Andrew Montford, The Spectator, 20 November 2018
It’s not like the green blob to keep quiet when there’s a threat to the environment in the offing. Even the smallest hint of a problem is usually enough to work a tree-hugger into a frenzy. So it’s worth taking a look at their decision to keep shtum over the recent appearance of what may be one of the greatest threats to the natural world we have seen.
Over the last few weeks, scientists and campaigners alike have been turning their attention to the question of how land can be used to tackle global warming.
Their interest was prompted by the appearance of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report on how the increase in global temperatures might be kept below 1.5°C. One of the panel’s ideas was to propose a massive expansion of forestry, allowing excess carbon dioxide to be converted into wood. This wood could then be burnt to generate electricity, with the resulting carbon dioxide emissions captured and stored deep underground. The alternative is to use all this extra wood as building materials. This would, the theory goes, keep the carbon locked in. The IPCC paper was followed up by twin reports from the committee on climate change (CCC), the government’s advisers on climate policy.
One of these papers was on the subject of biofuels; the other one was on land use. Like the IPCC, the CCC sees lots more forests and energy crops as the way forward.
But there is a problem with all these ideas, namely that if they ever came to fruition, they would do great harm to the natural world.
The use of afforestation for carbon capture will necessarily involve chopping forests down on a regular basis and replanting with the fastest growing species; it’s fairly clear that few woods would be spared. The CCC talks obliquely about all the broadleaved woodlands in England that are not “actively managed” and appears to suggest that these could be sacrificed to Gaia. So forget beautiful, leafy oaks in Sherwood Forest and start thinking sitka spruce and willow monocultures.
It’s also worth remembering that, as well as wanting something like a quarter of the UK’s land area devoted to biofuels of one kind or another, the CCC makes the case for more wind turbines. They have apparently tried to obscure this inconvenient fact in their report by lumping windfarms and urban areas in a land category called ‘settlements’. But the worry is that up to 10,000 square kilometres of land – twice the area of the Cairngorms National Park – is potentially being earmarked as part of a wider rollout of wind industrialisation.
It’s fair to say that all this amounts to an ecological catastrophe in the planning. Yet there has not been a squeak from environmentalists in response.