Why Dead Trees Are ‘the Hottest Commodity on the Planet’

Why Dead Trees Are ‘the Hottest Commodity on the Planet’

Blame climate change, wildfires, hungry beetles … and Millennial home buyers.

The Atlantic, 2021




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The home improvement project you took on during the pandemic may have turned out to be more expensive than you expected. The reason: a sharp increase in the price of lumber from Canada in the wake of beetle attacks and forest fires. In this highly informative piece from The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer explains what’s behind this price hike – and why similar factors may cause other commodity prices to surge in the near future.


In 2020, the price of lumber in the United States increased to a record high.

From 2015 to 2019, 1,000 board feet of lumber sold for $381 in US hardware stores. A year later, the price almost tripled to $1,104. This jump is due to the collision of a sharp increase in demand and a dwindling supply – partly because of climate change. This makes lumber one of the first commodities where climate change is directly affecting American budgets. It takes 15,000 board feet of lumber to build a single-family house, so the lumber shortfall has made a typical home $24,000 more expensive, according to the National Association of Homebuilders.

Forecasters have long warned that chocolate, wine and grain production may be equally vulnerable to climate change-induced price hikes. They warn that drought across grain-growing areas could lead to “multiple breadbasket failures.”

Demand for lumber skyrocketed during the pandemic...

About the Author

Robinson Meyer is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He is the author of the newsletter The Weekly Planet, and a co-founder of the magazine’s COVID Tracking Project.

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