Saturday, April 12, 2008

After We Take Off the Masks of March

The country has millions of hectares of pollen-spewing biological deserts of cedar and false cypress, the wood of which is so worthless that when loggers thin the forests, they leave the downed trunks just lying on the ground...and no wood-burning thermal power stations on the drawing boards.

Am I missing something here?

Just as a means of rapidly destroying a health hazard, incineration seems a reasonable way to go. Do it up under a boiler, send the steam to generator, shovel the generated electricity on to existing transmission grid (no comments about AC versus DC please) collect the creosote as raw material for a chemicals industry and somehow work out the carbon sequestration—and off we go.

Or so one would think.

So again I ask—what am I missing here?

By the way, I spent much of Saturday in Ogose, in Saitama Prefecture, where the residents and local authorities make a concerted effort, or so it seemed at least, to make use of locally available wood in housing construction, furniture and road and trail reinforcement.

Bravo for the good people of Ogose.

5 comments:

David said...

The reason that much of this wood is not utilized for lumber is not that the wood itself is worthless, but that the cost of getting it out of the forest is so high as to make it economically unfeasible. I forget where I got this information from, but I read it years ago.

Supposedly,the reason that much of the native forest was replanted with the cedar was because the government thought it would be a great source of lumber.

Anonymous said...

I'd say you sure are missing something. First, sorry to hear you suffer from pollen allergies, but how are forests "biological deserts?"

You advocate cutting these trees down and then in the next breathe applaud Ogose for using them as building materials. So which is it? Burn the trees for electricity or cut them down for lumber?

I think the idea of burning wood for electricity is silly. Who will pay to string powerlines all over the mountains and build the power stations? And once you've cut the forests down, who pays to clean up the mess?

With the money you are implying that should be spent, you may as well cover those offensive forests in concrete.

Christopher said...

Economically unfeasible, huh? That's what tax money is for. Take all the money being spent on post offices and roads in the middle of nowhere, and spend it on cutting down the damn forests. Pave them over with concrete too, so the pollen doesn't come back.

MTC said...

anonymous -

Re: biological deserts

Nothing eats hinoki or sugi--not the needles, the bark or the seeds. There is almost no undergrowth, save a few ferns. No birds will even spend time in such forests, save a few of the members of the genus Parus.

Hinoki and sugi are poor water retainers, a sad joke when one sees so many of the plantations billed as "water retention forests."

That the resulting wood is so knotty it is scarcely usable as a building or working material (the reason why I was complimenting the craftsmen of Ogose for taking the trouble to use the wood available around them, rather than using something easier to work with) just takes one's breath away.

Re: strung over the mountains power lines

"Who will pay to string powerlines all over the mountains and build the power stations?"

We already have. Have you not been in the countryside lately? How do you think the power gets from the high dams and the nuclear power plants to the Pacific Ocean side coastal plains?

Re: land remediation

"And once you've cut the forests down, who pays to clean up the mess?"

If you think I am advocating mowing down the plantations, then moving on, making no effort to replant and restore a vital, productive zōkibayashi system or native hardwood forest, then you obviously do not have a very high opinion of me.

The points of the exercise would be manifold:

1) reduce the effects of pollen upon the workforce --a net loss in productivity in February, March and April that has been increasing steadily

2) reverse a disastrous policy of postwar forest management that has neither biospheric nor historical roots

3) reduce, even if only fractionally, the use of bunker oil as a thermal power plant fuel (check your statistics to see just how dependent Japan still is on imported oil as a heat source for electrical generators--especially after the setbacks to the nuclear power industry in the last two years)

4) revive the rural areas, which are emptying out. Surely if the forests are being used to grow trees that are health hazards, damage watersheds and economic negatives (What do I mean by economic negatives? Last year when I climbed Onoyama on April 29, Kanagawa Prefecture had a booth at the summit where those manning the booth were begging prefectural residents to become volunteer lumberjacks...Volunteer lumberjacks!) is it surprising that the residents flee?

5) once again make Japan's mountains and forests a home for eagles, bears, monkeys, northern goshawks, tanuki, voles...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous here.

Thanks for the information about hinoki and sugi. I wasn't aware of these issues with the trees.

On to your reply...

Re: Power lines

"We already have. Have you not been in the countryside lately? How do you think the power gets from the high dams and the nuclear power plants to the Pacific Ocean side coastal plains?"

That's not what I asked. I know how electricity is transported. You're talking about building new infrastructure (presumably biomass power plants) and I'm asking who will pay for them. I'm assuming subsidies would play a role, but beyond that I wonder about their viability.

The March 31 Mainichi carried an article about a Refuse-derived fuel (RDF) plant in Wakayama that was built with great fanfare only to be shut down after 4 years of operation due to crushing operating costs. Now the little town is stuck with a giant mothballed steel and concrete plant.

How much energy can be reasonably expected from a biomass power plant? What will it cost to cut down the trees and then process the wood? It seems that the pollen-causing trees are easy to harvest, but trees above and beyond these might be difficult to get at because of the terrain. If the plant can't be expected to produce a reasonable amount of energy for the money invested in it, then it's difficult to justify building them.

Re: land remediation

"If you think I am advocating mowing down the plantations, then moving on, making no effort to replant and restore a vital, productive zōkibayashi system or native hardwood forest, then you obviously do not have a very high opinion of me."

I don't know you so I can't form an opinion about you, but I found your original post skimpy on details. Now that you've added some meat, it makes more sense.

Your 5 remaining points are well-taken, but they sound a lot like the platitudes one would find in a government policy paper. They sound nice but are they realistic? It's going to take more than a forestry project to get people back to the countryside or reduce Japan's reliance on oil.