Suppose America stopped harvesting its trees to make
lumber, plywood, paper and other wood products. Would this have a good
or a bad effect on our environment? Lets consider.
What would we use as a building material for homes
and furniture, or paper for books and stationery? Would we substitute
steel, aluminum, masonry or plastic products? Buy wood from other countries?
Or do without?
If we substituted non-wood building products, the
environment would be the clear loser. Those non-wood products are environmentally
expensive. The supplies of ores and petroleum for their production are
finite; once gone, they are gone forever. Wood, on the other hand, is
a renewable resource from an endless succession of trees. Non-wood products
require far more energy to manufacture than wood; nine times as much
to make a steel stud as a wood stud, for example. That further depletes
finite supplies of fossil fuels and coal. Not to mention greater pollution
of the air and water, while adding to the potential for global warming
through the greenhouse effect.
Wood is also the best insulator of all structural
building materials, with millions of tiny air cells trapped within its
cellular structure providing a barrier against heat and cold. An inch
of wood is 15 times as efficient an insulator as concrete, 400 times
as efficient as steel and 1,770 times as efficient as aluminum. So homes
built with wood require far less energy to heat and cool, thus conserving
fossil fuels and coal.
Another thing: wood is reusable, recyclable and biodegradable.
Inorganic materials call for yet additional energy drains to recycle
or otherwise dispose of them when use has been terminated.
Okay, but aren't we running out of trees by harvesting
so many of them for the needs of a swelling population? No, not at all.
Each American does use the equivalent of a 100-foot, 18-inch diameter
tree every year for wood and paper products. But 4.5 million tree are
planted every day, which works out to 6.5 trees a year for every American.
Another fact: during 1994, more than 420 trees were
planted for every baby born in the United States. As a result, more
wood is grown each year in the U.S. than is harvested or lost to disease,
insects and fire. Growth exceeds harvest by 37%. No surprise, then,
that the nation has more trees today than it had 70 years ago. Or that
about a third of the entire United States - 731 million acres - is covered
with trees. Or even the fact that this amount of forestland is two-thirds
of what existed in pre-Columbian America some 500 years ago.
A major reason that trees are so plentiful in America
is because people plant and grow them for use as wood products. These
trees also provide important environmental benefits, ranging from windbreaks,
shade, and soil stabilization to pure aesthetics, wildlife habitat,
plus improved air and water quality.
Forests are oxygen factories and greenhouse exchangers.
Growing just one pound of wood in a vigorous younger forest removed
1.47 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and replaces it with
1.07 pounds of life-sustaining oxygen. Carbon dioxide accounts for about
half of the world's greenhouse gases, which trap solar rays. An old
forest reverses the process, removing oxygen and emitting carbon dioxide.
As long as America continues to plant and grow new
trees for wood products, the environment will be the big winner. So
in a very real sense, wood products are the most environmentally responsible
building material anyone could ever use.
2001 Southern Forest Products Association