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Does planting a tree sapling quate to the fuel used in their air travel?

Why do some people believe that by planting a tree sapling it will equate to the fuel used in their air travel when it takes a few hours to burn the fuel and decades to grow the tree(s)?
Isobel Oulton from Cornwall (Aged 45-54)


One Response

  1. Plants turn carbon dioxide plus water into sugars plus oxygen. The sugars provide energy and building material to the plant. So, some of the carbon from the carbon dioxide will end up forming part of the wood of the tree. If a new forest is planted and remains established in the long term, some amount of carbon dioxide is removed from the air for the long term, due to carbon existing in the form of wood rather than carbon dioxide.

    There are three problems. As you correctly imply, it takes time for trees to grow. Secondly, a vast quantity of trees would be required to counteract all the carbon dioxide we are releasing through transport, industry and heating. There is a nice “back of the envelope” calculation in Will Cohu’s book “Out of the Woods: The Armchair Guide to Trees”, suggesting that, in the UK, we might have to plant an area of trees bigger than the whole country to have a really serious impact.

    Thirdly, if we plant trees and they all die off, without forming a permanent forest, the carbon dioxide stored in the wood is released again as the dead wood rots, i.e. there is no long-term reduction in carbon dioxide. To plant trees in a place where they will die is, from the point of view of trying to stop global warming, a pointless act.

    What should be done?

    (1) It is a good idea to try and preserve rain forests. This may not, in itself, reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, importantly, it would slow down the increase! Rain forests contain a lot of carbon in the form of wood. To burn them to make room for agriculture releases that carbon as carbon dioxide.

    (2) It is important to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we emit in other ways as well. So instead of planting trees it might be more effective to encourage schemes that cause reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, e.g. use of more efficient technology. We can aim to make a small difference personally, by changing what we do, in such a way that we cause less carbon dioxide to enter the atmosphere.

    However, these suggestions do not actually removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – they merely reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we release! If we think all we have to do to counteract our carbon dioxide emissions is to plant some saplings, we are deluding ourselves.

    I find it hard to imagine a truly successful, long-term way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere. But perhaps we can calm the increase in carbon dioxide to a level where it makes little difference to the environment. This is not at all easy because many of the things which cause emission of carbon dioxide are part of “modern life” as we live it in the UK (cars, heating, electric light, solid houses, manufactured goods, etc.). We do not wish to give these up. Also, the many people in countries where these things are less prevalent are, entirely reasonably, generally keen to acquire them. Things with rather little impact on our lives, such as more efficient cars, use of tidal power to generate electricity, and improved ground-based public transport, may be part of the way forward.

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