Trees Release/Concrete Eats, Part 1

I titled the last blog “Planting Oxygen,” and for the next two posts I want to look at two different studies that have caught my eye recently that are related to that topic.

The first appeared in Science.  It said there is 0.9 billion hectares of available land sitting there just ready to become new homes for lots of trees.  This is roughly the area of the United States and using this land wouldn’t reduce natural grasslands, farms or cities. 

It is estimated that foresting this land could “trap about two-thirds the amount of carbon released by human activities since the start of the Industrial Revolution.”  (Fun related fact:  according to a great list of tree facts by North Carolina State University, “an acre of Radiata Pine trees (~120 trees) has the potential to sequester roughly 5 tons of CO2 per year.”)  That’s a pretty impressive argument for more forests, but the goodness doesn’t stop there.

Everyone knows about trees and carbon dioxide, but did you know they can also absorb other potentially harmful gasses, such as sulfur dioxide or carbon monoxide?  Trees are often depicted as the Earth’s lungs (did you know that one large tree can supply four people with a day’s supply of oxygen?), but in many ways, they are also the Earth’s air filter.  (Another fun fact:  the air’s dust level can be up to 75% lower on the sheltered side of the tree compared to the windward side.) 

It is also suggested that the trees would help cool the earth by changing out much and how the sun’s heat is absorbed.  (The American Forestry Association estimates that 100 million new trees would cut US air conditioning costs by $4 billion annually.)  It is also possible that the trees might encourage rainfall, helping arid climates become more fertile, or cooling the earth with more cloud cover.  More forests can reduce soil erosion and increase ground water storage. 

Planting billions of trees world-wide is probably the single best way to counter climate change, with huge additional benefits.  Think of the wildlife that would come with the trees. Think of the other possible gifts we could enjoy depending on what we plan—maybe maple syrup and rubber sap, or walnut and brazil nuts or pine nuts, or apples and mangos.  And think of all the new floors we could create in the future. 

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Elizabeth Baldwin is Environmental Compliance Officer for Metropolitan Hardwood Floors. In her 25 plus year career in the wood industry has visited over 70 countries and hundreds of facilities of all sizes and types. She describes herself as a “jack of all wood trades.” Familiar with jungles of all sorts–having camped out along the Amazon and walked the halls of Congress–she blogs for the NWFA on both environmental and regulatory issues for educational and informational purposes only. Her blog is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice. Persons seeking legal advice on compliance with CARB, TSCA, the U.S. Lacey Act or any other law, regulation, or compliance requirement/claim should consult with the regulatory agency directly and/or a qualified legal professional.

2 thoughts

  1. Sadly, this story is all too indicative of our over-reliance on politicians, pundits, and 16 yr old high school girls from Sweden, resulting in the general public getting suckered into believing that there is actually science behind these too-good-to-be-true claims. There isn’t. Not that there is anything wrong with planting more trees, and the other benefits associated with them. However as a cure-all for climate change? Think again.
    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/canada-forests-carbon-sink-or-source-1.5011490

  2. Thank you for your post, CB. I’d request that when you respond to posts, that you focus on the topic itself rather than including politically inflammatory language that serves no purpose beyond trying to troll the reader. You might also consider signing your name.

    As for your referenced link, thank you, it is good to have additional information presented. I did read it and see that much of the carbon release referenced comes from wildfires and beetle kill leading to rot. It talks about forestry generally providing a real “sink” and, like the other articles I cited, recognized challenges in calculating the measurements of carbon release/storage. I think your referenced article is mostly pro-tree, anti-hype which is a good thing in my mind.

    I hope that you in turn clicked through to the Science link provided, which makes it clear starting from the article’s headline (“Planting trees could buy more time to fight climate change than thought”) to the concluding paragraph:

    “Ultimately, in the struggle against climate change, such heroic tree planting merely “buys us time,” says study coauthor Jean-François Bastin, also an ecologist at ETH Zurich. But that’s time human societies could use to stop emitting greenhouse gases, the real solution to climate change, he says.”

    that planting trees is not being presented as the “cure-all,” but rather a way to assist in the fight against climate change, particularly while we work on other more extensive (and difficult) cures. That seems to mesh well with the position taken by the author of the cbc article–trees are great, but they aren’t the solution to climate change and just planting them doesn’t absolve us from the need to take other actions.

    And also you will surely be interested in next week’s post, part two of this blog, which talks in part about rotting biomass releasing carbon. Which, like your cbc article and my Science article both suggest, means it helps when we grow new trees and utilize older ones as wood, not as compost (or as forest fire fuel or insect food).

    Thank you for reading and providing additional resources.

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