Canada’s Boreal Forest Is a Carbon Bomb Unless We Keep It Intact

Why we must stop logging companies from destroying the boreal in order to avoid catastrophic warming of our climate.

This is a transcript of the video.

Here we are in a cold, wet boreal bog in Canada, where the moss grows quickly and the trees grow slowly.

When the trees die and fall, that dead wood sits in an acidic, low-oxygen environment where bacteria is very, very slow to break it down, so it continues to hold its carbon. The next year's dead stuff falls on top of it, and more falls on top of that, so this peat moss builds up over millennia and grows meters and meters deep.

If you burned all of the oil you could possible extract from all the fossil fuel reserves around the world, it would release less than the amount of carbon that is currently stored in Canada's boreal forest.

This is what's called a carbon sink: Carbon sinks pull carbon out of the atmosphere and stash it away.

A lot of discussion about stopping global warming focuses on reducing our carbon emissions. That is a very good idea. But we also need to keep carbon that is locked up in forests out of the atmosphere in order to stay below 2 degrees of global warming, which scientists agree is a critical threshold for life on earth as we know it.

If you log this forest, you're basically exposing it to a lot more oxygen, and the peat starts decomposing. There's a huge initial release of carbon when the trees in a forest are clearcut, and over time that area continues to emit carbon.

Each year, clearcutting across the boreal forest releases more than 26 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That's more than the annual emissions of some entire countries.

Some people claim that replanting the forest cancels out those emissions, but that's not true. The rate at which growing baby trees can pull carbon out of the air is not matching the pace of clearcutting. And these new forests are not reclaiming all the very old carbon that was released when ancient soils were turned over during logging.

There are alternative ways to produce things like toilet paper and newspaper besides destroying intact forest.

Indigenous peoples have lived off of and cared for the Canadian boreal for generations. They've seen firsthand how logging forever alters the character of the forest and how wildlife don't return to replanted mono crops of new trees. They have been stewards of the forest for thousands of years. Maybe we should be taking our forest-management cues from them.

As the climate changes, the boreal is projected to warm much more quickly than other parts of the world. The double whammy of both logging and warming will weaken one of our strongest defenses against climate change: a large, intact boreal forest.

This forest will become a carbon bomb that will not only forever alter the lives of indigenous peoples, but all our lives, if we don't do everything we can to protect it.

This story is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the story was originally published by and link to the original; the story cannot be edited (beyond simple things such as time and place elements, style, and grammar); you can’t resell the story in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select stories individually; you can't republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our stories.


Companies need to both protect forests and cut carbon emissions in order to fight climate change (and look good doing it).

On Location

One of the most majestic old-growth forests on earth, Canada’s boreal is becoming a wasteland due to rampant logging.

Madagascar deforestation
Latest News

Food insecurity, biodiversity collapse, and skyrocketing global temps loom. But a new U.N. report says we have the tools to fix it.

Personal Action

In the United States, we consume more than 15 billion pounds of tissue each year—more than 50 pounds per person. It’s taking a major toll on forests like the Canadian boreal.

NRDC in Action

For more than a decade, NRDC has worked with indigenous communities in Alberta, U.S.-based grassroots groups, and intergovernmental bodies to halt the expansion of dirty tar sands oil.

Action Figure

Valérie Courtois is guiding an indigenous-led conservation strategy for one of the world’s last great forests.

Policy Primer

The answer lies not just in the carbon-capturing trees but also in the undisturbed boreal soils.

On Location

The Cree First Nation of Waswanipi speak out on how Canada logging companies could devastate their ancestral heartland and decimate homes of imperiled wildlife.

What's At Stake

Not only is this forest home to millions of indigenous people and endangered species, it’s also indispensable in helping us win the fight against climate change.


Forests are among our greatest allies in the global warming fight. Let’s protect them so they can protect us.

Action Figure

What is it like to study one of North America’s most elusive mammals? Meet wildlife ecologist Tyler Rudolph, whose boreal caribou research may help the threatened animal survive.

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.