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Turning Trees Into Enemies. The New War on Forests

Turning Trees Into Enemies. The New War on Forests thumbnail
The San Marco Square in Florence in 2017. You can see the ancient trees of the square being cut as part of a plan that involved the removal of several hundred trees in the whole city. The action was accompanied by a propaganda campaign against trees that looked curiously similar to that used to justify the invasion of Iraq, in 2003. “Trees are a threat to citizens,”, “There is no alternative,” “Killer Trees,” and the like.

The war on trees seems to be starting. I don’t know about what’s happening where you live, but here, in Italy, we see it clearly, accompanied by all the propaganda tricks normally used to start wars. So, we have seen a string of accusations in the media against “killer trees,” supposed to be a danger for the citizens because they can fall on them or on their beloved shiny cars. The image on the right, here shows the first page of an Italian newspaper in 2014 informing us there are “50,000 killer trees” in Rome. Truly an invading army to be fought with the appropriate weaponry in the form of chainsaws.

One century ago, city administrations were proud of planting trees, today they are proud of cutting them. What happened that changed their attitude so much is hard to say. Maybe it is the general degradation of the ecosystem that has turned trees into monsters, but that doesn’t explain how administrations are starting also a war on forests – surely not threatening citizens or their cars. In a previous post, I commented on a recent piece of legislation in Italy that forces land owners to cut their woods even if they don’t want to. From the comments I received to that post and from what I can read on the Web, I think I can say that the war on trees is not just an Italian phenomenon, it is worldwide.

I interpreted this war as the result of the diminishing returns of our energy sources – mainly fossil fuels. The returns of an energy source, as you may know, can be expressed in terms of EROI (energy return on energy invested). It is the ratio of result to effort. Extracting oil, for instance, implies digging a well, using pumps, and many more things which have an energy cost. The energy obtained from oil need be much larger than the energy spent on oil, otherwise the whole effort would be useless. And, historically, it has been the case. At the height of the oil age, an oil well in the US provided perhaps 50 times the energy spent to extract the oil. But not anymore: it is the harsh law of the EROI: it declines with time. The consequence is a well-known law in economics: diminishing returns on investments.

What’s happening worldwide is that the EROI of fossil fuels has been going down. It was expected: it is a result of the gradual depletion of the resources. Obviously people will look first for the best resources, then progressively move to less good ones. This has consequences: the worldwide search for oil and other fuels leads to conflicts for what’s left – the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is a good example. But even the Iraqi oil is subjected to the harsh law of EROI. The result is that some energy resources which, once, looked old and outfashioned, now start looking good again. Wood, for instance.

And here is the reason for the war on trees. As all wars, it is a war on resources. And, as it is normal in our times, before going to war, you demonize your enemies – hence the “killer trees.” It is also traditional to state that wars are done in the name of lofty and noble principles, in this case in the name of ecology, since wood is said to be a “carbon neutral” energy resource and therefore cutting trees somehow fights global warming.

Alas, no. Wood burning is NOT carbon neutral. It is true that the CO2 generated by burning biomass will eventually become biomass again, but it takes time. A recent study estimates that it takes several decades, even a century, for the CO2 generated by burning trees to be reabsorbed from the atmosphere in the form of new trees. And that assumes that the forest reforms while, in practice, forest razing is often an irreversible phenomenon, at least on the century time scale. According to some recent studies, the Sahara may be a human-made desert.

So, the harsh law of the EROI holds also for wood. If the current rush to wood cutting continues, the best resources will soon be exhausted and cutters will move to more expensive ones. At some moment, the cycle that’s leading from fossils to wood will repeat itself: after wood, what? How about burning furniture?

Cassandra’s legacy by Ugo Bardi

28 Comments on "Turning Trees Into Enemies. The New War on Forests"

  1. dave thompson on Thu, 31st May 2018 3:36 pm 

    Old sofas recliners and tires are great.

  2. Anonymouse1 on Thu, 31st May 2018 5:02 pm 

    Are you ready for the war on sofas?

  3. DerHundistlos on Thu, 31st May 2018 6:54 pm 

    The furniture, at some point in the downward spiral of collapse, will get burned. The world is rushing to exploit every natural resource in a mad rush to cash-in.

    Easter Island is a prime example. If you want to predict the future of human life on Earth, study the history of Easter Island. Understand why Easter Island is today a desolate and parched landscape bereft of flora and fauna.
    Before the arrival of man, Easter Island was Nirvana. Rich volcanic soils, moderate temperatures, abundant rainfall, forests teeming with unique flora and fauna combined to create a paradise. Among Easter Island’s species found nowhere else was the world’s largest palm tree. The tree grew to a height of 100 feet and had a girth of six feet.

    Then the Destroyer of Worlds arrived in the form of seafaring Polynesians. For a time, the land produced such bounty that sufficient leisure time existed for the human inhabitants to create the toppled over ghostly stone statues that still dot the island. Human population numbers grew far out of proportion to what was sustainable- poor farming practices eroded fertile soil, animal and plant species found nowhere else were driven extinct. Incredibly, the very last tree on the island was cut down. What kind of stupidity would allow this to happen (sound familiar)? Following this, no timber existed to build the canoes necessary to harvest the final source of protein from the ocean.

    The result: When Captain James Cook discovered the island, he was shocked to find a small parasite infested human population engaged in cannibalistic internecine tribal warfare.

    president Pumpkin-Head is the most obvious representation of this insanity. The moto for his presidency will read, , “Après moi, le déluge” or “After me, the catastrophe”. Trump is doing everything possible to take advantage of his position and grab it all before it disappears forever. His Republicon congressional enablers could care less about the ramifications. Money and power trump all other considerations.

  4. Shortend on Thu, 31st May 2018 9:31 pm 

    Remember reading that the Amazon Rainforest must pay its way…meaning have positive cash flow or be converted to cattle pasture or soy bean agricrops.
    Some tried like Chico Mendes and many other slain unnamed forgotten activists.
    Sorry, but there is no stopping this juggernaut, until it falls flat on its own weight.

  5. DMyers on Thu, 31st May 2018 9:43 pm 

    I’ll take a gas furnace over a burning log any day.

    Interesting idea, that the trees are demonized to create political license to raze. I’m just not so sure the demonization is even necessary. They’re trees. Cut’em down. They don’t feel pain. Metal shade is available, if need be. Artificial trees are available on Amazon, if any one wants a symbol of Nature.

    Ya gotta burn what ya gotta burn. I don’t see the point in having value preferences about the source of fuel. I’ve got a car to drive and a house to light. Just burn something, so that I might meet my obligations.

  6. JuanP on Thu, 31st May 2018 10:16 pm 

    I have never had any doubts that as our ability to extract and consume fossil fuels diminishes we will burn anything we can. We will burn sofas, tires, trees, plastic, trash, grass, and whatnot. Most people underestimate humanity’s capacity to survive and inflict damage on the biosphere. We will burn shit until the day we go extinct as a species. If you think things are bad now then you don’t understand what’s coming. Things are absolutely amazing now so enjoy this time while it lasts.

  7. GregT on Thu, 31st May 2018 10:53 pm 

    “We will burn sofas, tires, trees, plastic, trash, grass, and whatnot.”

    Children, playing with fire.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  8. MASTERMIND on Thu, 31st May 2018 11:08 pm 


    And I am sure in the next decade we will burn many human beings as well..

  9. GregT on Thu, 31st May 2018 11:14 pm 

    “And I am sure in the next decade we will burn many human beings as well..”

    No doubt. Some things apparently never change, sadly.

  10. MASTERMIND on Thu, 31st May 2018 11:26 pm 

    Tesla owner in Brussels said his Tesla on autopilot drove away on its own and crashed into five parked cars


  11. anon on Fri, 1st Jun 2018 12:56 am 

    This is partly because of declining net energy elsewhere, but also, i’d say mostly, because of politics – like subsidised ethanol in the US which is net energy negative, in the EU, there is this insane subsidy for the wood-pellet industry by virtue of it being legally classified as ‘carbon neutral’ and thus we see entire power plants like Drax in the UK burning pellets… whole forests of hardwoods being shredded to feed a power plant. This is the pressure that is now coming to bear on the trees of italy (and elsewhere) In a sense it is a bit of a relief to know that this war on trees is actually subsidised by oil and part of the insanity of a terminally ill and senile culture, and that it is not actually that profitable to be cutting trees and burning them half a continent away.

    And yes, when we really get to the raw everything-pays-its-own-way energy decline across the whole society, we will see a lot more furniture and tires being burned.

  12. Davy on Fri, 1st Jun 2018 5:23 am 

    Wood burning is carbon neutral on my place. I only use dead or dying trees. They are no longer fixing carbon and they have begun the process of generating CO2. Forest should be managed. Trees reach their life expectancy it is wise to manage them. I am not for excessive clear cutting but it can be a management technique along with others. Out west and in Canada it is used too much IMO probably because of cost. Here in Missouri forest can be selectively logged without clear cutting because they are so easy to get into. In the Ozarks we have a combination of public and private holders having their forest cut and both use management practices. The trees are generally at their marketable age. There is not enough cutting to alter the forests much here in the Ozarks. There is net growth especially because in many places people are letting their pasture go and trees are growing up in a process of succession.

    The biggest issue for us here and our forest is how they are going to change. It is likely shortleaf Pine will become more prominent in some climate change scenarios. The oak hickory that dominate now will be pushed north. Prairies and savannas will expand in a drier scenario from climate change. This is the real threat for our forests if you like the status quo.

  13. deadly on Fri, 1st Jun 2018 6:59 am 

    What did really happen to the Easter Islanders?

    The rest of the story, of course, begins when those crazy Europeans sunk their vampire squid tentacles into those poor helpless souls.

    That’s the way it goes moving west.

    The first European contact with the islanders led to a skirmish. One of the islanders attempted to take a gun away from a sailor, and the Europeans opened fire. This resulted in the death of 12 islanders. Although this introduction was rocky, both sides patched up relations and the islanders traded bananas and chickens for linens.

    Eventually, the island became a regular port call for whalers and other travelers. At first, Rapa Nui was a welcoming port with it’s pleasant people and attractive women. However, the islanders would soon resent these visitors.

    Exploitation Leads to Decimation and Ruin
    The sailors would sometimes shoot and kill an inhabitant they found to be too aggressive or excitable. Europeans soon viewed the populace as a source of labor, and in the case for women, sexual satisfaction. Visitors began abducting the islanders to replenish crew members, and Europeans infected the women with various sexually transmitted diseases. This further destabilized Easter Island’s civilization. The population of islanders peaked just before Roggeveen arrived. But, by the mid 1700s, major population decline was taking place and would continue to drop.

    The final blow occurred in the 1860s, when slave traders hunted and sold the islanders to the lucrative slave trade in South America. The population declined dramatically. It wasn’t until public discontent arose in Peru that the government put an end to slavery and repatriated the islanders back to Rapa Nui. By 1877, there was irreversible damage. Only about 100 inhabitants remained on the island. The repatriated islanders who managed to survive the long voyage back from Peru brought further death to the populace by spreading small pox to the rest of the natives. The population slowly began to creep up again around the year 1900, and in 2012 there were 5,761 people of mostly Polynesian descent.

  14. Simon on Fri, 1st Jun 2018 7:47 am 

    Spot on Dave

    If you do it right wood is completely neutral, however I fear after demonising Trees, next will be to go after the little guys because their perceived inefficiencies are killing the planet … somehow

  15. Anonymouse1 on Fri, 1st Jun 2018 7:47 am 

    Of course you’d only have dead or dying trees around your hovel exceptionalturd. No one here would expect to find otherwise with you around. But, even IF you did have any live trees around, you’d never find any time to you know, cut any of them down for firewood anything, as you spend 200% of your worthless life on the internet ranting about Hitler, mak, China and Putin 24/7.

    I doubt you’d know which end of an axe to use even if you ever did work up enough motivation to ever pick one up.

  16. Simon on Fri, 1st Jun 2018 8:08 am 


    I imagine what dave is talking about is trees in or past their maturity, at this point they are not taking carbon from the atmo. they are simply stopping other trees growing.

    As for cutting a tree down with an axe ….. dude
    we invented Saws for this, and I cut manually with a saw, try and axe, never

  17. Davy on Fri, 1st Jun 2018 8:31 am 

    Weasel, what do you do? You are an unemployed millennial college dropout with lots of debt living in mom’s basement. Of course you are going to criticize me because you hate yourself and your failures so you take your anger out on me. BTW, you are wrong on the Putin thing. I admire Putin and I challenge you to prove me wrong. Go ahead and google the board, brat. Putin is likely the wealthiest and most powerful man in the world. He owns Russia and the Russian military. He has people killed. He also lies but he is the best of the best because all the rest would die to be a Putin. As for you weasel, you are a worthless anti-American Canadian that goes anonymous because you are ashamed of who you are. What you are is a failure. No wonder 3rd world lovingly calls you anon he can relate to failure.

  18. Davy on Fri, 1st Jun 2018 8:36 am 

    Thanks Simon, coming from someone like you that is likely the most sustainable of anyone on this baoed that is knowledge from experience. You can tell when someone is oblivious. When it comes to firewood or saw cut lumber then talking about axes instead of saws is a bit uninformed.

  19. MASTERMIND on Fri, 1st Jun 2018 8:38 am 

    Economic nationalism leads to war. This is exactly what happened in the 1930s

    When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.

  20. Go Speed Racer on Fri, 1st Jun 2018 8:54 am 

    Ya we can have unlimited clean cheap
    energy by burning old sofa’s and La-Z-Boy

    And it’s written on the USA money….
    “In Sofa’s We Trust”.

  21. Simon on Fri, 1st Jun 2018 9:04 am 

    GSR this will also get consumers spending money on new sofas and recliners

  22. fmr-paultard on Fri, 1st Jun 2018 10:36 am 

    i agree we need to recycle sofas. i’m slow but i finally come around to embracing the enormouse emboldened energy in sofas

  23. fmr-paultard on Fri, 1st Jun 2018 10:50 am 

    trees are only good for animals and cooling the environment. its most important function is to transport nutrients from ground to surface for small plants to consume. this job can be accomplished by poor man farming, or the superior hydroponic approach.

  24. DerHundistlos on Fri, 1st Jun 2018 1:06 pm 

    “trees are only good for animals and cooling the environment.” ~~~Paultard~~~~

    I know it’s insignificant, Paultard, but trees also perform the processes of photosynthesis and carbon sequestration, among many other critical functions.

    See what happens when you try oh so hard to be the resident pseudo-intelectual?

    Just relax, Francine, and stop already with the buffoonish schtick. What a clown.

  25. fmr-paultard on Fri, 1st Jun 2018 3:01 pm 

    Der how many dozen sock puppets you have? Supertard right you are weasel

  26. DerHundistlos on Fri, 1st Jun 2018 8:45 pm 

    Dead and dying trees are critically important in the ecosystem, particularly for birds, bats, and some mammals. Numerous bird species rely on dead tree cavities in which to make their nest. Unfortunately, we humans are determined for the forest to conform to our wishes for a well manicured golf course. There is a sad misconception that the only use for dead trees is as fuel for our furnaces. The loss of nesting habitat is one of the nails in the coffin responsible for the decline in biodiversity.

    In Colombia, the yellow-eared parrot was at the brink of extinction due to the loss of tree nesting cavities. We worked hard to purchase and preserve key feeding habitat, and we enlisted the Catholic Church to help us educate the population on the importance of not cutting down dead and dying trees. The people responded with enthusiasm and today this magnificent bird no longer resides on an ICUN endangered list. I wonder if a similar campaign would work in the US. I have my doubts.

  27. DerHundistlos on Fri, 1st Jun 2018 8:58 pm 


    You wrote an Easter Island narrative based on cherry-picking information. The population was in steep decline long before the first Europeans arrived, although I appreciate that blaming the Whites is a far more PC narrative. A balanced review of the source you quote from would include:

    “Initially, the island was a lush paradise, as it was filled with large palm tree forests. Archaeologists have taken much interest in Easter Island. They have explored and dug, and evidence suggests that original settlers began the process of deforestation of the island to make way for the planting of crops. Additionally, islanders used trees to build fishing boats, houses, shrines, and to transport the moai to the coast from the quarries. But eventually, there were no more trees to gather. This ended the construction of moai, islanders had to restrict fishing to the immediate coast as boats deteriorated, and the agricultural soil eroded away.

    In addition to a depleted ecosystem, Easter Island history is rife with conflict. With a serious shortage of resources, the various clans eventually turned to destroying each other. They took land from the weaker clans and toppled many moai statues. By the time Roggeveen arrived in 1722, the island was treeless and most of the moai were laying on the ground. The Rapa Nui culture was on the brink of extinction. What the early explorers found after Roggeveen’s visit were populations of separate groups that had lost all knowledge of their history and culture.”

  28. dave thompson on Sat, 2nd Jun 2018 1:26 am 

    Burning trees is very costly. I still get all my energy needs taken care of by burning old sofas,recliners,tires and plastic debris of all sorts in my back yard urban furnace/incinerator electrical generator. I have a fleet of golf carts that are modified with a flat bed for easy hauling. I never have to drive far to find plenty of clean green fuel on garbage day. I save landfill space and generate my own power.

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