It has occurred to me in the last few days that one of the aspects of trying to live as sustainable a life as possible is that one is often challenged by people along the lines of “Well, your efforts are all well and good, but what good do they really do when ….?” and cite some “statistic” or “fact” that in their mind challenges the whole point of trying to live sustainably.
Maybe one thing this blog can do is to provide answers to some of these challenges.
A good one arose in the days following the recent Tasmanian bushfires. I’ll let the Philip Gibbons from the Australian National University tell the story as he did for The Conversation on January 10:
Fact check: do bushfires emit more carbon than burning coal?
By Philip Gibbons, Australian National University
“Indeed I guess there’ll be more CO2 emissions from these fires than there will be from coal-fired power stations for decades.” – acting Opposition leader, Warren Truss, January 9, 2013
On Wednesday, leader of the National Party and acting Opposition Leader, Warren Truss claimed carbon emissions from the current bushfires are equivalent to decades of carbon emissions from coal-fired power.
The current bushfires are so large that the statement by Warren Truss seems plausible.
This spurred me to do some research to find out.
Coal-fired power stations in Australia emit around 200 million tonnes of CO2 per year. This does not include emissions from our coal exports.
Around 30 tonnes of CO2 per forested hectare were emitted by the Black Saturday Fires in 2009.
Bushfires this year have so far burned around 130,000ha of forest, so have emitted nearly 4 million tonnes of CO2.
So, the bushfires this year have emitted an amount of CO2 equivalent to 2% of Australia’s annual emissions from coal-fired power.
The current bushfires must burn an area of forest greater than Tasmania to generate CO2 emissions equivalent to a year of burning coal for electricity.
And the current bushfires must burn an area of forest the size of New South Wales to generate CO2 emissions equivalent to a decade of burning coal for electricity.
However, the carbon emitted from bushfires is not permanent. Eucalypt forest regenerates after fire, and will quickly begin to sequester from the atmosphere the carbon that has been lost from the current bushfires.
The same cannot be said of coal-fired power stations.
Read more about the relationship between bushfires and emissions.
Philip Gibbons receives funding from the Australian Government, the Government of the Australian Capital Territory and the Australian Research Council.
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