Idea #18 | Ancient Techniques May Be Employed To Solve Modern Problems

//Idea #18 | Ancient Techniques May Be Employed To Solve Modern Problems

Idea #18 | Ancient Techniques May Be Employed To Solve Modern Problems

The principles of sustainable development are simple: we should work with our environment to improve the standard of living – without impacting negatively on the ecosystems we live within. There is a great deal of focus on the impact of manufacturing, transport, and energy production on the environment, but farming is often overlooked. Grasslands (especially for cattle grazing) and croplands are net producers of carbon dioxide, where as managed forests are carbon sinks. Managed woodlands in the EU are responsible for the removal of 10.4% of the total EU greenhouse emissions every year. Management of woodlands, especially in the form of coppicing, is an excellent way to meet the principles of sustainable development.

Being Innovative Can Mean Looking Backwards

Humans have been coppicing trees since Neolithic times, thousands of years ago. There is substantial evidence to show that the development of society was made possible through the adoption of this forestry technique. Archaeologists believe that the oldest known road in the world (built nearly 5000 years ago over boggy land), was made possible through the coppicing of nearby woodland.

Not Just For Shopping Baskets

Coppicing brings up images of wicker baskets and lonely couples living deep in the woods, but this is far from the truth. Whilst monocultural forests did exist these were processed on an industrial scale. Managed forests were often mixed use, with a wide range of species growing side by side. Trees grow at different rates, so they were harvested at different times. Some trees needed to be cut regularly as fuel or whilst the shoots were still pliable, but others were left for years to be used for timber. If it were re-introduced on a large scale it would suit both local, community-based usage, and large scale farming. At a community level everyone could learn how to safely cut down small trees and use them to improve their lives.

Why Coppicing Will Work

Wood is one of man’s most ancient raw materials. With modern techniques wood can be processed so that it can take back many of the roles it formerly had in our lives, without sacrificing the durability and flexibility we have had from materials such as plastics. Aside from structural and processed uses, wood is also an excellent fuel. Wood can be burn directly to produce heat and electricity, or it can be fermented to produce fuels such as alcohol.

The Issue With Wood As A Fuel

Currently biofuels (mostly wood) make up 65% of the EU’s renewable energy. Whilst this statistic sounds very positive, it hides a dark truth – the EU is not ensuring that these biofuels come from sustainable sources. Without this protection in place, wood burning is not guaranteed to be carbon neutral, and there could be devastating consequences for the environment in terms of deforestation and the subsequent loss of biodiversity that always follows. Wood is an improvement on previous attempts to produce carbon neutral fuels from plants as there are less ethical concerns. The use of food products (such as rapeseed or sugar cane) to produce fuel oil or ethanol can have devastating impacts on food affordability.

Solution to the Carbon Problem

When wood is used as a fuel in a conventional way (even when sustainable) or food products are used, the best that can be expected is carbon neutrality. Unfortunately, due to transportation and processing issues, they often do not even meet this goal. Coppicing, on the other hand, has been shown to not simply be carbon neutral but to actually be a carbon sink (even after secondary issues such as transportation have been considered). By managing a forest (and leaving intact ever-growing root systems) coppices actually become more productive over time and lock more carbon away with each cycle.

Other Impacts Of Sustainable Forest Development

The end of coppicing also marked the beginning of the end for many species in Europe. Managed forest provided habitats for a wide range of invertebrate, small mammal and plant species that cannot survive either in the acidic and shaded conditions of softwood, or within farmed fields. A return to this ancient technique would produce raw materials, fuel, a carbon sink, jobs, and it would help to restore ecosystems that have been devastated for over a century now.

Writer: Sally Keys is a professional freelance writer with many years experience across many different areas. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family and traveling as much as possible.

2018-11-25T22:17:30+01:00May 4, 2018|stories|Comments Off on Idea #18 | Ancient Techniques May Be Employed To Solve Modern Problems