As we all know, trees are critical for reducing carbon in the atmosphere and help slow the escalating greenhouse effect. Many people on their own, various organizations and even companies are planting trees to offset their carbon footprint. Millions of dollars have been donated to protect the Amazon forest, the world’s largest carbon sink. But its a slow natural process and we can’t simply plant a tree and return to conducting our normal lives, thinking we’ve done everything we can to reduce our carbon footprints.
Deforestation is one of the most destructive environmental practices out there: clear cutting and burning not only releases carbon into the atmosphere, but the destruction obviously knocks out the future potential these carbon absorbing friends and it takes several decades to regain their efficiency.
At one point, the CO2 emissions from deforestation were estimated to be greater than the combined emissions of the world’s entire transportation fleet: cars, trucks, planes, trains…. That’s 20% of all CO2 emissions globally. Pretty disheartening, but regardless we all need to continue be smarter about our energy consumption, there really isn’t any other choice. But Global Change reports that in this week’s issue of Science, Antonio Regalado reports with the help of satellite imagery (recorded land clearing and fires from slash-and-burn agriculture) has shown a substantial decline in the pace of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon since 2004—from a peak of 27,000 km2/year in 2004 to 7,500 km2/year in 2009. That’s encouraging and it is mainly due to pressure from the Brazilian government along with market pressures calling for the boycott of palm oil from these areas.
You can send an economic message too by avoiding palm oil. Anyway, back to trees. Tree researcher expectations about a tree’s ability to sequester or absorb carbon, are oftentimes surpassed. And in today’s carbon-rich environment, trees seem to be working harder. Its is really a question of how much longer can trees continue to modify their absorption rates? Here’s a link to an interesting article from PBS Frontline that highlights the issues at hand in regards to trees and offsetting carbon footprints with trees. Some trees can absorb and contain up to 50% CO2.
As a young nature-lover in the making, my mother would always caution me to spend wisely because “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” But in some ways, money does grow on trees. In cities, there are what are called heat sinks, in which temperatures can be up to 20 degrees higher than normal, but trees offset the temperature impact of heat sinks. Trees offset the higher temperatures of nearby buildings which means less air conditioning is needed. Ultimately this puts money back in your pocket and in turn reduces your carbon footprint.
If trees are thoughtfully planted, the shade they provide can reduce daytime air-conditioning costs by 58%. Overall this effect over the year can help lower your bills for heating by almost 1/3. Once your tree has grown to a suitable height to provide some shade cover of your house, you will realize savings that pay for that initial investment in just one year. What’s more, established trees are care-free for most of their life, you shouldn’t need to water it much as nature should take care of that.
As a general rule, young, fast growing trees are the best carbon sink trees you can buy. Some varieties to consider include Common Horse-chestnut, Black Walnut, American Sweetgum, Ponderosa Pine, Red Pine, White Pine, London Plane, Hispaniolan Pine, Douglas Fir, Scarlet Oak, Red Oak, Virginia Live Oak and Bald Cypress.
Most types of pines are the stars of carbon absorbing trees, but you don’t need to be picky. Choosing to plant trees to reduce carbon impact is also a great way to save yourself money, help the overall environment, and provide an excellent base for a tree house, tire swing, a shaded lawn chair, or even a hammock, as well as squirrel and bird’s nests! Next planting season, seriously consider planting a tree or making a donation to your town, city, local park, or the national park system.