A Trillion Trees and CO2

You may recall a paper last year that called for large-scale tree planting as “our most effective climate change solution to date.” And President Trump’s call for planting a trillion trees. An op-ed in today’s NY Times debunks this notion, writing that:

There is no way that planting trees, even across a global area the size of the United States, can absorb the enormous amounts of fossil carbon emitted from industrial societies. Trees do take up carbon from the atmosphere as they grow. But this uptake merely replaces carbon lost when forests were cleared in the first place, usually long ago. Regrowing forests where they once flourished can undo some damage done in the past, but even a trillion trees can’t store enough carbon to head off dramatic climate changes this century.

The op-ed mentions a rebuttal to the first paper in Science (open access), in which the authors state that”

“…regardless of the exact amount of carbon that could be stored via forest restoration, this solution can only temporarily delay future warming. The 205 GtC proposed by the authors is equal to about 20 years of global anthropo-genic CO2 emissions at the current emission rate of about 10 GtC/year (2). Without radical reductions in fossil carbon emissions, forest restoration can only offset a share of future emissions and has limited potential. The only long-term and sustainable way to stabilize the climate at any temperature target is to reduce anthropogenic CO2 emissions to zero (over the coming 30 to 50 years to meet the temperature targets of the Paris Climate Agreement).”

In any case, maintaining forest health and resilience, and reducing the chances of large, intense wildfires, is still important.

4 thoughts on “A Trillion Trees and CO2”

  1. The more I’m around large scale climate scientists like these authors sound, the less they seem aware (on both sides) of concerns and possibilities at smaller scales. These reforestation ideas, without any specificity, provide an infinite opportunity for disagreement since everyone can imagine their own bad, good, or mixed things happening and no one every specifies a time or places to get those acres.

    Takehome: scientists disagree about utility of tree planting as a carbon sink. Well, trees die as we know and get burned up, and exactly where are we going to plant them? Trump says silly things. Yawn.

    Oh, maybe on burned areas that aren’t coming back to trees. But there are other reasons for that. Why not say “some places it will help but clearly it’s not the solution to climate change but, it can help. Kind of like “there are many reasons for troublesome wildfires” it’s not all fuels, people, or climate change. Why are their so many op-eds that say ” it’s only one thing” when we all could say “everyone” farmers, tree planting, and so on, play a part.

    What concerns me about this post, again, at my own scale, which are the grasslands and forests inhabited by people, not seen from a satellite, are these quotes.

    “For example, all internal flights between American cities less than 600 miles apart could be replaced by high-speed electric ‘bullet’ trains traveling over 200 miles per hour, providing a quicker, safer and cleaner way to get around and built with American technology, steel and workers. ” I see a massive and controversial right-of- way and EIS problem. Wishing people would behave the way you want doesn’t make it so. Why are existing public transportation options running into trouble? Do we understand those aspects of human behavior? Better yet, do earth scientists understand those aspects of human behavior?

    “The focus must shift from treating climate change as a “global carbon” problem to a “carbon pollution” problem. No matter that deforestation, tilling soils for agriculture and even methane emissions from livestock and rice paddies also contribute to global climate change. All together these account for only about 20 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon pollution from fossil fuels is the overwhelming reason global climate change is such an urgent problem. Solve this, and the need for other climate change solutions is not nearly so urgent.”

    Whoa.. it sounds like tilling soils and livestock still need to go even though they are not “urgent”. this is a little scary.

    I’m going to assume that the op-ed framework did not give them a chance to show the complexity of their views.

  2. This material clearly articulates the fundamental land carbon science that exposes the erroneous assumptions and flawed logic of the entire concept of “forest offsets.” That is why we call the promotion of offsetting “soft climate science denial.”

  3. Dr. Running said the same thing. Every little bit helps, but “trees are not the answer.” Trump’s proposal is either uninformed and/or deliberately designed to take our eyes off the ball of needing to reduce carbon emissions.

  4. Even Trump’s friends don’t like the idea:
    “The sponsors of these bills seem to be conceding the argument about whether global warming is the sort of problem or crisis that needs government action,” said Myron Ebell, an executive at one of those conservative groups, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who sees alarm among environmentalists about global warming as a pretext for expanding government.


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