Facing the Challenge

Earlier this year we reached an auspicious milestone: 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide – the primary driver of climate change – in the atmosphere. Apparently the last time this happened was back in the Pliocene Era, about 3.5 million years ago. The good news is that the CO2 climb lost some momentum this year, growing by only 1.1 percent compared to the 2.9 percent annual increase of the last decade. The slow-down was largely due to efficiency gains, recession, and a shift from coal to natural gas. Unfortunately, while the share of renewable energy has increased, it is still a minor component in the global mix. Of all our renewable energy options, wood is the most abundant and the most controversial source of bioenergy today. While the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and many experts see an important role for wood energy in the future, most official assessments have dialed back the potential contribution of wood because of concerns about social acceptability, sustainability, and carbon accounting.

With all evidence indicating that carbon reduction will take every source of renewable, low-carbon energy we can get, it might seem strange that some would prefer to take economically viable options, like woody bioenergy, off the table. I grew up in rural Michigan where many families rely on their forested land to heat their homes and to provide food and income. These landowners care deeply about their land – I sat next to many taking classes on forest management to learn sustainable practices because they need the forests to be there for the next generation.

Sustainable forest management is serious business, but so is climate change. In this issue of Bioenergy Connection, we’ll try to examine all sides of the issue. Our cover story, “Into the Woods,” sets the stage and explores the controversies, costs, and opportunities associated with forest bioenergy. “Southern Forests” takes us to ground zero of the biomass boom in the southeastern U.S., “Tangled Up in Green” examines forest sustainability standards, and “Climate Proofing Our Forests?” looks at forest management in the face of climate change. We’ll also interview Ralph Keeling about tracking atmospheric CO2, look at carbon accounting in forests, and learn a little about the market in renewable fuel credits, or RINs. Finally, be sure to check out our web exclusive stories on wood waste to energy, “Avoiding the Landfill” and “Bioenergy in Finland.”

We hope you enjoy this issue of Bioenergy Connection. As we strive to expand the informed conversation on bioenergy, we look to our readers for suggestions. Please let us know what you find compelling in the field of bioenergy. We are always interested in remarkable people and advancements in science, technology, commerce and policy. You can write us at bioenergyconnection@berkeley.edu.

Heather Youngs, Ph.D.
Executive Editor, Bioenergy Connection
Senior Analysis Fellow, Energy Biosciences Institute


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