Scientist Mary Booth says the new drive to burn wood as a replacement for coal is backfiring in the atmosphere. Jay Coghlan on the arcane world of “plutonium pits” – the trigger for nuclear weapons. If you like ultimate gambling, this is it, on Radio Ecoshock 180523
We live in a strange time of techno-myths, and ways to profit from unthinkable destruction. We start with another startling lie told about carbon emissions and climate change. Cutting down forests to burn wood for electricity is not “green” and not good for the planet or the climate. For example, the Drax plant that powers 7% of all UK electricity – is not saving carbon dioxide, but adding it!
In our second interview activist Jay Coghlan explains the arcane world of “plutonium pits” – the core trigger for weapons of mass incineration. The Trump Administration promises to make lots more of them in South Carolina and New Mexico, even though America literally has tons of them stored away unused in Texas warehouses.
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MARY BOOTH ON THE MYTH OF “GREEN” ENERGY FROM WOOD
Despite everything we know about the coming climate shift, in 2017 carbon emissions to the atmosphere continued to increase. Despite the IPCC and the Paris Accord, we built big loopholes into the system. In fact, we humans are experts at lying to ourselves about climate reality.
Here is yet another example: of course burning wood to generate electricity is “green” energy. We just return carbon captured by trees to the atmosphere. We have all been told that. Except it isn’t true, and that little myth alone could help tip us over the edge, out of control.
Here to explain is Dr. Mary S. Booth from Pelham Massachusetts. She is an ecological scientist, and director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity in New England.
We’ve been told that burning wood is much safer for the climate than fossil fuels. A report to the European Parliament states emissions from wood and plant fuels “shall be taken to be zero for solid and gaseous biomass.” Is that a myth? Yes, and a dangerous one.
We are not talking about your wood-burning stove, burning local wood (although that could add up if widely adopted). Due to benefits bestowed on “biomass” energy, as a “green” alternative to oil or coal – a massive industry has developed supplying wood to power plants retrofitted from coal. That sounds good, but read on, or listen to the interview.
For example, the U.S. Southeast is stripping forests quickly to “pelletize” them. The wood pellets are then loaded on to boats, and shipped to big electricity generating plants in the United Kingdom, Asian countries including Japan, and more. The largest example is the Drax power plant in North Yorkshire England. The Drax plant was originally a complex of six coal burning operations, providing about 7% of England’s power. Now, to fit in with climate promises and European Union developments, three of the six units have been converted to burning wood pellets. Each might burn up to a tonne a minute.
Better than coal, you say. But actually, when scientist Mary Booth added up all the emissions, and then factored in TIME – burning wood in massive ovens may be worse than coal.
First we have a long chain of direct carbon emissions from this process. People drive fossil fuels to get to work in the woods, use gas chain saws and large diesel machines called “skidders” and/or “buncher-fellers”. More diesel trucks take the downed trees to the mill. But wait you say – the industry claims they are just using waste wood for pellets. That’s not true. Anyone living in the area can see truckloads of whole trees heading to the pellet plants.
I live in a Canadian town with a lumber mill. Beside it is another large operation chipping wood into sawdust for making paper. The paper industry always claims the wood being chewed up is just waste from sawmills. But everyone who lives here can see acres and acres of whole tree trunks, an ocean of trees cut down, right there at the wood chipping company, being turned into sawdust.
The paper abstract says: “Net emissions may be ten times higher at year 40 if whole trees are harvested for feedstock.”
It takes energy to pelletize trees, more trucking to the docks, more oil bunker fuel for the ships, etc., etc.
THE TIME OF CARBON EMISSIONS
The other key factor is time. If a doctor tells me I have a cancer which takes 30 years to grow deadly, it matters a lot whether I learn that verdict when I am 20 years old, or when I am 85. It matters what happens in the next ten or twelve years, instead of a calculation of wood burning emissions over one hundred years.
When I look around me, there isn’t much change in fossil fuel use. People are still buying gas-guzzling pickup trucks, and planning their next exotic vacation. So it’s chilling when Booth writes in this paper, quote: “this study assumes a meaningful timeframe is the next 10 to 20 years.” That’s the key timeframe we have left. When we burn wood, we are releasing all the carbon in it, into the sky. Trees are mostly carbon. The Drax power station is emitting megatons of carbon dioxide as it burns wood for “green” energy. There is no special exemption for that carbon dioxide. It will heat the planet, raise the seas and all the other impacts, just like any other carbon. No carbon gets a free pass.
The European Union and other experts argue that tree carbon will be replaced when the forests regrow. But that can take 30 to 100 years. Meanwhile, our climate has been altered, more ice melted, and who knows what thresholds crossed during that long time to recapture carbon in the forests.
This paper summarizes various assumptions used to make wood pellets “carbon neutral” – things like replanting, and forest growth elsewhere. But here in British Columbia vast forests are cut down every year, and replanting is not always successful. The climate is changing and related to that, forests are burning down fast. Some forests are converting to grass lands. So the carbon may not be recaptured at all.
Then the kicker: cutting down trees reduces the forest role as a carbon sink. It also changes everything for the animals and plants trying to live there. Forests also affect hydrology: whether we get extreme rains or drought. Cutting down forests for “green” electricity flies in the face of all logic. It’s frankly… kind of nuts.
Of course Mary Booth puts that in more scientific language, and cites the papers and science to back it up. The paper says: “Climate models, renewable energy policies, and carbon trading programs in the US and EU erroneously treat biomass sourced from residues as carbon neutral.”
THE BIOMASS LOOPHOLE DOES MATTER
According to the Global Carbon Project, total emissions from fossil fuels in 2017 was estimated at 36 Gigatonnes of CO2. According to this paper by Mary Booth, “many climate mitigation models include a doubling or more of bioenergy to at least 100 EJ in the coming decades” and burning that 100 EJ “of biomass would emit about 9 Gt of CO2 each year”. That would make emissions from biomass energy equal to one quarter of the total emissions from fossil fuels in 2017. It’s very significant, and it is not counted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or by governments setting carbon targets. (EJ stands for “exajoules”)
It all sounds to me like a dirty little secret we don’t talk about, so we can continue to live high-energy lifestyles. But the atmosphere cannot be lied to, and doesn’t care what stories humans tell themselves. When you keep on adding carbon dioxide, life gets harder and harder.
This paper by Mary Booth is “Not carbon neutral: Assessing the net emissions impact of residues burned for bioenergy“. It was published February 21, 2018 in the journal “Environmental Research Letters”. You can access the full text for free. On the same page is a very helpful video where Mary explains the basics of the science. You can also download a transcript of that video. It’s a good job making this information easily available to us all.
Follow Mary Booth on Twitter.
Read more about this climate scam in this article from Mongabay.
JAY COGHLAN BLOWS UP THE CRAZY REPUBLICAN PLAN TO MAKE MORE PLUTONIUM TRIGGERS NOBODY NEEDS
While I can’t promise you dirt on Presidents and porn stars, you will get the real bomb in our next interview. Nobody could make up the twists and turns in the high stakes game of atomic weapons. Haven’t you heard? The nuclear arms race is back, and there’s big money to be made, as long as nothing blows up in our faces.
On the Nuclear Watch New Mexico web site I found these words from the famous American general Omar Bradley: “Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.”
We are going to talk about a suicide cult run by the American government. In May, the Trump Administration announced they would abandon a multi-billion dollar nuclear construction project in South Carolina. That was intended to add deadly plutonium to reactor fuel. It was a terrible idea and nobody wanted that product, so that’s the good news. But we can’t lose the jobs or the boondoggle billions, so here’s an even crazier idea: lets build more triggers for nuclear bombs we can’t use. We’ll just add them to 14,000 other plutonium triggers sitting in a warehouse outside Amarillo Texas. It’s all painfully crazy, but we have to talk about it, because that’s the plan.
MOX plant in South Carolina, partly completed, now given up.
In New Mexico, the Los Alamos National Laboratory was building the same “plutonium pits”. But that operation has been shut down for a few years due to wildly unsafe working conditions. All that is carefully witnessed by a small but powerful environmental non-profit called NukeWatch. Jay Coghlan is the Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico.
Jay Coghlan Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Scientist Jeremy Bernstein says that the plutonium pit is about the size of a bowling ball, but lighter than pure plutonium, because it is hollowed, to contain other materials. When that plutonium sphere implodes, it creates a nuclear fusion, which boosts the impacts of nuclear fission expected in a bomb with uranium.
As reported by Patrick Malone at the The Center for Public Integrity, a fellow named Philip Calbos is the NNSA’s principal assistant deputy administrator for defence. Calbos told a panel, quote: “It’s not lost on anyone that there are nations out there that produce more pits than we do, including the North Koreans… That’s one of the reasons why we need to get moving in terms of our capability.” So when it comes to nuclear weapons, America needs to keep up with North Korea…?
Here is the powerful press release from NukeWatch about the crazy new plan to make more plutonium “pit” for nuclear weapons.
And here is a Washington Post article which explains the governments plan to close down the failed MOX fuel production facility in South Caroline (billions of taxpayer money down the drain) – and to convert it.
Here is your homework:
Key sites proposed for nuclear bomb production are plagued by safety problems
Billions of dollars are at stake in a forthcoming Trump administration decision, but contender sites Los Alamos and Savannah River have struggled to handle plutonium safely By Patrick Malone May 1, 2018
And just so you know, the Navy doesn’t want these plutonium pits anyway. See 2012 Navy memo demonstrating its lack of support for the Interoperable Warhead
OVER AND OUT
Both interviews this week remind us of another old saying: “the road to Hell is wide and paved with good intentions.” For me, and for our guests, the only way forward is to seek the truth. When your truth finds you, it will drive you to share it far and wide, then act on it. That is Radio Ecoshock for me. Please help Ecoshock keep going if you can, with your financial donation.
That is all I have for you this week. I’m Alex Smith. On behalf of the kindred souls in over 100 countries, who listen via radio, download, or podcast, and with the supportive community who are kind enough to urge me on, thank you for listening, and caring about our world.