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High projected demand for new housing prompts debate on best climate-friendly materials

High projected demand for new housing prompts debate on best climate-friendly materials

Different views on wood’s sustainability muddies the picture.


By Peter Fabris, Contributing Editor | September 23, 2022
New Wood Construction
Courtesy Pexels.

The number of people living in cities could increase to 80% of the total population by 2100. That could require more new construction between now and 2050 than all the construction done since the start of the industrial revolution.

The influx of urban dwellers could be accommodated in mid-rise buildings from 4 to 12 stories tall made out of wood, according to lead author of a study by Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Wood is a renewable resource that usually carries the lowest carbon footprint of any comparable, first-time use building material, the study asserted.

Moreover, carbon stored in wood, absorbed from atmospheric CO2 via photosynthesis, makes the material a long-term carbon sink. To accommodate demand for urban housing, though, a lot of wood would be needed. Wooden cities of the future would require a 149-million hectare increase in tree plantations by 2100 and more harvesting from unprotected natural forests.

One problem, some environmentalists say, is that tree plantations have less biodiversity than natural forests. Some green advocates are also critical of harvesting more wood from diverse natural forests.

Natural, biodiverse forests are more resilient to drought, fires and disease, one environmental advocate noted, and pointed out that numerous tree plantations have burned this year as record temperatures and drought impacted many areas across the globe.
 

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