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Synthesis manuscript for an Ecology & Society Special Feature on Telecoupling: A New Frontier for Global Sustainability

Abstract: European demand for renewable energy resources has led to rapidly increasing transatlantic exports of wood pellets from the southeastern United States (SE US) since 2009. Disagreements have arisen over the global greenhouse gas reductions associated with replacing coal with wood, and groups on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean have raised concerns that increasing biomass exports might negatively affect SE US forests and the ecosystem services they provide. We use the telecoupling framework to test assertions that the intended benefits of the wood pellet trade for Europe might be offset by negative consequences in the SE US. Through a review of current literature and available data sets, we characterize the observed and potential changes in the environmental, social, and economic components of the sending and receiving regions to assess the overall sustainability of this renewable energy system. We conclude that the observed transatlantic wood pellet trade is an example of a mutually beneficial telecoupled system with the potential to provide environmental and socioeconomic benefits in both the SE US and Europe despite some negative effects on the coal industry. We recommend continued monitoring of this telecoupled system to quantify the environmental, social, and economic interactions and effects in the sending, receiving, and spillover systems over time so that evidence-based policy decisions can be made with regard to the sustainability of this renewable energy pathway.

Citation: Parish, E. S., A. J. Herzberger, C. C. Phifer and V. H. Dale. 2018. Transatlantic wood pellet trade demonstrates telecoupled benefits. Ecology and Society 23 (1):28. [online] URL:https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol23/iss1/art28/

Phone
Publication Year
Project Title
Bioenergy Sustainability: How to Define and Measure it
Email
parishes@ornl.gov
DOI
doi.org/10.5751/ES-09878-230128
Contact Person
Esther S. Parish
Contact Organization
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Bioenergy Category
Author
Esther Parish, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory , Anna Herzeberger, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Michigan State University , Colin Phifer, School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technological University , Virginia Dale, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
WBS Project Number
4.2.2.40
Funded from the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Bioenergy Technologies Office.

As U.S. energy policy turns to bioenergy, and second-generation biofuels in particular, to foster energy security and environmental benefits, consideration should be given to the implications of climate risk for the incipient bioenergy industry. As a case-in-point, we review evidence from the 2012 U.S. drought, underscoring the risk of extreme weather events to the agricultural sector in general, and the bioenergy supply chain in particular, including reductions in feedstock production and higher prices for agricultural commodities and biofuels. We also use a risk management framework developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to review current understanding regarding climate-related hazards, exposure, and vulnerability of the bioenergy supply chain with a particular emphasis on the growing importance of lignocellulosic feedstocks to future bioenergy development. A number of climate-related hazards are projected to become more severe in future decades, and future growth of bioenergy feedstocks is likely to occur disproportionately in regions preferentially exposed to such hazards. However, strategies and opportunities are available across the supply chain to enhance coping and adaptive capacity in response to this risk. In particular, the implications of climate change will be influenced by the expansion of cellulosic feedstocks, particularly perennial grasses and woody biomass. In addition, advancements in feedstock development, logistics, and extension provide opportunities to support the sustainable development of a robust U.S.bioenergy industry as part of a holistic energy and environmental policy. However, given the nascent state of the cellulosic biofuels industry, careful attention should be given to managing climate risk over both short- and long-time scales.

Phone
Publication Year
Email
langholtzmh@ornl.gov
Contact Person
Matthew Langholtz
Contact Organization
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Bioenergy Category
Author
Matthew Langholtz

Landscape ecology focuses on the spatial patterns and processes of ecological and human interactions. These patterns and processes are being altered by both changing resource-management practices of humans and changing climate conditions associated, in part, with increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. Dominant resource-extraction and land-management activities involve energy, and the use of fossil energy is one of the key drivers behind increasing greenhouse gas emissions as well as land-use changes. Alternative energy sources (such as wind, solar, nuclear, and bioenergy) are being explored to reduce greenhouse gas emission rates. Yet, energy production, including alternative-energy options, can have a wide range of effects on land productivity, surface cover, albedo, and other factors that affect carbon, water, and energy fluxes and, in turn, climate. Meanwhile, climate influences the potential output, relative efficiencies, and sustainability of alternative energy sources. Thus, land use, climate change, and energy choices are linked, and any comprehensive analysis in landscape ecology that considers one of these factors should be cognizant of these interactions. This analysis explores the implications of linkages between land use, climate change, and energy and points out ecological patterns and processes that may be affected by their interaction.

Phone
Publication Year
Email
dalevh@ornl.gov
Contact Person
Virginia Dale
Contact Organization
Center for BioEnergy Sustainability, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Bioenergy Category
Author
Virginia H. Dale , Rebecca A. Efroymson , Keith L. Kline

a b s t r a c t
As U.S. energy policy turns to bioenergy, and second-generation biofuels in particular, to
foster energy security and environmental benefits, consideration should be given to the
implications of climate risk for the incipient bioenergy industry. As a case-in-point, we
review evidence from the 2012 U.S. drought, underscoring the risk of extreme weather
events to the agricultural sector in general, and the bioenergy supply chain in particular,
including reductions in feedstock production and higher prices for agricultural
commodities and biofuels. We also use a risk management framework developed by the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to review current understanding regarding
climate-related hazards, exposure, and vulnerability of the bioenergy supply chain with
a particular emphasis on the growing importance of lignocellulosic feedstocks to future
bioenergy development. A number of climate-related hazards are projected to become
more severe in future decades, and future growth of bioenergy feedstocks is likely to occur
disproportionately in regions preferentially exposed to such hazards. However, strategies
and opportunities are available across the supply chain to enhance coping and adaptive
capacity in response to this risk. In particular, the implications of climate change will be
influenced by the expansion of cellulosic feedstocks, particularly perennial grasses and
woody biomass. In addition, advancements in feedstock development, logistics, and
extension provide opportunities to support the sustainable development of a robust U.S.
bioenergy industry as part of a holistic energy and environmental policy. However, given
the nascent state of the cellulosic biofuels industry, careful attention should be given to
managing climate risk over both short- and long-time scales.
Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Usage Policy
Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).
Publication Year
Email
langholtzmh@ornl.gov
Contact Person
Matthew Langholtz
Contact Organization
ORNL
Author
ORNL

Biofuels are presented in rich countries as a solution to two crises: the climate crisis and the oil crisis. But they may not be a solution to either, and instead are contributing to a third: the current food crisis.
Meanwhile the danger is that they allow rich-country governments to avoid difficult but urgent decisions about how to reduce consumption of oil, while offering new avenues to continue expensive support to agriculture at the cost of taxpayers. In the meantime, the most serious costs of these policies – deepening poverty and hunger, environmental degradation, and accelerating climate change – are being ‘dumped’ on developing countries.

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