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'Burning forests for fuel removes an active carbon sink and releases more greenhouse gasses than coal,' writes the mayor of South Miami, a city now directly threatened by rising seas caused by global warming. (Photo: Dogwood Alliance/Facebook)

Protecting Forests Is Our Best Defense Against Natural Disasters

Philip K. Stoddard

October 13th is the United Nations’ International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction. Today, I joined local elected officials ranging from Virginia to Florida to recognize the importance of Southern forests in protecting coastal communities. We are urging decision-makers in Europe and the U.S. Senate to address the flawed bioenergy policies that are driving the destructive logging of our forests, particularly precious bottomland coastal forests.

"As storms become more frequent and intense (e.g., Hurricane Matthew), coastal communities need to strengthen defenses not weaken them."

Forests play a crucial role in our fight against climate change by pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in wood, roots, and soil microbes.  In addition, coastal forests lessen the destructive power of storm surges, flooding, and hurricanes.  We read headlines about devastating mud-slides caused by deforestation in Haiti, yet US policies are allowing the same misguided practice in our country.  The Netherlands, always on the front edge of water-related innovation, is planting trees as protection to absorb wave energy from powerful coastal storms.

Despite our understanding of the value of forests here in the U.S., we still ship over six million tons of wood pellets to Europe as fuel under the guise of ‘renewable energy’.  Renewable energy is supposed to stop climate change, not hasten it.  Burning forests for fuel removes an active carbon sink and releases more greenhouse gasses than coal.  Cutting native forests that support a rich diversity of wildlife and replacing them with tree farms to fuel another country's 'renewable' energy needs impoverishes us three times over.  It puts our own communities at risk by compromising our climate and storm protections, and threatens our nation’s biodiversity.  Now, the U.S. Senate is doubling down on this bad idea by proposing rules to increase the use of our forests as fuel here in America.

Sea levels are rising and the threats from climate change to the citizens of South Florida grow every day. As storms become more frequent and intense (e.g., Hurricane Matthew), coastal communities need to strengthen defenses not weaken them. Our Southern forests provide vital protection from extreme weather and we cannot afford to lose any more.  To ensure our economic prosperity, to protect our health and children, to ensure our security and safety, and to protect our wildlife we need to act now to keep natural forests intact. Please help is by joining me in calling on your elected officials to stand up for protection of our nation’s forests.


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Philip K. Stoddard

Dr. Philip K. Stoddard has been a professor of biology at Florida International University since 1992.  He is in his fourth term as Mayor of South Miami. In 2015 Mayor Stoddard was appointed by the White  House to the Governance Coordinating Committee of the National  Ocean Council where has developed national policy for sea level rise.  He has been featured in The New York Times, Time, National Geographic, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Stern, The Bond Buyer, NPR,  PRI, BBC, MSNBC, and numerous documentaries.  In 2016, Mayor Stoddard was named to the Politico50 for his blunt explanations of the economic consequences sea level rise.

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