Two years ago, when California’s deadly Camp Fire killed 85 people, President Trump and the GOP responded with a strategy that came straight from the logging industry: that the solution to fires is to cut down more trees. Since then we’ve heard and talked about how the administration exploited the crisis to help the industry. At the time, Sludge’s Alex Kotch made the connection between the denial rhetoric and seven-figure GOP donations from the Emmerson family, which owns the Sierra Pacific Industries logging company.
One of the key proponents of this strategy was a representative from Arkansas named Bruce Westerman, who has received twice as many campaign donations from the timber industry as he has from any other industry over the course of his career. Coincidentally, Westerman has a history of introducing logging-friendly bills under the guise of protecting forests.
As usual, time is a flat circle. Yesterday the GOP went to Axios to preview its Trillion Trees Act, which would subsidize buildings made of wood as part of its new climate denial 2.0 strategy of appearing to take action on climate change.
The lead sponsor? Bruce Westerman.
Though it didn’t mention Westerman’s prolific timber industry funding, Axios did make space to note some of the bill’s drawbacks: it doesn’t address deforestation around the world, it doesn’t have any actual emission-reduction goals, and the namesake Trillion Trees refers to the international program, whereas the US would only need to plant an extra 800 million trees annually to reach its 3.33 billion-tree-a-year share of those trillion.
To be fair, “The 800 Million Tree Bill” doesn’t have quite the same ring, so we’ll give them that. But unfortunately, per the headline of a NYT op-ed by three scientists yesterday, “planting trees won’t save the world.”
There are a number of reasons that trees alone won’t save us, especially if we don’t stop burning fossil fuels. As the authors explain, reforestation now is good, and will absorb carbon, “but this uptake merely replaces carbon lost when forests were cleared in the first place, usually long ago. Regrowing forests where they once flourished can undo some damage done in the past, but even a trillion trees can’t store enough carbon to head off dramatic climate changes this century.”
Ultimately, trees are only a stop-gap solution that buy us a few decades of carbon storage, even when the wood traps carbon by making buildings, because eventually the trees will die and the buildings will come down. And when they do, that carbon will be returned to the cycle.
But that may be overthinking it, considering this new plan to fight climate change with trees is really just a policy to give public money to the industry that cuts down trees.
Why the GOP is happy to provide the industry causing climate change with public money, but is reluctant to support the industries fixing it would be unclear, if OpenSecrets weren’t here to show us that the root of it is as simple as campaign contributions.
One day, the towering influence of industry-funded climate denial may fall. But until then, beware of deniers barking “Timber!”
Top Climate and Clean Energy Stories: