Florence, SC, Nov. 01, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Following is a statement from the Dogwood Alliance:We are writing from ground zero of Hurricane Florence, where floodwaters wreaked havoc on our community. This was followed almost immediately by Hurricane Michael. Thousands lost power and many that were evacuated lost their homes and have nowhere to go. People have died. The flooding has released toxic waste from hog farms and coal plants across rural communities. For the fourth year in a row in the South, massive flooding that has been scientifically linked to climate change has caused tremendous suffering with estimated economic costs totaling tens of billions of dollars.

Meanwhile, there is an underlying issue too few are talking about -- the connection between forest destruction in the U.S., climate change and the devastating impacts on vulnerable communities.

The U.S. is the world’s largest producer and consumer of wood products. Logging rates in the Southeast alone -- estimated at four times that of South American rainforests -- are among the highest on Earth.

Logging releases vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere contributing directly to climate change. In addition, logging has resulted in the replacement of most of our nation’s original, old-growth forests with younger, degraded forests and commercial tree plantations. Degraded forests leave our communities more vulnerable to forest fires, droughts and flooding. Younger trees are also far less effective at removing and storing carbon than those that are 100 years-old or older.

Living forests are the most highly evolved, efficient and proven system available for removing carbon from the atmosphere. When left standing they also provide optimal storm protection in the form of natural flood control. Letting trees grow is therefore essential to not only stopping catastrophic climate change but also protecting our communities from extreme weather events like Florence.

Yet, industrial logging, including in wetland forests along rivers, continues unabated and largely unregulated at a time when natural flood control could not be more important due to the increasing intensity of storms we are now experiencing. Recently, utilities in the U.S. and Europe started burning wood from our forests as an alternative to coal for generating electricity. Not only is this destroying forests but burning wood actually releases up to 50 percent more carbon dioxide than burning coal per unit of electricity generated - this is not the answer.

Many of the rural communities on the front-lines of this forest destruction have some of the highest poverty rates in the nation and are also bearing the brunt of the impacts of extreme weather events. Flooding waters in the Carolinas are not only damaging due to high water levels, but they also carry herbicides, fertilizers and other pollutants downstream, contaminating drinking wells and causing mold, contributing to respiratory and other health problems.

These impacts are disproportionately felt by poor and African-American communities in rural areas who do not benefit economically from logging. They will be feeling the negative and costly impacts of the hurricanes long after the news cameras are gone.

The good news is that the climate crisis is not insurmountable. Yes, we need to keep the momentum going to move away from fossil fuels toward genuinely clean, renewable energy such as solar and wind. But we also need to wake up to the vital role of forests in solving this urgent problem.

That is why a platform was recently released signed by over 200 climate, forest and justice organizations, along with scientists and elected officials nationwide, calling for forest protection to be recognized as a national climate priority.

As we continue our recovery efforts related to the immediate effects of this recent storm, we urge decision-makers to look beyond short-term economic gains and enact policies to protect forests, placing limits on logging and protecting our most vulnerable communities from extreme flooding and other detrimental impacts of climate change. As people across the country are rising up and standing for forests, our elected officials need to hear their constituents call for action.

It’s time to move beyond the fundamental misconception that just because trees are green anything we make from forests must be good for the planet. What’s best for people and the climate, hands down, is keeping our forests intact. In doing so, together we can create thriving, naturally resilient rural communities whose economies embrace diversity, foster equity and work in harmony with nature.

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Danna Smith is the Executive Director of Dogwood Alliance who mobilizes diverse voices to defend the unique forests and communities of the Southern U.S. from destruction by industrial forestry. Read more at http://dogwoodalliance.org or on Twitter - @dannadogwood

Reverend Leo Woodberry is pastor of Kingdom Living Temple in Florence, S.C. He is executive director of the nonprofit New Alpha Community Development Corporation. Read more at http://newalphacdc.com/ or on Twitter - @KingdomLiving4u

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-- Rev-Leo-and-Danna-650x515 -- Flooding—as—Neuse—River—out—of—its—banks

Scot Quaranda Dogwood Alliance 828.242.3596 scot@dogwoodalliance.org

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