Back to the past: burning wood to save the globe
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Craig M.T. Johnston; G. Cornelis van Kooten
Publication Year: 2015

Cataloging Information

  • air quality
  • bioenergy
  • biogeochemical cycles
  • biomass
  • Canada
  • carbon dioxide
  • climate change
  • climate change
  • discounting
  • energy
  • fire management
  • forest management
  • forestry
  • life cycle analysis
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: February 21, 2019
FRAMES Record Number: 54752
Tall Timbers Record Number: 32565
TTRS Location Status: Not in file
TTRS Call Number: Available
TTRS Abstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


In an effort to reduce CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning, renewable energy policies incentivize use of forest biomass as an energy source. Many governments have assumed (legislated) the carbon flux from burning biomass to be neutral because biomass growth sequesters CO2. Yet, trees take decades to recover the CO2 released by burning, so assumed emissions neutrality (or near neutrality) implies that climate change is not considered an urgent matter. As biomass energy continues to be a significant strategy for transitioning away from fossil fuels, this paper asks the question: To what extent should we value future atmospheric carbon removals? To answer this, we examine the assumptions and pitfalls of biomass carbon sequestration in light of its increasing use as a fossil-fuel alternative. This study demonstrates that the assumed carbon neutrality of biomass for energy production hinges on the fact that we weakly discount future removals of carbon, and it is sensitive to tree species and the nature of the fuel for which biomass substitutes. © 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Online Link(s):
Johnston, C. M. T., and G. C. van Kooten. 2015. Back to the past: burning wood to save the globe. Ecological Economics, v. 120, p. 185-193. 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2015.10.008.