Canada is a world leader in sustainable forest management. The deforestation rate hovers near zero, wildfires have been in decline for decades (despite the recent tragedies) and the billions of trees dotting our landscape suck large amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. These are all points of celebration, but that’s lost on many who claim to champion environmental views.
Barry Saxifrage, visual carbon columnist for Canada’s National Observer’s (CNO), has a much starker view: “Our forests have reached a tipping point,” he declared on August 21. Beaming with colorful charts and scientific jargon, his article alleges that because of “decades of surging” logging emissions, “Canada’s managed forest is a gigantic carbon bomb.”
This is a stunning visual that calls us to action, but it’s just not true.
Those claims were recirculated for an American audience by New York Timescontributor David Wallace-Wells with the drastic headline, “Forests Are No Longer Our Climate Friends.”
The issue with both articles, apart from their climate doomerism, is that they’re largely based on questionable research published last year by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)—a US activist group that has routinely criticized Canadian forestry for years.
Noi thoroughly debunked that report in the Hamilton Spectator in response, but the mainstream has decided the claims fit the bill enough to stick.
Saxifrage and Wallace-Wells express valid concerns about climate change and wildfires, which I believe we all share. But their specific claims contradict a broad scientific consensus and leave readers with the false impression that our managed forests have set us on a course to climate armageddon.
Both articles are shot through with analytical errors, key factual omissions and other distortions that are plainly intended to drive an agenda focused more on politics than climate solutions.
(Mis)counting carbon emissions
To give a quick breakdown, Canada’s managed forests “both remove carbon from the atmosphere as they grow … and emit it when they die and decay or burn,” explains Natural Resources Canada (NRCan).
A variety of human and natural activities affect this balance. Logging emits CO2; replanting trees removes it from the atmosphere. Natural disturbances—forest fires, for instance—emit carbon dioxide, while natural tree regeneration removes carbon. Human activity in managed forests, like slash burning, fire suppression and insect control, also affects the forests’ ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere. This is very well studied by a broad spectrum of academics.
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