One Trillion Trees
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Sunday February 16, 2020 – One Trillion Trees – In late January world leaders gathered in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. The biggest surprise of the meeting was that President Trump acknowledged that the world was warming and pledged the US will join an effort to plant one trillion trees.
The Good - Planting one trillion trees is a good way to help slow down global warming.
The Bad - Planting one trillion trees is not going to stop global warming, only put off the worst effects for a few years.
The Ugly - While President Trump included planting one trillion trees in his State of the Union address on February 5, he omitted any mention of this in his 2021 budget. This doesn't necessarily mean no action is going to be taken as Congressman Bruce Westerman (R-AK) has already introduced a bill that will plant one trillion trees worldwide by 2050.
This looks like a good start and I hope that this will lead to a bipartisan effort to push this bill though. However, in his statement Congressman Westerman appears to be more interested in providing more profit for the logging industry than actually address climate change. He said “The legislation will increase our logging output, rightfully recognize the carbon neutrality of biomass, and provide a commonsense solution to carbon in the atmosphere without needlessly driving up the cost of energy."
We all know that planting trees is good for the environment but how much of an impact does it really make. The amount of carbon dioxide a tree sequesters is dependent on many variables but a average of about 50lbs per year is what we expect. The tree will continue to absorb at this rate until it reaches maturity, which usually takes about 10 years, after which the amount of absorption greatly diminishes.
Let's put a little bit of context. Burning a gallon of gas produces about 19.6lbs of CO2 so if you plant a tree in your garden then the 50lbs of CO2 it absorbs each year will cover the CO2 produced by burning about two and a half gallons of gas. If you have a small sized SUV like a Ford Escape and fill up each week with about 10 gallons of gas, you are going to have to plant 4 trees per week just to keep up with the CO2 you are producing The good news is that these Trees will offset that week's gas consumption for the next 10 years after which carbon sequestration will begin to diminish. Hopefully fuel economy will have improved to the point where the trees will still absorb enough CO2 to cover the fuel burned after the initial 10 year period, but we are still talking about planting 208 trees to offset the CO2 produced by a single car.
There are 253 million cars and trucks on US roads and they have an average fuel economy of 25.9 mpg. If they average 15,000 miles per year the number of trees needed to offset the annual CO2 production would be about 2 trillion so clearly planting a trillion trees is not going to cut it.
There are other issues too. Forest fires can release large volumes of CO2 as we saw in the California and Australia last year. While trees are long lived they eventually die and decompose which also releases CO2 and Methane. This decomposition can take years so the amount of CO2 released is much less than in a fire but eventually most of the CO2 is being put back into the atmosphere. This can also be reduced by cutting down mature trees and turning the wood into lumber that can be used in construction etc. The cut area can then be replanted and get the benefit of greater CO2 absorption from immature trees.
The other problem is where to we put the trees. Much of the space needed has already been cleared and turned in arable land and with a rapidly growing world population we are not going to be able to revert it back to forest without risking extensive food shortages. We also need to keep in mind that most trees are dark in color, meaning they are going to absorb heat coming in from the sun. If we plant green trees on what is currently a light background, we may actually cause more problems than we solve because heat is being absorbed instead of being reflected back into space.
I'm not against planting trees, it is something we need to do right now, I am just concerned that the planting of a trillion trees will be considered enough to stop global warming. I also worry that the Trump administration will not follow through on their pledge, or will plant some trees but not enough. While planting trees is a good idea we need to stop using fossil fuels if we are to avert the worst impacts of climate change.
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