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Forests are known carbon sinks. Will removing trees to expand solar sites be adverse to the effort of climate change mitigation?

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Short Answer
Although deforestation through clear cutting and burning contributes 20% of net global greenhouse gas emissions—and so is directly antithetical to climate change mitigation—tree removal is necessary to provide adequate room for renewable projects. Consequently, a balance must be reached between the development of renewable energy and conservation of forest habitat.

Long Answer
I. Deforestation through clear cutting and burning contributes approximately 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions [1]. Clearing forests is a major contributor to climate change and provides essential habitat for conservation. Any removal of trees should not be taken lightly.

II. Solar arrays require swaths of unshaded land to generate electricity. Providing these spaces may be accomplished through i) the utilization of brownfields, ii) repurposing landfills and disturbed sites, or iii) clearing low-priority forested patches. Audubon believes that solar projects should be sited on already disturbed sites.

III. A study from the University of Central Florida [2] (2013) quantified carbon sequestration from a patch of pine flatwoods and from a solar site of equal area. The results demonstrated that carbon dioxide emissions were far less for the solar array than the forested strip.

IV. Although issues surrounding conservation and carbon capture from forests are incredibly important and should never be tabled, the threat of climate change is ever-growing and needs bold solutions. Placement of solar arrays on rooftops, carports, brownfields, and disturbed sites should be the priority.



[1] https://www.edf.org/sites/default/files/10537_Q_and_A_Deforestation_%20Forest_Carbon_and_Climate_Protection.pdf
[2] https://www.green.ucf.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Solar-or-Forest-Report.pdf

 

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