Monday, May 18, 2009

Shawnee Green Party on Tree Burning

Stop the Wasteful Burning of Wood!

an appeal by the Shawnee Green Party

May 15, 2009

On May 8, 2009, Jackson, Williamson, Randolph and Saline Counties in Southern Illinois were struck by an extreme weather event, variously described as an "inland hurricane," or more accurately as a "meso-cyclone," with high winds that uprooted mature trees, knocked down power lines and generally wreaked havoc. One week later, Southern Illinoisans are still struggling to recover from the disaster.

In many ways, local government officials rose to the occasion, and did a commendable job of responding to the disaster, taking steps to provide relief to the tens of thousands of residents affected. But that makes it all the more unfortunate that so many of them have fallen into an old, destructive and reflexive habit of handling "debris" in a backward manner – by burning it.

Thousands of trees, some a hundred years old or more, are now being hauled to burn sites to be destroyed as so much "trash," polluting the air in the process. Some residents are also just burning the downed timber on their own. Why this almost automatic response, that downed trees, just like leaves every Fall, are "supposed" to be burned? Why aren’t our public officials thinking about the consequences of this – and more positive and economical alternatives?

The trees that are now being burned have other potential uses. Some of them could be turned into valuable lumber, furniture or other wood products. Some of the wood could be sent to paper mills and turned into paper. Some of it could be turned into wood chips or mulch. And some of it could be burned – but to a purpose, providing heat in wood stoves during the Winter, replacing gas or electric heat, instead of being senselessly burned in the open air on a warm Spring day, polluting the air for no good purpose at all.

This practice is senseless, both economically and environmentally. At a time when the same public officials are noting how costly this disaster has been to local communities and governments, it is careless to just destroy resources that could be used for productive and even profitable purposes. At a time when environmentalists constantly have to fight to keep lumber and paper corporations from logging in our publicly owned forests, including the Shawnee, it makes no sense to waste all of this wood that nature has literally dumped into our lap. Why haven’t our local officials contacted some of these lumber and paper companies to see if they would like to take advantage of this literal windfall, and help our communities out in the process? And if for some reason these companies won’t respond, why not encourage some local entrepreneurs or form a cooperative to step into the breach, and create some local jobs in the process?

The burning of the wood not only releases particulate matter into the atmosphere, it also releases CO2, one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for global warming and climate change. The appalling irony of this should not escape notice. True, it is impossible to prove that any one unusual weather event, like an "inland hurricane," was caused by global warming, just as it is impossible to prove that smoking cigarettes caused any one particular person to get lung cancer. But by looking at the human population as a whole, we know for a fact that smoking causes lung cancer, and looking at the climate as a whole, we know that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are disrupting the climate and causing an increase in extreme and unusual weather events. Thus, at the very time when we are recovering from just such an event, it is maddeningly irresponsible for public officials to not only condone but encourage the wasteful burning of carbon-storing trees.

Accordingly, we of the Shawnee Green Party call for an immediate cessation of the burning of trees and other vegetation by local units of government and individuals. We urge our local officials to please think about what they are doing and take some time to consider other alternatives. Once the trees are removed from the power lines and public thoroughfares, it does no harm to let them lie for a brief period while we consider other options. Let’s explore other, more productive, economical and socially responsible alternatives.

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