A campaign is growing in Massachusetts, and across the United States and world, against burning wood and other biomass in giant incinerators to produce electricity. This northeast U.S. state claims to be a leader in renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions yet is fast-tracking three large biomass plants to generate 135 megawatts of power in Western Massachusetts, with other plants under discussion. There is no scientific evidence that incinerating wood or trash is clean and green. Biomass burning is exempt from greenhouse gas accounting regulations, yet the plants generate 50% more CO2 per megawatt than burning coal. Shockingly, MA's plants are being billed as an antidote to global warming as part of the state's "renewable portfolio standards" under its "Global Warming Solutions Act". In fact, the proposed biomass would establish incinerators that would immediately increase carbon emissions, making global warming much worse, and also set the stage to eventually deforest much of the region.
Science-based Massachusetts environmental groups have shown that claims forest biomass will come from "clean forestry residue" are ridiculous, and that there is not enough waste wood to power the plants. It is acknowledged by the state that sawmill and construction debris (often contaminated) will prove inadequate, and that 14,300 acres would have to be cut a year, or 39 acres a day, to supply 650,000 tons of fuel for a single 50-megawatt plant. The up to 200 megawatts of biomass power under consideration would increase energy-sector carbon dioxide emissions by 8 to 10 percent, while supplementing the state's power supply by about 1 percent. The state suggests some 845,000 acres of forest biomass are available, and could be cut over 15 years to meet all incinerator plant needs under discussion. Cutting on state public lands would need to increase at least by triple from the recent historic average.
The Massachusetts story is part of an alarming trend globally, wherein incineration, pyrolysis, plasma arc and other refining of plant biomass including toxic municipal waste is being falsely promoted as renewable and of benefit to reducing emissions that cause climate change. Burning wood or other plant material for electricity will assuredly build markets beyond what can be met by ‘waste’ biomass. Biomass incineration, as it expands globally at the scale envisioned by its most ardent boosters, will clearly require unsustainable, massive quantities of industrial grown tree plantations, while increasing cutting and harvesting from both public and private forested lands. Burning biomass is not carbon neutral in the short-term as it takes milliseconds to burn a tree and decades (if ever) for it to grow back. Scientists agree that we are facing catastrophic abrupt and potentially run-away climate change in the very near future.
After losing 80% of the world‘s natural and intact forest habitats, mostly to agriculture, how can Earth accommodate these additional demands upon plant‘s primary productivity and still maintain ecosystems, preserve wild places and produce food required to sustain a habitable Earth? Humans already consume a large amount of the energy represented in annual biological growth, pushing the world‘s land and forests past their carrying capacity. To try to consume more of Earth‘s primary productivity is clearly unsustainable land use, and trying can only continue the processes leading to global ecosystem and social collapse.
Anything that furthers the cutting of dwindling ecosystems, and pollution associated with burning, in the production of electricity should not be considered clean, green or renewable. Protecting and regenerating forests, ecosystems and soils is the most important step we must take if we are to stabilize the global climate. As policy makers seek to expand mandates for renewable energy, it is essential that the focus remain upon true renewables such as wind, solar and ocean derived technologies; and excludes burning or refining plant biomass, garbage or landfill gases. Support the growing U.S. coalition in demanding “no biomass/no burning” in definitions of renewable energy.
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In shocking ecological stupidity, Massachusetts and much of the world rushing to try to power industrial society from trees, completing regional ecosystem and biosphere collapse
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