Coal-burning adds to carbon dioxide emissions at an astonishing rate, releasing carbon dioxide that was sequestered millions of years ago.
Coal-burning also releases a lot of other problematic emissions, as is being seen today in coal-rich China, whose air is choked with smog and particulate emissions, ruining the skyline and residents’ lungs. In order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, some coal-burning plants have been testing, with varying degrees of success, co-burning wood. Wood and coal are very closely related, but something on the order of thousands of generations separate them. Wood has been a staple of world heating and building for millennia, and today’s trees go into everything from paper to homes.
Could they also be going into coal-burning plants? Some coal-burning plants have been testing the switch-over to co-burn wood waste from furniture factories and sawmills, ostensibly to reduce emissions. According to regulators, burning wood has a net-zero carbon dioxide emissions effect, but the effect is delayed. Coal-burning has emitted carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for generations, and the effects [read: climate change] have only recently been recognized as the consequence, a delayed reaction.
True, we can plant more trees, and forest regulators are doing a good job making sure that industry doesn’t clear-cut forests and plants trees to replace the ones that are cut. This is not the right direction. Coal-burning plants can’t reduce carbon dioxide emissions by burning wood. True, new trees will sequester carbon dioxide as they grow, but it takes hundreds of years to do so. Coal-burning plants point to cheaper supplies of wood and a net-zero carbon dioxide emissions scenario, but the reaction is delayed. We don’t have hundreds of years to wait for the trees to soak up the carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere today.