Thoughts on global warming, trees and lumber

Every since I saw Al Gore’s movie The Inconvenient Truth I’ve been reading a lot of books about global warming – both the science that leads to the conclusion that this is really happening and possible solutions to the problem. I find it is a very interesting but also very scary subject. As I’ve been reading these books and articles I have found myself wondering what I should do about the fact that I’m a woodworker who relies on someone cutting down trees so that I have lumber to make into furniture.

Since an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the main cause of global warming and trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, it would seem that cutting down trees is a bad idea. Less trees means less carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere. However, when trees die they decompose and release the carbon back into the environment. When a mature tree is cut down and sawed into lumber the carbon remains stored in the lumber rather than being release through decomposition. Of couse the whole tree is not usable for lumber. The limbs can be cut into firewood or chipped and burned. This releases the carbon but no more than would have been released if it had decomposed and burning it provides heat that can be used for heating or generating electricity or both.

This all makes it sound like cutting trees down is good. The problem is if all the trees are cut down this can change the enviroment of that area. In the rain forests this is particularly true. These forests have developed over thousands of years and are perpetuated by the fact that the forests themselves create a lot of the moisture necessary to sustain them. The Amazon rainforest creates up to 50% of its own rainfall ( This means that cutting portions of the rainforests down threatens the viability of the remaining rainforests. This is why it is important that forest are responsibly managed so that they remain viable as forest while also providing trees that can be harvested for lumber and other uses.

Because I believe it is important to encourage and reward those who are making the effort to ensure that forest are being responsibly managed I now pay very careful attention to what the source is for the lumber I use in my furniture. I currently have 2 main sources. The first is lumber that has been harvest from forests that are enrolled in Vermont’s current use program. Forests enrolled in this program must follow accepted forestry guidlines for sustainable management. The other reason I prefer this lumber is that it has not travel a long distance to get to me. It is grown, sawn, dried and turned into furniture all in Vermont. When Vermont lumber is not available I purchase FSC certified lumber. This is lumber that is certified to have come from forests that are responsibly managed. Only when I can’t find what I need from one of these two sources do I purchase lumber what I refer to as “traditional sourced” lumber. This is lumber that may or may not have come from responsibly managed forests.

When I receive the lumber at my shop each board is marked as to its source. When lumber is picked out for a piece of furniture the quantity and source of all the lumber in that piece is recorded so the customer can know what percentage of lumber in their furniture was harvested from responsibly managed forests. This system takes a little getting used to but I think it is very important to encourage the responsible management of forests and lumber suppliers who sell this lumber as well as customers who care about where the wood for their furniture comes from.

Richard Bissell builds Shaker Furniture in Putney, Vermont


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