Plant A Tree To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Tree - Earth Day photoGreen Blizzard is always looking for ways to help the regular person reduce his/her carbon footprint. Trees are one of the best natural tools available to help offset what we are kicking out into the atmosphere everything we have a need for energy from fossil fuels.

It’s not a quick solution, but the best natural option we have on hand.

Trees perform what’s called carbon sequestration.

It’s a process by which plants take carbon out of the air and uses photosynthesis to convert it into carbohydrates to fuel their growth. You may have also heard the word “carbon sink” in reference to trees, which describes how trees store carbon in the form of cellulose. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and use it to sustain themselves, creating oxygen as a byproduct.

Currently, trees are critical for reducing our carbon footprints, as about 18 percent of carbon emissions are absorbed by existing forests every year.

Between 1952-1992, American forests were able to offset 25 percent of America’s carbon output while simultaneously housing an abundance of wildlife and creating natural beauty across our country. A terrific site full of other insights and statistics on trees is Tree Statistics.

However, most environmentally-conscious citizens can’t accept stats at face value. One of the wonderful things about numbers is that you can manipulate them to prove almost anything. One plus one doesn’t always equal two in the hands of a data analyst or astute statistician. Pine trees are some of the best carbon sinks in the world, and it takes six pine trees, with 25-year life spans each, to absorb one ton of carbon.  You can easily produce much more than this just driving around town in one year.   That’s pretty slow and takes up a lot of space.

You are probably thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot! I should buy a tree right now and offset the destruction my Hummer is wreaking upon the environment.” The problem is that the average person in an industrialized country will create 26 tons of carbon a year. In essence, you’d have to plant 6 trees x 26 tons of carbon (or 156 trees) every year to neutralize our yearly carbon footprint.  Not a practical solution.   So if you are able to plant one tree, that’s great, but don’t think you are absolved that easily.

These trees would also have to live for 25 years each to achieve the carbon absorption needed to offset your carbon footprint. What’s more, many of the offsetting carbon sites that allow you to buy trees, plant them in Third World countries where policies and governments are unstable, so it’s questionable whether the trees will be given time to grow, or whether the land they are on will be reclaimed or damaged. The bottom line is, as Americans we need to stop looking for a quick fix to environmental problems.

The tree-offsetting sites are often doing us a disservice by making it seem like a couple of trees can fix the damage being done to the environment.

More than  300 million people live in the United States. If each person in America planted 150 trees to offset their carbon outputs, it would require over 64,000,000 acres of land to be planted with trees that couldn’t be touched for 25 years. This means that in three years, Texas would be completely supplanted with trees.   

My point is not to discourage people from planting trees but to make everyone aware that we can’t expect to offset our carbon output with trees alone. Unfortunately, tree planting is not a sustainable way to totally offset your carbon footprint. However, there’s some light at the end of this tunnel, as trees can help the environment in substantial ways, and everyone should consider planting a tree for a variety of reasons.

Unlike many environmental decisions in which you are taking two steps forward while still taking a step back, planting trees is a clear step forward.

Check out our post on tree planting tips (Is Planting a Tree Difficult?) to see why every family should plant a tree for the tangible results they will get.

Trees are absolutely critical to reducing the greenhouse effect, we just need to remember that they are neither an immediate nor total answer to offset the CO2 continuing build-up.  Trees are simply one important step across a portfolio or actions we can collectively take to minimize our annual carbon footprints.

John-R-Garnett-Picture1-150x150A few resources that Green Blizzard found helpful when you plant a tree to ensure that it gets off to a great start!


About the author

John R. Garnet

John's work in the energy market fostered his interest in the environment. He recently completed his graduate work at George Mason University, But more interestingly, John has a passion for food and cooking and to provides some light-hearted tips to make people's lives greener while enjoy the good life with everyday practical tips from brewing tea, growing basil, or drinking raw milk.