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Forests Are Not Fuel: Encyclopedia Chapter

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Post Last Updated: December 2022

About This Piece

This piece was originally created & published in January 2020

This one was fun to write, but it's landed in a weird place on the web. It's owned by Elsevier, who owns the Encyclopedia of the World's Biomes, where it was published. We contributed this chapter discussing the history and implications of bioenergy usage in the United States.


As the world seeks solutions to climate change, and in light of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, attempts to decarbonize the electric power sector by 2050, a primitive form of energy generation has reemerged as a possible environmentally-friendly solution to fossil fuels. Bioenergy, defined here as the process of turning woody plant based matter into a combustible fuel used in the electric power generation sector, is perhaps the oldest source of energy that humans have known. While bioenergy has been branded as an environmentally-sound solution to the problems of electric power sector decarbonization and climate change, there are a number of issues with an increased global dependence on bioenergy as a replacement for fossil fuels.

This article details the current trends in bioenergy in the United States and globally, with a focus on the European Union. We detail why there has been an increased interest and demand for bioenergy as a substitute for fossil fuels in the electricity sector. Then, we examine the climate impacts of burning forests as fuel. Finally, we document the troubling ecological impacts of increased bioenergy production, alongside some of the troubling human community impacts that arise as a result of bioenergy harvesting, logging, processing, and shipping.

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