‘We use nature as if it were a supermarket’ – Under left-wing German government, a record amount of forest wood burned up

Under a German government coalition that includes the Green Party, Germany has cut down a record amount of forest to supply energy demands

editor: REMIX NEWS
author: John Cody

Despite Germany casting itself as a nation pursuing a sound environmental policy designed around reducing CO2 emissions, the country’s forest are suffering due to the ruling government’s policies.

Germans are now burning record amounts of wood in response to sanctions on Russia that saw energy prices soar, while cleaner burning energy sources that Germany long relied on, like Russian natural gas, are increasingly unavailable.

The news comes at a time when Germany’s forests are on the brink, with four out of five trees in the country suffering from a disease and a third featuring clear damage. According to the latest survey of trees, only one out of every five oaks, a tree typically seen as a symbol of Germany, are healthy.

Although researchers say drought and climate change have contributed to the dire state of Germany’s forests, one of the major problems is soaring demand from Germans for firewood, with many rushing to buy wood stoves when energy prices first exploded following sanctions on Russian energy. In addition, power plants also turned to burning wood, considered by experts to be one of the dirtiest energy sources available, with Sami Yassa, a senior scientist with NRDC’s Climate & Clean Energy Program, stating, “wood emits more carbon dioxide than coal for every unit of electricity produced.”

As German news outlet Bayischer Rundfun 24 notes, “With the Ukraine war and the resulting energy crisis came a turning point. Even chimney stoves that had been shut down have been reconnected. This had consequences: never since German reunification has so much wood been felled in German forests for energy production as in the past year. It was 13.8 million cubic meters, an increase of 17.3 percent compared to 2021, as reported by the Federal Statistical Office.”

With the German Greens in power, there are questions as to what purpose the environmental party is serving in protecting German forests when trees are being felled in record numbers. However, the Green party was arguably the most adamant about pursuing harsh sanctions on Russia that led to the record tree feeling at a time when German forests are already suffering immensely.

Other experts across German go so far as to state that nothing pollutes more than wood burning. “Nothing burns dirtier and more harmful to the climate than wood,” said Achim Dittler, a researcher from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Dittler stated that burning wood releases “many more pollutants than burning oil or gas, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, methane and soot.”

Should wood burning for energy be banned?

In fact, the burning of wood is seen so harmful to not only air quality but also to forest habitats, that Pierre Ibisch from the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development says he would propose a complete ban on the practice.

In an interview with German newspaper Welt, a debate was conducted between Ibisch, and the owner of numerous forest properties and aristocrat, Carl-Anton Prinz zu Waldeck und Pyrmont about why the forests are so diseased and what can be done about it.

Ibisch notes that even in protected areas of Germany, dead wood is being harvested for various purposes, including for energy production. He laments that in Germany, the country is even converting coal-fired plants into wood-burning plants.

Ibisch and Waldeck hotly debate the use of forest plantations during the interview, with the forest researcher arguing:

“We use nature as if it were a supermarket. Not only are resources becoming ever scarcer, the fundamentals that supply these resources are also changing, i.e. the soil and biological diversity. As an ecologist, it worries me greatly to see what is expected of the forest and what it can achieve. In order to be able to use wood, the forest must first function. We are currently entering an age in which one cannot assume that forest will grow back on every deforested area. I am amazed that foresters often resist talking about plantations. Douglas firs and larches planted in rows, which are then harvested by machine, are exactly that.”

Ibsich argues that the deterioration of the forests are not only due to climate change, but also how forests have been mismanaged. He claims that the problems seen in forest management date back decades and have a lot to do with the monoculture forest plantations. He argues that forests should “manage themselves” and not be planned, even if such planning is the common practice in forestry operations.

“What we are seeing now is not solely the fault of climate change. If forestry had relied much more consistently on deciduous trees in the past decades instead of monocultures with conifers, we would not have the large-scale forest damage. The story that spruce and pine only existed because the area had to be reforested quickly after the war is only partially true. For a long time, it was easy to make good money with it,” said Ibisich.

Waldeck, who owns various forest plots, responded that although forest owners are “self-critical,” softwood, such as pines, “will continue to account for a large proportion of our forests in the future because it is economically important for forestry operations. Like other industries, we too have to economize. Of course, no forester knows what the weather and climate will look like in 2050 or 2100. There is therefore a range of tree species that we will line up with.”

Waldeck sees it in economic terms, stating: “The less land a private forest owner uses, the more it costs him. In addition, the wood will have to come from somewhere in the future. Added to this is the CO₂ storage. Softwood grows faster than hardwood and absorbs more CO₂ accordingly. If we reforest, we increase the storage capacity of the forest.”

Welt newspaper argues that wood will always need to be burned, in which case, Ibesch counters that the problem is the scale of wood burning in the country and its rapid growth despite the state of the forests.

“The burning of wood has long been encouraged. I consider that irresponsible in times when the future of the forest is completely unclear. It is not a law of nature to use wood, especially when it makes forests even more vulnerable.”

As Remix News reported, Germany had the second-highest level of “dirty energy” usage in all of Europe last month, producing 472 grams of greenhouse gases per kilowatt-hour.

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