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Re: GBlist: Wood bad?
I thought a lot about how to respond to your question. Wood is a terrific
material, as you say, it's just that it has to come from trees. These days,
our lumber is mostly cut from the national forests in the US or Canada.
The more I thought about the question, the madder I got (not at you), so
you may want to skip the rest of this message--it's a rant.
I still remember the surprise and shock, first time I saw what I can only
describe as a holocaust--a clear cut in a place I had known as healthy
beautiful forest. The slaughter was total: all the big hemlock trees cut,
the small trees and branches graded together and burned. Nothing left but
mangled earth. It was like a nuclear attack had hit the place.
The forests have been raped. And our taxes paid for it. You, Fred, and I
and everyone else paid for the roads to be built so the loggers could get
out the trees on public lands. The Forest Service has winked at the
thieves, let them cut into parks and wilderness areas, let them bail out of
unprofitable contracts without penalty, let them cut magnificent old growth
and turn it into wood chips for the Japanese. And that's only the crimes we
My father was an organizer for the woodworker's union. He believed in
cutting trees. His office wall was covered with sheets of paper, each
describing how a woodworker died while cutting or handling trees. There
were dozens of those sheets. They were about equipment failures. The one I
remember most was about a wire cable that snapped and cut a guy in half.
The timber companies didn't give a damn about workers. They still don't.
They hired goons to beat the crap out of the union organizers. When they've
logged everything, they walk away from their communities and go back to
Georgia or Lousiana. They invest in mills mainly to reduce the number of
It's no coincidence that the largest fines ever levied by EPA were against
Louisiana-Pacific. They deliberately polluted and sickened people, knowing
that the fines would be less than the profits if they got caught. A rogue
company, or all too typical of the forest products industry? Why their
ex-ceo is walking around a free rich man I don't understand.
The timber companies are lying about forests being renewable. They are
lying when they say there are more trees now than any time in history.
These are the companies who gave us particleboard loaded with formaldehyde
so they could save a few cents per sheet. The same companies who sprayed
herbicides that have caused birth defects and stillbirths among women in
Oregon so they could speed up the next harvest. The same companies who say
the landslides from clear cuts that killed 5 people this winter are not
their responsibilty. They are like the tobacco companies; they are in
denial about the damage they've caused.
When you see a photo showing how a cut forest has regrown trees--thus
demonstrating that forests are renewable--you can't walk into the place and
see how it's only trees--the rest of the forest is not there. It may
eventually recover, but it will take centuries. The timber companies want
60-year rotations. Some areas have regrown because hodads were hired to
replant; but most have been left to reseed from adjacent trees, and many
have not regrown at all. If you fly over Oregon, you see hundreds of bare
clearcuts. The old forest is gone.
Then, I go on job sites where I see 3,000 sq. ft. houses for one family,
with overbuilt framing and big scrap piles, and I have to listen to the
framers whine about how they can't take out a single stick of it or the
drywall will be wavy, and the contractors go on about how everyone has to
have 9 foot ceilings and "traditional" roofs that can only be hand-cut. I
think how the forests are being raped so we can waste the wood.
They are gluing everything together, starting with the framing. How will it
ever get unglued to recycle? Nobody knows. Framers are too lazy to keep
dirt and garbage out of the scrap pile so it can be recycled, so it ends up
as hog fuel. If we didn't count burned wood as "recycled", the rate would
If you really want to look at the 10,000 year perspective, where are all
the forests from ancient times? The Mediterranean basin was heavily
forested only about 3,000 years ago, but it's all been cut to make stuff
like ships or glass. Ephesus, third largest city in the Roman empire and a
major seaport, is now miles from the sea. They cut down all the forest
above them to build ships, and silted up their harbor. They knew it was
happening, but could not stop. OK, we lost that forest, but we have all
those wood ships to show for it, right?
It's been great to see the "good wood" movement get rolling, and to be able
to point people to wood sources that are sustainable (at least, compared to
clear cuts). We are finding clients who will pay the extra for the wood,
and we try to show them ways they can offset the extra costs. Maybe we are
changing our old habits and disregard for wood.
Here's 5 ways for wood users to respect the forest:
1. Replace Wood
Use something else. Build that wall with foam and concrete, or earth.
2. Reduce Wood
Make buildings smaller. Frame efficiently.
3. Re-use Wood
Use salvage wood. Use recycled content products.
4. Source Good Wood
Use wood from certified or well-managed forests.
5. Make It Last
Build for durability.
There, I feel better already! Thanks, Fred!!
>Why would you want to limit the use of wood products in building?
>We like cellulosic products because the fibers are inherantly
>non-conductive, these products are the only renewable building resources
>we have, it's cheap and easy (read: low impact) to fabricate into usable
>stuff like walls, it imparts a big moisture storage potential in
>building assemblies that is critical to durability, the embodied energy
>is low, the hassle of procuring these products is minimal (read: low
>impact), the distribution impact of these products is truly minimal, and
>wood fiber insulation is so superior to *anything* else that it seems
>like a gift from God. Did I mention that it's all recyclable?
>And need I say that in the eye of this beholder, wood is the most
>beautiful material that has every graced any abode?
>So please tell me what would motivate a person to rail against 10,000
>years of building evolution that has just about achieved perfection?
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O'Brien & Associates
Environmental Building Consultants
Portland General Electric Earth Smart program
This greenbuilding dialogue is sponsored by Oikos (www.oikos.com)
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