Environment Minister Peter Kent has warned that some of the opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which would run from Alberta’s oilsands to a new marine terminal in Kitimat, B.C., is not genuine.
“Our government is concerned about some outside finances that have come in to interfere and obstruct what is a legitimate development of … responsibly developed and sustainably developed Canadian resources,” Kent said from a climate conference in Durban, South Africa.
A UBC study shows that some mussel beds in the Salish Sea have decreased by 51 per cent over the past 52 years, a consequence of gradually rising temperatures off Vancouver Island, the Gulf and San Juan Islands and Washington’s Olympic peninsula.
The study shows that the climate change is already affecting species by not only causing stress but changing the complex relationship among the species in an ecosystem, as some species may become relatively stronger and others weaker.
University of British Columbia associate professor of zoology Christopher Harley say climate change will bring biodiversity loss caused by a combination of rising temperatures and predation – and may be more severe than currently predicted.
The study, published in the current issue of the journal Science, examined the response of rocky shore barnacles and mussels to the combined effects of warming and predation by sea stars.
Harley surveyed the upper and lower temperature limits of barnacles and mussels from the cool west coast of Vancouver Island to the warm shores of the San Juan Islands, where water temperature rose from the relatively cool of the1950s to the much warmer years of 2009 and 2010.
Map showing the area of the UBC climate change study. The squares show areas used for “spatial comparison of temperature and zonation.” The circles were used for comparison. (Science)
“Rocky intertidal communities are ideal test-beds for studying the effects of climatic warming,” Harley says. “Many intertidal organisms, like mussels, already live very close to their thermal tolerance limits, so the impacts can be easily studied.”
At cooler sites, mussels and rocky shore barnacles were able to live high on the shore and that is well beyond the range of their predators, including the sea star. As temperatures rose, barnacles and mussels were forced to live at lower shore levels, the same level as predatory sea stars.
Daily high temperatures during the summer months have increased by almost 3.5 degrees Celsius in the last 60 years, causing the upper limits of barnacle and mussels habitats to retreat by 50 centimeters down the shore. However, the effects of predators, and therefore the position of the lower limit, have remained constant.
“That loss represents 51 per cent of the mussel bed. Some mussels have even gone extinct locally at three of the sites I surveyed,” says Harley.
“A mussel bed is kind of like an apartment complex – it provides critical habitat for a lot of little plants and animals,” says Harley. “The mussels make the habitat cooler and wetter, providing an environment for crabs and other small crustaceans, snails, worms and seaweed.”
The study says, “the loss of mussel beds over time has probably resulted in declines of species richness.”
When pressure from sea star predation was reduced using exclusion cages, the prey species were able to occupy hotter sites where they don’t normally occur, and species richness at the sites more than doubled.
These findings provide a comprehensive look at the effects of warming and predation, while many previous studies on how species ranges will change due to warming assume that species will simply shift to stay in their current temperature range.
Harley says the findings show that the combined effects of warming and predation could lead to more widespread extinction than are currently predicted, as animals or plants are unable to shift their habitat ranges.
“Warming is not just having direct effects on individual species,” says Harley. “This study shows that climate change can also alter interactions between species, and produce unexpected changes in where species can live, their community structure, and their diversity.”
He adds ecological change can only be anticipated if scientists understand the ways various factors “determine the distribution and abundance of species in space and time.”
A University of Washington study says that using trees from the northwest as a building material is good for carbon mitigation in the atmosphere, especially if the wood waste is also used as a biofuel to replace gasoline and other fossil fuels.
The article, published in the journal Forests, says that if timber from northwestern U.S. forests were harvested sustainably every 45 years and the wood used as a building material, where possible replacing substances like concrete or steel, which require greater amounts of fossil fuels to manufacture, that would both remove existing carbon dioxide from the air while the forest was growing and then keep the gas entering the atmosphere for years as long as it is part of a building.
It says carbon savings can be increased by using the parts of the trees
not suitable for building materials such as slash, branches and debris
as biofuel, especially ethanol.
It also notes that some forest “residual” may be too
difficult to collect to be used a biofuel or should be left to maintain
the forest ecosystem.
The lead author of the study, Bruce Lippke, professor emeritus of forest resources at the University of Washington, says, “When it comes to keeping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, it makes more sense to use trees to recycle as much carbon as we can and offset the burning of fossil fuels than it does to store carbon in standing forests and continuing burning fossil fuels.”
The University of Washington says this is the first study to look at using biofuels in addition to using wood from long living trees as a building material, as opposed to woody biofuels studied in isolation.
The study also looked at forests in the U.S. Northeast and Southeast, and emphasized that different regions will produce different results.
It suggests that using fast growing species, such as willow, especially in the US Southeast, could have advantages. Willow, while not usually a commercial building wood species, and with a lower carbon conversion efficiency, when used as biofuel can be both economically harvested for biofuel because of its high growth rate and that rapid growth would also be absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Lipke says that properly managed forests mean using wood for both building and bioenergy is carbon neutral. That’s because the growing trees could absorb enough carbon dioxide to offset emissions from the rotting wood from used building materials after its useful life and from cars using ethanol produced from woody debris.
The biggest problem, the study suggests, is the still relatively low cost of fossil fuels, and the low cost of natural gas, which has made large scale conversion of wood biomass to ethanol, so far, uneconomic.
It also notes that the entire forest should be considered in any equations on carbon mitigation because it would include different lifecycles, quality of wood and different collection and manufacturing processes.
Carbon captured in building wood has a half life of 80 years after harvest. Then there is a question of what should happen to that wood after its useful life, thus wood that is burned would add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, whereas it would be better to either put the wood into landfill so it can rot or that the wood be processed in some kind of energy recapture process.
Combined use of good wood in building and waste for ethanol, while sustaining the forest, would mean that 4.6 tonnes of carbon are captured per year for each hectare of forest. The study says “this sustainable mitigation from using wood products and biofuels has the potential to exceed the growth rate in forest carbon because of the high leverage when wood substitutes for fossil intensive products and their emissions.”
The study also looks at ways the sustainable forest and use of biofuels could increase American energy independence.
Others participating in the study were North Carolina State University, State University of New York at Syracuse, Leonard Johnson and Associates, Moscow, Idaho, Woodlife Environmental Consultants, Corvallis, Or and Mississippi State University.
Editor’s note: There should be a follow-up Canadian study that looks at the carbon cost of sending raw logs to China in ships burning high carbon bunker oils, rather than finding new ways of producing lumber here, and as the study suggests, using the lumber, where possible, to replace steel and concrete.
A study of west coast forests in California, Oregon and Washington concludes that biofuel from forests could increase carbon dioxide emissions by at least 14 per cent.
Oregon State University calls the study “the largest and most comprehensive yet done on the effect of biofuel” from the US west coast.
A diagram from the Oregon State University shows how using biofuels would increase the carbon emissions by releasing more forest carbon, including the processing and transportation of biofuel. (Oregon State University)
The study, published Sunday inNature Climate Change, contradicts previous findings that suggest biofuel could be either carbon neutral or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It is uncertain whether the conclusions of the study could apply to northwestern British Columbia, due to different ecological conditions, including pine beetle devastation and the effects of climate change.
For four years, the Oregon State study examined 80 forest types in 19 ecological regions in the three states, ranging from temperate rainforests to semi-arid woodlands. It included both private and public lands and different forest management practices.
Tara Hudiberg, a PhD candidate at Oregon State and lead author, said in an e-mail interview, “We applied thinning scenarios which would remove whole trees and use the merchantable portion for wood products and the rest for bio-energy use (tops, branches, smaller trees of less then five inch DBH (diameter at breast height ).
“On the [US] West Coast, we found that projected forest biomass removal and use for bio-energy in any form will release more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than current forest management practices.
“Most people assume that wood bio-energy will be carbon-neutral, because the forest re-grows and there’s also the chance of protecting forests from carbon emissions due to wildfire,” Hudiburg said. “However, our research showed that the emissions from these activities proved to be more than the savings.”
The only exception was if forests in high fire-risk zones become weakened due to insect outbreaks or drought, which impairs their growth and carbon sequestration as well as increasing the potential for large forest fires (a situation prevalent through much of British Columbia due to the devastation caused by the pine beetle.) The study says in that situation, it is possible that some thinning for bio-energy production might result in lower emissions in such cases.
“Until now there have been a lot of misconceptions about impacts of forest thinning, fire prevention and bio-fuels production as it relates to carbon emissions from forests,” said Beverly Law, a professor in the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society and co-author of this study.
(Oregon State University)
“If our ultimate goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, producing bio-energy from forests will be counterproductive,” Law said. “Some of these forest management practices may also have negative impacts on soils, biodiversity and habitat. These issues have not been thought out very fully.”
The study examined thousands of forest plots with detailed data and observations, considering 27 parameters, including the role of forest fire, emissions savings from bio-energy use, wood product substitution, insect infestations, forest thinning, energy and processes needed to produce bio-fuels, and many others.
It looked at four basic scenarios: “business as usual”; forest management primarily for fire prevention purposes; additional levels of harvest to prevent fire but also make such operations more economically feasible; and significant bio-energy production while contributing to fire reduction.
Compared to “business as usual” or current forest management approaches, all of the other approaches increased carbon emissions, the study found. Under the most optimal levels of efficiency, management just for fire prevention increased it two percent; for better economic return, six percent; and for higher bio-energy production, 14 percent.
“We looked at CHP (combined heat and power from combustion) and cellulosic ethanol and we accounted for all sources of Carbon emissions from harvest to use,” Hudiberg said.
She added, “We don’t believe that an optimal efficiency of production is actually possible in real-world conditions. With levels of efficiency that are more realistic, we project that the use of these forests for high bio-energy production would increase carbon emissions 17 percent from their current level.”
About 98 percent of the forests in the three western US states are now estimated to be a carbon sink, meaning that even with existing management approaches the forests sequester more carbon than they release to the atmosphere. Forests capture a large portion of the carbon emitted worldwide, and
some of this carbon is stored in pools such as wood and soil that can
last hundreds to thousands of years, the scientists said.
The study suggests that increases in harvest volume on the US West Coast, for any reason, will instead result in average increases in emissions above current levels.
“Energy policy implemented without full carbon accounting and an understanding of the underlying processes risks increasing rather than decreasing emissions,” they conclude.
When asked about British Columbia, Hudiberg noted: “We are not aware of anything in particular, but we do know that BC forests may (or already are) be more susceptible to climate change impacts and insect outbreaks. So initially, it may be a more suitable region for bio-energy but the same analysis we did here would have to be done [in BC] to know for sure. She cautions, “The study conclusions are based on the regional conditions and current regional carbon uptake with current management practices For other areas, the current conditions need to be assessed before deciding if bio-energy will increase or decrease carbon emissions.”
Biofuel in northwestern BC
Biofuels are seen as a growth industry in northwestern British Columbia, with a number of companies are starting to work on various forms of biofuel investments including large corporations as well as medium and small business.
In Kitimat, Pytrade has proposed a biomass plant that would use pyrolysis to convert wood waste into liquid bio-fuels and also generate heat that can be used by green houses used to train people in horticulture in conjunction with North West Community College. Pytrade also plans to make money by selling carbon offsets for every tonne of C02 not emitted into the atmosphere they will make money by selling credits. An application by company for a provincial a one million dollar Innovative Clean Energy (ICE) grant has been approved.
General Biofuels Canada is planning a 500,000 metric tonne per year wood pellet facility in Terrace. This project would use hemlock fibre from “non-saw grade fibre” from area forest licence holders.
Toronto-based CORE BioFuel Inc. Wants to build a plant, likely in Houston, (and perhaps more plants) to turn forest waste fibre into gasoline. Each plant would cost $100 million and require 220,000 tons of fibre a year to produce 67 million litres of gas.
As well as the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, the study involved institutions in Germany and France. It was supported by the US Dept. Of Energy.