Wood Chips Devour the Forest

Global Warming: A Product of Market Forces

wood chips devour the forest
Harvey Richards’ van in the forests of California

Wood Chips Devour the Forest

Harvey Richards made several forays into the northwest forests with his cameras in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, focusing on, among other things, the immense piles of wood chips looming up in the lumber mills of the area. Wood chips devour the forest to make big money for forest corporations. During those years the easily obtainable old growth forests disappeared in the wake of clear cutting that swept over the western United States in previous decades. Wood prices rose as the forests declined, stimulating technological inventions of engineered lumber products, including particle boards and engineered beams. Increasing difficulty and costs of logging ended the practice of leaving up to 50% of cut trees on the forest floor as waste and burning scraps at lumber yards in huge furnaces. Now all the smaller trees and scraps could be used as chips. While this cut down waste, it did nothing to protect the environment and nothing to lessen the impact of market mechanisms on our forests.

Creating the many products we are used to seeing in our furniture and in lumber yards and big box stores, like Home Depot and Lowes, increased the use of energy and resulting pollution. In addition, making boards and beams from wood chips required large amounts of energy to grind the wood up, to transport it through the manufacturing process, and to compress it into final form.  The extensive use of glues and chemicals in this process added more pollution to the water effluents that flowed from the plants into nearby rivers and ponds.

The impact of this new technology on what remained of the forests was and is huge.  While cutting trees for wood chip production might not match the devastating impact of clear cutting old growth forests, it boosted the drive to cut logs in second and third growth forests and pushed logging operations ever deeper into areas once considered inaccessible.  The “free” market response to the results of its ecological destruction, i.e., scarcity of resources, is to retool and carry the destruction ever further. The forests are the lungs of the earth. Without clear socially adopted ecological goals and laws, the process of global warming will continue as the inevitable result of allowing the market to rule.

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