Polluters are using forests as ‘carbon offsets.’ Climate change has other plans.
Billions of dollars hinge on forests soaking up CO2 for decades to come. What happens when drought and fire kill the trees?
On July 6, 2021, lightning ignited a fire in the Fremont-Winema National Forest of southern Oregon, in an area packed with dead trees from a mountain pine-beetle outbreak. Fueled by drought, the Bootleg fire exploded, at one point consuming 1,000 acres per hour. Flames pushed out of the national forest, racing through white fir, ponderosa, and lodgepole pine owned by timber company Green Diamond.
Hundreds of miles north, in a Seattle suburb, Elizabeth Willmott was tracking events closely. As the carbon program director for technology giant Microsoft, she had a special interest in Green Diamond’s Klamath East forests: They were storing some of her company’s carbon.
Microsoft has committed to one of the country’s most ambitious corporate carbon-cutting