The Drax electric power station is the biggest single emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution in the United Kingdom. It burns wood, much of which comes from trees logged out of European and US forests, often mature or old growth, to fuel the power plant’s turbines thus generating electric energy to replace coal. This process releases an abundance of CO2 into the atmosphere, more so than burning coal. (Wood burns less efficiently than coal, therefore it takes more wood biomass than coal to produce a comparable unit of electricity.)
Convenient for Drax, its CO2 emissions are not counted in the US and UK accounting systems for carbon emission limits because it’s considered “renewable.”
It’s renewable in the sense that the regrowth of the young trees of a clearcut eventually attains enough carbon capture to equal the carbon originally released. But, as was reported by Environmental Research Letters, 2018, it takes anywhere from 44 to 104 years for the regrowth to repay the carbon debt after the original clearcut—that’s way too long to be anything but counterproductive to meeting the Paris Agreement targets—it diminishes our chances to meet them. “Renewable” never pays its carbon debt on time. Plus, biodiversity loss isn’t considered in the meaning of “renewable.”
This accounting scheme allows for massive CO2 release from the world’s nations, which are supposed to be working to reduce CO2 emissions. But it seems that their worthy effort to fight climate change is only making it worse, all due to creative accounting and loopholes in the climate frameworks that nations have conjured up to show that they “are protecting the planet.” The nations we’ve depended on to stall the course of catastrophe are failing us miserably.
As Greta Thunberg has pointed out, this problem goes back to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that left behind a gaping loophole crying out for industrial opportunists who only seek profit.
Not only is the pollution from burning wood biofuel not accounted for, but industries burning wood for electricity receive billions of dollars in subsidies from the European Union and the US. It is doubtful that these industries can financially sustain themselves without these large subsidies.
In January 2018, 800 scientists sent a letter to the European Union Parliament asking it to revise its accounting system so that CO2 emissions from burning forests as biofuels would no longer be exempted from Europe’s accounting system, stating: “We urge European legislators to amend the present directive to restrict eligible biomass to appropriately defined residues and wastes because the fates of much of the of the world’s forests and the climate are literally at stake.”
But the 800 scientists’ letter was sent over four years ago, and nothing has changed. The subsidies continue. The power plants of Europe continue to discharge massive loads of CO2 into the atmosphere. And, all the while, the press has been deathly silent.
As Greta Thunberg put it, “This is exactly how you create a catastrophe.”
Johnny Armstrong, Author
Rescuing Biodiversity (publishing in June 2023) tells the story of Johnny's attempts at Wafer Creek Ranch to preserve a vanishing Louisiana ecosystem and restore the animal and plant species that once lived there.
“An avowed student of life and restoration ecology, Johnny Armstrong expertly teaches us how to restore an imperiled southern ecosystem based on deep research, firsthand experience, and delighted observation of the species that return to his beloved Wafer Creek Ranch. Driving his devotion is the alarming truth that loss of biodiversity poses a threat on par with climate change and his impassioned belief that society can alter that trajectory, one acre at a time.”
Cindy Brown, Executive Director
Land Trust for Louisiana
“Up there on your bookshelf between Tolkien and Watership Down is where this book belongs. As an anthropomorphic adventure that winds through the realm of animals possessing courage, savagery, perseverance, and ultimately wisdom in the face of mounting evil threats – humans disconnected from the natural world – the tale is relevant, if not necessary.”
Kelby Ouchley, Author
Bayou Diversity: Nature & People in the Louisiana Bayou Country
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Shadowshine, An Animal Adventure
by Johnny Armstrong
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