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Readings for Week Two: Forests at the World and National Scales

This week we will be dealing with several different aspects of forests in general: On Tuesday, the extent and condition of forests as well as the production and trade in timber products; and on Thursday forests as sources of other products and of ecosystem services.

Tuesday, April 5

Today we will read and discuss materials that will familiarize you with US and world patterns of forest and their effects on ecosystems and climate. By midnight on Monday, April 4, you should post your answers to at least one of the questions pertaining to each segment of the class. We will have a general class discussion, informed by your readings and the answers you write in your posts.

Class segment 1: World and US forests: overview
Begin by reading a summary of the state of the world's forests from the FAO Global Forest Assessment, and 1-7 of the USFS Future of America's Forests and Rangelands. In many cases, to save time you can look at tables and charts, and skim the prose. Your posts and our discussion will concern the following questions:
  • What do you think are the most important reasons why we are concerned with preserving forests worldwide?
  • Are there significant differences between the way we should regard temperate and tropical forests?
Class segment 2: Forest products: production and trade
On this topic, your posts and our discussion will center around the following questions:
  • What is the best way to balance forest preservation with forest production?
  • What does "sustainable forestry" mean?

Thursday, April 7

Today we will devote the first half of class to forests as sources of energy and the second half to forests as sources of ecosystem services.

First Half: Forests and Biofuels

Background: Biofuels and the world energy budget
First have a look at some statistics on world and US energy use, by dinking around on the International Energy Agency 's Key World Energy Statistics and the U.S. Energy Information Administration's Annual Energy Outlook report. Pay particular attention to the sources of energy and the proportion of biomass energy, which is growing but still small. When you've finished reading and dinking, but in no event later than midnight on Wednesday, April 6, you should post a short piece (200-300 words, unless you're really inspired) on what you've learned from reading about world energy trends and how it makes you feel. We will not spend class time specifically on this topic; it is background that you need to know when you consider the role of forests in energy production.

Two kinds of biomass energy

First look at a short review of the literature on biofuels and their possible role in mitigating the effects of fossil-fuel production on climate change. Notice the difference between the two most important types of biofuels: those generated from crops grown specifically for that purpose, and those generated from residues of other kinds of operations, as well as the differences between so-called first- and second-generation biofuels. Also please notice the wild variability in LCA-based assessments of the effects of switching to biofuels.

Then please read this report on woody biomass as a possible source of biofuels. For the this hour of the class today, two volunteers will report to the class and present discussion questions on the topic of whether there is any reason to produce crops for biofuels or not. In your presentations, you should also consider information from the following studies: Second half: Forests and ecosystem services

Here we take time to introduce the concept of ecosystem services, by reading the two scholarly articles from a special issue of Ecological Economics volume 69 (2010): Two more volunteers will report to the class and raise questions for discussion on the arguments about ecosystem services and whether or not they can be quantified and commodified. They should summarize the arguments both for and against quantification and commodification.