American Pole and Timber offers a $500 scholarship to two students each semester. The topic for submissions changes each semester and information for the Fall 2015 scholarship can be found on the APT website. Deadline for submissions is November 1, 2015 with the winners being announced November 30, 2015.
Congratulations to Esmael Mayar; her essay earned her an honorable mention from American Pole and Timber. We asked the question, “In what ways can the increased use of wood and wood-derived building materials in construction make the most positive impacts on the environment in next 35 years (by 2050)?” The following is Esmael’s winning submission.
In what ways can the increased use of wood and wood-derived building materials in construction make the most positive impacts on the environment in next 35 years (by 2050)?
Anthropogenic climate change has become one of society’s leading concerns. There is plenty of research showing that our activities throughout the world have caused observable changes in our atmosphere and the entire environment. With global climate change trending on social media and becoming the focus of public policy, people want to know what steps they can take to prevent further damage to the earth. One key aspect to the changing climate and our effect on it is the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) being released into the atmosphere. Of these gases, carbon dioxide and methane are the main GHGs measured and observed in the air. I believe that by increasing the use of wood products in the next 35 years, we can significantly reduce the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere and hence make a positive impact on our environment by stemming the extreme conditions outcomes associated with climate change.
One of the main concerns regarding our effect on the atmosphere is our use of hydrocarbons. By using coal and oil, we tap into carbon reserves that are typically not disturbed in nature. This extraction and eventual use of carbon based fuels causes an increase in the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are given their name because of the effect they have on the climate of the earth. In a greenhouse, energy from the sun passes through the glass panes of the building and warms the inside. Similarly, sunlight passes through the atmosphere and hits our planet’s surface. This is then either reflected or emitted as thermal radiation back up to the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases absorb this energy and release this heat both towards and away from the surface of our planet, causing the planet to heat up more than if the gases were not present. Hence, the more GHGs in the atmosphere, the hotter the warmer the planet becomes. Nonetheless, the earth has a system to keep these gases in check.
The earth, much like living bodies, seeks to establish equilibrium. Normally, there is a balance of carbon in the atmosphere and on earth, in areas known as carbon sinks. These carbon sinks include oceans and forests, places where carbon is stored after being sequestered from the atmosphere. When we use hydrocarbons, we typically release massive quantities of carbon molecules into the atmosphere. This causes the carbon sinks to sequester more carbon from the air. Currently it is estimated that the ocean alone takes in one third of manmade emissions. However, research is showing that the ocean will not be able to keep up with our ever increasing use of fossil fuels. Therefore, other methods must be employed to accommodate for our energy consumption, otherwise we will face the extreme weather and environmental conditions that is associated with climate change.
I believe that a positive impact we can make in this regard is by supporting the timber industry and furthering efficient forest management programs. Again, forests are a type of carbon sink. Therefore, by increasing and preserving our forests, we can use these trees to act as a worldwide air filter for GHGs. Now, supporting the timber industry and growing/preserving forests seem like antithetical ideas. However, it simply comes down to supply and demand. The greater demand generated for wood products, the more the timber industry must supply by keeping their forests and also buying up more land to meet the need. By giving timber companies more business, they would have the buying power to purchase land and set up forests for tree harvesting. If we instead choose not to support the wood industry, then other companies and entities would buy up that land, and in nearly all cases they would clear trees and foliage to make way for factories, homes, shopping centers, etc. For those that argue that stronger logging companies may purchase more land, but that this may instead devastate tree populations; I say this can be prevented by putting strong, feasible forest management policies in place. Also, the timber industry already practices tree harvesting in an efficient manner. Leaders within these enterprises realize that good preservation policies and cycling of tree harvesting sites will add to the longevity of their companies.
Finally, by choosing wood, society can avoid the environmental pollutants and even carcinogens that come with producing materials such as steel, plastics, and others. Production of wood items requires little to no fossil fuels, whereas other materials take vast amounts of energy to produce. In addition, metals and plastics are not biodegradable. They stay in the land and water for a very long time, and while they are there they have detrimental effects on the environment and life around them. Metals can act as cancer causing agents in humans, and plastics frequently have chemicals that act as hormone disruptors which cause serious complications in newborn children. On the other hand, wood and wood products do not cause cancer and they don’t have any other detrimental effects to the human body. Even the byproducts of wood based materials are usable. The shavings and dust left from wood harvesting and production can be used to create wood pellets. Wood pellets can be used for heating, and release much less smoke and pollutants than coal. In fact, European nations have begun phasing out their coal stoves in favor of pellet stoves. These pellets are being produced in the United States and shipped overseas. Clearly, organizations and people have agreed that burning pellets are a greener option than coal.
These facts mentioned above are not well known to most people. When people think of the logging companies, they typically think of an industry that makes climate change worse by “killing trees”. However, this is not the case, and the timber industry may be the answer to deforestation and preserving our forests. In order to get this message across, lumber companies must make a stronger, more concerted marketing effort to rebrand themselves. People need to know that the answer to keeping America’s forests, to stemming the effects of climate change, and to preventing the release of detrimental compounds into the environment is to buy wood.