The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Before you click away, we have something to ask you…

Do you value independent journalism that focuses on the issues that matter? Do you think Canada needs more in-depth, fact-based reporting? So do we. If you’d like to be part of the solution, we’d love it if you joined us in working on it.

The Tyee is an independent, paywall-free, reader-funded publication. While many other newsrooms are getting smaller or shutting down altogether, we’re bucking the trend and growing, while still keeping our articles free and open for everyone to read.

The reason why we’re able to grow and do more, and focus on quality reporting, is because our readers support us in doing that. Over 5,000 Tyee readers chip in to fund our newsroom on a monthly basis, and that supports our rockstar team of dedicated journalists.

Join a community of people who are helping to build a better journalism ecosystem. You pick the amount you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis, and you can cancel any time.

Help us make Canadian media better by joining Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.
Views

Selling Doomsday Debits

In BC's wasteful forest biz, carbon credits don't grow on trees.

By David Beers 24 Jul 2007 | TheTyee.ca

David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee. A version of this piece ran in the Globe and Mail Saturday.

image atom
Salesmen: Arnold and Gordo.

California's Governator and British Columbia's premier wish to offer you an opportunity to fight global warming. They'd like you to invest in B.C.'s forest industry.

But one expert who's read the fine print is warning us not to get played for chumps.

At issue is the hot idea of carbon credits. To counter global warming, governments would set caps on allowable greenhouse emissions, and punish companies that exceed those levels unless they "offset" their pollution by buying carbon credits -- investments in other industries and practices that reduce greenhouse gases.

You yourself could get in on this. If the size of your own carbon footprint has you feeling guilty, you could buy carbon credits along with, say, your next airline tickets.

What's needed is a formal marketplace, preferably close to home. Which is what Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell recently proposed, a market linking B.C. with California and four other western states allowing individuals to purchase bona fide, climate-friendly carbon credits.

Who would benefit? Among others, B.C. timber firms, who "may be able to generate significant revenues out of proper management of the forest," enthused Premier Campbell. The logic in this is that trees are our friends because they pull carbon out of the air and store it. Forest companies plant and grow trees. Invest in B.C. forests ... climate guilt absolved!

Well, keep your hand on your wallet.

Record logging, huge waste

Ben Parfitt, a veteran journalist and researcher on forestry, has been studying B.C. timber industry practices for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He finds the province is encouraging timber firms to cut corners in their rush to harvest pine beetle infested wood. "Industry at government's urging is trying to log as many dead trees as possible, and a lot of living ones too. With record logging activity comes escalating levels of wood waste," he told me. Last year, according to analysis of government data, logging firms left about 4.2 million cubic metres of usable wood on the ground (one cubic metre equals one telephone pole). "Most of that gets pushed into giant piles and burned. The rest is left to rot," Parfitt says.

What's the problem with that?

"If those logs had been turned into solid wood products, like framing, all that carbon -- up to 3.8 million tons -- would have been locked up for up to a century." But whenever a tree burns or decays, the carbon it stored is released back into the atmosphere.

So harvesting timber in this wasteful way, calculates Parfitt, may be upping B.C.'s total greenhouse emissions by 7 per cent.

'Massive eco-system shift'

If the next several decades are do or die for halting emissions, this is the worst possible moment to be vaporizing wood. An industry run like this, notes Parfitt, is selling not carbon credits, but doomsday debits.

Some people will say that mismanagement or not, the real culprit is the voracious pine beetle. If the bug wasn't prematurely killing so many trees, we wouldn't have to hurry so fast to harvest them. You'll get no argument from Parfitt, who says the rest of Canada should be looking to B.C. for a grim glimpse of the future.

Thanks to global warming, fire suppression and monoculture forest management, the pine beetle and its cousins may well chew their away across Canada. The jack pine so common in Canada's boreal forest may fall victim, causing forest fires and soil erosion to accelerate and wiping out long term carbon sequestration provided by the swath of forest across our northern crescent.

"Across Canada a massive eco-system shift is already underway," Parfitt concludes, based on Canadian Forest Service studies.

Scary. But doesn't that still mean every tree planted in B.C. is a good thing, and people should earn carbon credits for helping to pay for it?

Yes, says Parfitt, as long as the accounting is rigorous. And right now, he says, it's anything but.

Check the books

Investing in B.C. forestry won't yield true carbon credits, Parfitt says, unless we plant the right mix of beetle resistant tree species, in numbers high enough to replace not only the wood used, but any waste left behind by the bug wood harvesters.

And we won't truly know the books are in balance, he says, until the province hires many more inspectors to accurately gauge wood waste levels. Right now not even one in ten mountains of wasted logs are eyeballed by an actual government employee, Parfitt says.

Recall that Premier Campbell, in vowing that carbon credits could enrich B.C.'s timber industry, did emphasize the scheme was tied to "proper management of the forest."

Ben Parfitt agrees, but says we're not even close yet. If you were to buy a carbon credit investment in B.C. forestry today, you'd be played for a chump.

Related Tyee stories:

 [Tyee]

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free

LATEST STORIES

The Barometer

Tyee Poll: What Coverage Would You Like to See More of This Year?

Take this week's poll