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Biomass Magazine: Climate Change and Biomass



Erin Voegele

Climate change received a lot of political attention this month. First, the USDA published two reports that analyze the (potentially severe) impacts that climate change could have on the U.S. agricultural and forestry sectors. Then, in his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about the need to combat climate change, tying his message to the ability to create economic opportunity in clean energy through climate change mitigation.


“Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend,” Obama said during his speech. “But the fact is the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15.  Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods—all are now more frequent and more intense.  We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence.  Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science—and act before it’s too late.”


In his speech, Obama also urged Congress to help find a market-based solution to climate change. It also announced his intent to take action through executive orders in the event Congress fails to act. While he did not elaborate, I can only assume that a big part of the plan would focus on clean energy, which clearly includes biobased fuels and power.


He also announced the development of new manufacturing hubs where industry will partner with the U.S. DOE and U.S. Department of Defense to develop new manufacturing opportunities, and proposed a plan where a portion of oil and gas revenues be used to fund an Energy Security Trust. The trust would fund research and technology to shift vehicles off of oil-based fuels for good. 


The USDA’s report includes what may be an even more important message for the biomass industry. In the agriculture report, USDA analysts lay out a long-term scenario where crop yields and farm returns start to decline due to increased temperatures and the intensification of precipitation extremes.


However, these aren’t the only climate-change related changes that could impact agriculture—or forestry. The phrase climate change often brings to mind images of rising sea levels and polar bears. For agriculture, however, the threats are likely to manifest in changing factors related to weeds, disease, insect pests, and the timing of pollinator cycles, all which will affect yields and growth.


In the forestry sector, the USDA predicts that some of most significant climate change impacts could result from “disturbance regimes,” including a projected doubling of forestry area affected by forest fire each year, increased insect infestations, the proliferation of invasive species, increased erosion and more frequent drought.


For those in the biomass industry that depend on a reliable, local supply of biomass, the reports can paint a disturbing picture. Personally, I’m glad the President seems to be taking these threats seriously. I think we can all get behind the idea that clean energy development is a good thing for the future of not only our nation, but our planet as well.