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Dogwood Alliance: We Need To “Elevate the Role of Forests” In Solving Climate Crisis

How important are protecting the forests in our attempts to mitigate climate change?

Natural forests are an efficient climate-stabilizing technology. In an untouched state, forests can draw enormous amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere, storing it in plants and soil. They’re also a strong defense against the impacts of extreme weather events, providing flood control and stabilizing fresh water supplies. Yet trees are not at reduced risk from environmental change. Indeed, sensitivity of trees to forest management is particularly important under the current climate change since it can exacerbate the impact of human activities on forest dynamics and natural regeneration. When forests are destroyed, converted to monoculture, or harvested to burn for bioenergy, all of the forest benefits disappear, and both the forest and the surrounding communities are greatly harmed.

Dogwood Alliance

Infographic courtesy FAO

Forests have four major roles in climate change:

  • They currently contribute about one-sixth of global carbon emissions when cleared, overused or degraded.
  • They react sensitively to a changing climate.
  • When managed sustainably, they produce woodfuels as a benign alternative to fossil fuels.
  • They have the potential to absorb about one-tenth of global carbon emissions projected for the first half of this century into their biomass, soils, and products, and to store them.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, forests and climate are intrinsically linked: forest loss and degradation is both a cause and an effect of our changing climate. The agriculture, forestry, and land-use sectors account for about a quarter of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and are the largest sources after cars, trucks, trains, planes, and ships combined. By reducing forest loss, we can mitigate carbon emissions and fight climate change. When we work to reducing deforestation, we infuse multiple benefits for ecosystems and people:

  • Cutting greenhouse gas emissions
  • Sequestering carbon
  • Providing other ecosystems services
  • Maintaining intact, functioning forests that have the best chance of withstanding climate change

Dogwood Alliance Implores Us To Stop Ignoring Deforestation in Our Own Backyard

One organization has set out to protect forests as an urgent, national priority in the fight against climate change and as a safety net for communities against extreme weather events caused by a changing climate:  Dogwood Alliance. For over 20 years, Dogwood Alliance has worked with diverse communities, partner organizations, and decision-makers to protect Southern forests across 14 states. They do so through community and grassroots organizing, holding corporations and governments accountable, and working to conserve millions of acres of Southern forests.

Now Dogwood Alliance is part of the Justice 1st Tour, which calls for a strong network of grassroots and frontline organizations working together to advance climate justice and forest protection, with a focus on 100% clean energy for 100% of the people. They call for “no more false solutions. To solve the climate crisis, we need to put Justice 1st.”Dogwood Alliance

Danna Smith, executive director and founder of Dogwood Alliance, has been at the forefront of forest protection in the US, leading campaigns and negotiating forest protection commitments from some of the largest companies in the world. She is a leading voice to help constituents from various interests to understand the interconnectedness among climate change, forest destruction, and social justice.

Smith has pushed for forest protection in the US at a scale necessary to meet the sustainability challenges of the 21st century. However, forest protection in the US is not seen as a climate priority even though our country is the largest producer and consumer of wood products. Logging rates in the Southeast are 4 times as great as South American rainforests. Instead, government and industry often promote increased logging as a climate solution.

CleanTechnica Exclusive: Forest Protection as Part of a Climate Change Mitigation Toolkit

In this CleanTechnica exclusive with Danna Smith, we talk about the need for new policies to keep our forests standing and how we can all help by taking a stand for US forests.

How can we help people to understand more about forest protection in the US?

According to the Dogwood Alliance, it is a climate priority, as our country is the largest producer and consumer of wood products. We are not going to solve the climate crisis without scaling up forest protection globally, including right here in our own backyard.

Transitioning off of fossil fuels is incredibly important but not enough to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. One way to help people understand the importance of forest protection is to elevate the role of forests in solving the climate crisis and providing resiliency for our communities. Forests provide an important role in safeguarding communities from the worst impacts of climate change and by scaling up forest protection we can mitigate flooding in our communities, protect against storm surge, ensure that millions of people have clean drinking water and so much more.

By connecting forests to people’s everyday needs, this helps get beyond science alone and shows how our community well-being is tied to the health of forests. This is also why we need to collectively reject false solutions to climate change like burning wood for electricity which is destroying our best defense against the climate crisis, releasing equivalent amounts of carbon pollution as coal, and harming the quality of life for rural, low-income, and communities of color across the South.

Many people in the northeast US have converted to pellet stoves as a means to eliminate reliance on fossil fuels. However, Dogwood Alliance refutes that energy derived from wood pellets is renewable and “green.” Might you please explain more about the impact of wood pellets for we who love our pellet stoves, as well as to make suggestions how we can advocate for planting pines within other species so as not to create monocultures?

Our focus is on burning forests for electricity at an industrial scale, not on people heating their homes with wood pellets. The substitution of wood for fossil fuels in power stations is a scale of magnitude far beyond home heating. It requires millions of tons of pellets and hundreds of thousands of acres of forests every year. The carbon pollution from biomass electricity is equivalent to fossil fuels and is driving large-scale clearcutting of our forests.

We can no longer convert and replace natural forests with monoculture pine plantations, natural diverse forests are vital for biodiversity and so many important ecosystem services like carbon storage, water purification, flood control and so much more. Unfortunately, hardwood forests in the Southern US are in the crosshairs from the wood pellet industry that are turning them into pellets and shipping them overseas to Europe to burn for electricity.

How does the work of Dogwood Alliance help partners with diverse organizations to amplify the voices of these communities and stand with them?

Through conversations with Justice and frontline groups we have come to approach our work as a social justice issue. We strive to provide communities tools and resources that help challenge new threats from the industrial forest industry like the wood pellet industry and shore up the protection of their local forests. We communicate to a wide audience that leverages our network to pressure relevant decision-makers to advance the goals of the communities that we work with. And work directly with the communities to collectively set our own goals and agenda so that the work we are doing is reflective of the needs of the community. This is a long process and takes time to build and grow but, ultimately, this is vital to creating real equity and justice for all.

Final Thoughts

If you’d like to learn more about the the climate crisis and forest protection, Smith has written an article,”The Great American Stand: US Forests and the Climate Emergency.”

Dogwood Alliance

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Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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