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Thank God for Trees and Responsible Lumbering

In Genesis 1:28–30, God commands humanity to rule over all the earth and to manage the planet’s resources for the benefit of itself and all life. Key to that ruling responsibility are the “green plants.” In Genesis 1:30, God explains that “everything that has the breath of life” is fundamentally dependent upon green plants (the Hebrew word here, deshe’, is generic for all photosynthetic life) for food.

Trees make up a substantial part of continental green plants. Because of their great height and mass, they remove huge quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester much of that carbon dioxide as wood and bark in their roots, trunks, and branches. Consequently, scientists, economists, politicians, and citizen groups who are concerned about global warming have, for several decades, strongly advocated for the protection of virgin forests, which harbor more than twice the quantity of carbon per acre compared to second-growth (or re-growing) forests.

However, a recent paper challenges the wisdom of banning lumbering to avoid global warming.1 A team of forest ecologists focused their research on the Amazon jungle, Earth’s biggest forest carbon sink. While acknowledging that the Amazon’s virgin forests house a large store of carbon, the team measured rates of carbon sequestration in re-growing forests. Their results show that second-growth forests (areas that have been logged, replanted, and allowed to re-grow) exhibit a rate of carbon sequestration up to twenty times greater than what virgin forests manifest. Evidently, re-growing forests grow at much faster rates than virgin forests and, thus, the rate at which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere is much higher.

Another important difference between virgin and second-growth forests is the amount of dead and decaying wood. Old trees die at a much higher rate than young trees. When these dead trees decay, they release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. Therefore, virgin forests, if left untouched, might actually exacerbate global warming.

The suggested solution is to harvest virgin forests and older second-growth forests before the death rate of the trees rises and becomes problematic. If the harvested wood is transformed into lumber, buildings, and furniture, it will more effectively sequester carbon than old trees. Meanwhile, re-growing forests will continue to suck carbon from the atmosphere at enhanced rates and produce lumber more rapidly.

The research team closed their paper with an important caveat. They measured a huge difference between “reduced-impact logging techniques” and “conventional,” or traditional, logging. The carbon sequestration rate for forests logged via reduced-impact methods was 560 percent higher than for conventionally logged forests.

Another important caveat is that clear cutting Amazon forests to creature pastureland and grain farms is one of the worst endeavors in response to global warming. Pastures and grain fields exhibit rates of carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere far below those of tropical forests. They also lower rainfall rates dramatically. Furthermore, Amazon soils are much too nutrient-poor to sustain pastures and grain fields long term.

This research is yet another confirmation of the creation care principles in Job 37–39. In my book Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job, I proposed that God has designed Earth and its life so that solutions to our problems in managing planetary resources will require neither a sacrifice of ethics nor a sacrifice of economic well-being.2 The team of forest ecologists demonstrated that logging, done the right way, with the right objectives, can dramatically boost a region’s economy while simultaneously handling forests in the best possible way to address global warming and climate instability issues. They also demonstrated that we should always look for God’s solutions to our environmental problems and not lean on our own understanding, for we, Earth, and all Earth’s life have been created by a God who loves and cares for all His creatures.

  1. F. Bongers et al., “The Potential of Secondary Forests,” Science 348 (May 8, 2015): 642–43.
  2. Hugh Ross, Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 62–68, 159–61.