Whether used to heat your house or build it, wood is often touted as carbon-neutral, especially by biofuel and lumber companies and even some environmentalists. The logic seems simple enough: Sure, logging unleashes planet-warming carbon into the air, but that can be replaced with new trees that suck carbon back out of the air.
But this doesn’t reflect how the emissions from harvesting wood actually work, according to a paper published this week in Nature. Even when the carbon captured by new trees is taken into account, wood consumption accounts for about one-tenth of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, the study’s authors found — less than electricity and heat generation, but more than passenger cars.
“The bottom line is you got a lot of emissions coming from wood harvest, and we don’t pay attention to that,” said Tim Searchinger, senior fellow and technical director for agriculture, forestry, and ecosystems at the World Resources Institute and a co-author of the paper.