FOLK believe that it’s OK to have a wood burning open fire because the CO2 produced was originally in the air they breathe, and it will be captured again by another growing tree. It’s different from coal’s CO2 from 200,000,000 years ago, and this imported extra is the one making the climate warmer.

They may be right domestically, with wood burning stoves all the rage, but only if they use young local trees and waste wood but that’s a minute fraction of the volume now burned to produce electricity, and that’s where the problem starts.

The Yorkshire power station at Drax, the second largest in Europe, trialled bio-mass burning in 2004, using plantation willow grown locally but that soon stopped as wood fuel had to be imported. It’s only recently that three of its six generating units have changed from coal to wood, with most of it coming from the eastern USA and Canada.

Well over ten million tonnes of wood are now being burned at Drax, and the smaller plants in Wales and the North East, with over 98 percent of it imported. Once cut mechanically it can be 200 miles from the US coast, travelling there by road and rail, and then over 3,000 miles by sea to Hull, before rail again to Drax. There’s a major extra CO2 output from all this transport as well as shaping the pellets and baking the wood to meet UK pest control laws.

The older, natural forests still absorb carbon, with root and leaf growth, and they provide ideal natural environments for wildlife, unlike the sterile young plantations that are replacing them. Burning a mature tree produces tonnes of CO2 immediately, whereas the replacement sapling could take up to fifty years to recapture that quantity and store it.

Trees should be growing, not burning and bio-energy is not the answer.