are Missing Out On Natural Amenities
No one wants to live in (or near) a clearcut either. Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve found that young professionals are increasingly embracing remote work and moving to areas where they want to live. People tend to relocate to places with great weather, great natural amenities, or both. They certainly aren’t moving to places where logging trucks clog the roads and destroy the natural landscape.
These natural amenities are often called “ecosystem services” – the types of services that nature provides to humans. Natural amenities from intact forests include:
- Reducing the severity of flooding during extreme weather
- Cleaning and filtering water
- Removing air pollutants and greenhouse gases from the atmosphere
- Habitat for wildlife
- Recreational opportunities: hiking, fishing, and more
Manufacturing Harms Rural Communities
Noise, dust, and pollution are all issues that come along with any forest products manufacturing facility. Even the smallest sawmill will affect the homes around it. National pollution standards try to mitigate – not eliminate – harm. Paper and pellet mills still have smokestacks and still release chemicals into the air that we breathe. They just have to limit it a bit, and community health suffers as a result.
Many people who live nearby forest product manufacturing facilities complain about dust and noise. Logging trucks are large, and they can disrupt sleep, damage roads, and release fumes where people have been living for generations.
Changing Policies to Support Our Forests & Communities
Part of the reason that the forest products industry has been able to skirt climate regulations is bad policies. Policies that benefit industries (not people) are common because regular people don’t pay lobbyists.
In this era of climate change with natural disasters bearing down on us, we need to reexamine our legal relationship and responsibilities to nature and our rural communities. We’re working to change policies to support forests so that they can clean our air, filter our water, be our allies in climate change mitigation, and protect us from the worst storms.
We Need Policies That Support Our Rural Communities
Our rural communities are struggling. Many lack access to broadband internet, training for good jobs, and even basic human rights like clean air and water. We need policies that lift up these communities in an equitable way so that they can access the quality of life that many other communities enjoy.
We believe that listening to the voices of people living in rural America is the best way to meet their needs. We support legislative efforts to put environmental and social justice at the forefront of economic policy. Efforts like the Green New Deal promise a path forward for these communities.
We Need Policies That Fight Climate Change
The US has stubbornly refused to be part of any meaningful international climate policy for decades. We opted out of the Kyoto Protocol and other climate policies. Former President Trump even withdrew us from the Paris Climate Accords. Although President Biden has reentered the US into the Paris Climate Change Agreement, we’ve already done a lot of damage to the climate and to our international reputation. The US simply isn’t trustworthy as a partner in international climate change efforts. That must change.
The US is responsible for 14% of all global greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. We have the fourth highest per capita emissions of any country in the world. These are not the leaderboards that we want to top. Dogwood Alliance supports legislators who are working to mitigate climate change both here and internationally.
We Need Policies That Support Our Forests
Our forests are one of the most important tools that we have to fight climate change. Forests are the biggest, fastest way to absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and store it safely in the ground for decades and even centuries. Forests alone can’t solve the entire climate change crisis, but scientists estimate that “natural solutions” can help with about a third of needed greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
An easy trap to fall into is believing that we need to plant trees to absorb carbon from greenhouse gas emissions and to prevent climate change. Yet old forest ecosystems store carbon faster and in greater quantities than young forests and seedlings. What we actually must do is maximize our conservation efforts in existing forest ecosystems.
We need to preserve large swaths of forests in the United States, increasing their overall age, and consequently, permanent carbon storage. We support policies that conserve more forests in this country. We support policies like President Biden’s “30×30” executive order that encourages states to conserve 30% of their land by 2030.
What You Can Do To Help Climate Change, Forests, and Communities
No single organization can do this work alone. For organizations like Dogwood, our power comes from our members. Our members invest their time and money to win the fight to protect existing forests. We need your help.