Climate change and the weevil in our midst

Pine Weevil
Pine Weevil
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

We are in grave danger from the imminent arrival of a bewildering new range of pests and diseases. Year round rises in temperature have already facilitated an increase in the numbers of insects that prey on our trees.

The Pine weevil for example will consume five times more bark at 20C as opposed to 10C. Likewise, the Leaf miner moth which arrived in Ireland in 2014 thrives on warmer climates. The Pine processionary moth similarly prospers in milder climes as do a host of others but perhaps the biggest threat to forestry may be from future storms.

These were just some of the issues raised during a recent conference held at Farmleigh House where Coillte brought together national and international forestry and environmental experts to discuss the threats posed by climate change.

The frequent storms and serious flood damage that are now part of a normal Irish winter make tackling climate change a matter of urgency. But first agreement has to be reached on what specific actions to take.

The facts relating to global warming are quite scary but at least international agreement has now been reached towards making some attempt to cooperate in dealing with the issue.

It is well known that forestry can play a large part in reducing our carbon emissions, but perhaps less well known is the massive difference timber use can make. For instance, replacing one cubic metre of concrete or red brick with the same volume of timber can save one tonne of carbon dioxide emissions.

Amazing technological developments have also taken place in the ways we now make use of wood and laminated timber products are being used for the construction of buildings like skyscrapers throughout the world.

These laminated sections have a strength that surpasses steel and given their inherent flexibility, their use can make buildings much safer in areas at risk such as earthquake zones than those constructed traditionally. Modern timber buildings are surprisingly fire resistant and overall safer than conventionally built structures as well as having excellent energy saving properties. On average, building a house in timber instead of brick reduces total carbon emissions by 10 tonnes.

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A nine-storey building containing 29 apartments for mixed residential use was recently built, entirely of timber, in only seven weeks in Hackney, London. Examples like this can be found in major cities worldwide, but of course this leads us back to urgent need for more trees.

In Ireland, over a million hectares of land with limited value for agriculture could be planted for forestry but until Irish landowners make the change from more traditional farming practices, this land will in essence lie underused and wasted. Creating more forests will only happen if the land availability problem is solved.

If we can plant 8,000 ha per annum, we will sequester 3.4-4.4 million tonnes of CO2 per annum and that is before the biomass and forest products benefits are taken in to account.

The overall message from the conference was quite simple. More trees are needed worldwide but especially in Ireland where we import so much of the biomass required for power generation and alternative heating systems.

Reading through the presentations at the Farmleigh conference encouraged me to study further and it was quite startling to discover just how long the threats of environmental destruction have been known about but little seems to be have been done to prevent it.

In recent years, deforestation in Indonesia reached almost three million acres and Norway has already donated one billion dollars towards replanting some of this area.

Rain forests

They have also donated a similar amount to Brazil. It has been finally accepted that the clearance of rain forests in South America for example can affect the climate in countries thousands of miles away but then this has been known about for at least 200 years.

Simon Bolivar, who led a revolution against the then Spanish rulers in South America in the early 1800s eventually became president of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia (which was named after him), was one of the earliest to realise the environmental damage caused by the destruction of tree cover and campaign against it.

He died at the age of 47, having ultimately failed in his efforts to create a union of South American states and halt the clearance of so much irreplaceable wilderness.

Perhaps we now need a new Bolivar to champion the cause of rescuing planet earth before we finally manage to destroy it.

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