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What the graphic shows clearly is that planting trees to offset emissions is far from a viable solution. Projects that offset carbon emissions are certainly beneficial and should be applauded. Every step in the right direction is a good one and we should all be supporting these efforts on a personal and corporate level. However, no amount of reforestation or avoided deforestation will have an effect on the overall situation. The numbers that I used are based on United Nations statistics and are located here.

You'll notice interestingly they do not include carbon emissions from deforestation but only from human fossil fuel combustion. For each country, the number of tons per year was used in the following equation to arrive at the square km area for that country:

Country's Annual Carbon Emissions in Tons x 100 trees per ton x 8 square meters per tree x 10[-6] conversion = area in square kilometers

The figure of 100 trees to offset each ton of carbon emissions is the most critical and yet most uncertain of the variables. The complicating factors can be understood by seeing this and this and this just to pick a few. My reasoning is that I have seen figures that range from 40-80 trees per ton per year and I've seen suggestions that each tree can absorb 1 ton of carbon over its lifetime. It depends greatly on the species and the latitude in which they are planted (trees nearer the equator are more efficient at carbon uptake on average). Assuming that the trees are planted as large saplings, they will take time to reach their full potential, so for the purposes of this overview, an average of 100 trees per ton per year seemed like a good average.

It is interesting to compare this graphic with the similar graphic of the surface area required to fuel the world with solar power which was posted in a previous diary.

As the world prepares for Copenhagen on December 7th, we should all get it clear in our heads that the magnitude of the problem is such that we can not hope for easy solutions. What is required is a massive and centralized effort if we are to meet the 2°C maximum target. This article in Science Daily is a good read.

The study also shows that, if all conservatively estimated available fossil fuels were to be burnt, two to three times more CO2 than allowed for the 2°C target would be emitted. This only takes into account the fuels which are already known and which are economically viable to extract. The fossil fuels will therefore not run out before the maximum CO2 emission calculated by scientists is reached. If we continue to use them, this must take place in combination with effective technologies which capture the CO2 and extract it from the atmosphere.

Originally posted to intrados on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 01:53 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (16+ / 0-)

    Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear. ~William E. Gladstone, 1866

    by intrados on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 01:53:04 PM PST

  •  What about maechanical or chemical... (4+ / 0-)

    ...capture from the atmosphere?

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 01:54:31 PM PST

  •  one additonal carbon sink is the CaCO3 of (3+ / 0-)

    the shells zooplankton, which could bloom in response to available CO2, then sediment to the ocean bottom, eventually becoming chalk, marble, and limestone.

    Working against that is the increased acidity of water containing dissolved CO2 (as carbonic acid), which tends to dissolve the shells.

    Thanks for the diary and the compelling graphic. Tipped, rec'd.

    Fear is the mind-killer - Frank Herbert, Dune

    by p gorden lippy on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 01:58:00 PM PST

    •  Yes, the graphic ignores oceans for simplicity... (3+ / 0-)

      Every year we are collectively adding 10% more to the atmosphere than would be occurring by natural causes (animals, volcanoes, wildfires) which means that the balance has been shifted. The natural CO2 sinks (plants and oceans) can not keep the equilibrium. The excess that is being taken in by the oceans (about 1/3 of the anthropogenic CO2) is lowering the alkalinity of the water (acidification) with serious effect on marine habitats. But what is worse, as ocean temperatures rise, the ability of the water to take in CO2 diminishes, thus leading to a spike in atmospheric levels – a negative feedback loop.

      Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear. ~William E. Gladstone, 1866

      by intrados on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 02:01:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Point of clarification: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, JeffW

    Does the above graphic and the numbers it is derived from include or exclude trees that we already have?  I'm assuming that the numbers reflect the trees that we would need on top of what we already have, but want to make sure my assumption is correct.

    -7.12, -7.54 / "Health care reform will never take place until Rahm Emanuel is strangled with the entrails of Frank Luntz." - Diderot

    by Big Tex on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 02:00:30 PM PST

    •  Includes (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Big Tex, JeffW

      The trees we already have (or had - as they disappear) are perfect to offset naturally occurring CO2. Prior to the industrial revolution there was a balance. Since then, we have raised the parts per million by 35%. The graphic only shows what additional trees would be required to offset the human added CO2 each year based on 2006 levels.

      Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear. ~William E. Gladstone, 1866

      by intrados on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 02:04:54 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Interesting I guess, but.... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, catfood, A Siegel, JeffW

    I don't understand the point of trying to show what it would take to theoretically counter all anthropogenic CO2 emissions by one means at a time.

    No one has suggested that it could be done through one means.

    The previous diary link showing land use for solar and wind for a similar impact are completely misleading, because of the issues of intermittency of those sources, transmission, distance from the energy source to the load, etc.

    It's interesting but it doesn't illustrate anything that could actually occur, in terms of the generation sources.

    This is not what I thought I'd be when I grew up.

    by itzik shpitzik on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 02:06:44 PM PST

    •  No one is suggesting that we use only one means. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, catfood, JeffW, antooo

      But what is certain, and what I'm attempting to point out is that we have to do ALL of these things as quickly as possible. The solar power graphic is not meant to show the actual locations of the installations. The areas are shown centralized so that it can be read graphically. Ideally, the more diversified the better as the text states. Best if every building is its own source. And the issues of transmission and storage are very solvable.

      Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear. ~William E. Gladstone, 1866

      by intrados on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 02:12:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well (0+ / 0-)

        But the more diversified, the less effective the locations will be on average and therefore more costly.

        The transmission issues for large scale wind & solar are quite huge actually (and will take very large scale generation to solve our problems and meet the increased demand coming from Asia and eventually Africa, plus new uses that replace liquid fuels like transportation). The physics of transmission, even new age DC transmission, do constrain how much intermiitent supply can be handled. Distributed generation will help but we have to have some pretty huge new generation too.

        Storage of large scale wind & solar? I know the concepts for that but we need to maintaqin some skepticism, much as I'd like to believe....

        This is not what I thought I'd be when I grew up.

        by itzik shpitzik on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 02:20:51 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Agreed. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Suppose we cut half of the excess emissions (very optimistically!) through conservation, and the rest by a combination of artificial sequestration, tree planting, conversion to non-carbon sources, and whatever other means prove most effective.

        It's not crazy. It will be very difficult, but it can be done.

        I hope.

    •  Agreed ... (0+ / 0-)

      Here is the biggest problem with the diary, to me:

      However, no amount of reforestation or avoided deforestation will have an effect on the overall situation.

      E.g., forest protection and reforestration won't be THE Silver Bullet to solve our problems.

      Neither will energy and resource efficiency.

      Neither will clean energy.

      Neither will biochar/agrochar.

      Neither will conservation.

      Neither will ...

      There is almost certainly NO SILVER BULLET (if one emerges, great) to the climate crisis.

      On the other hand, I think it useful to help bound problems to measure / analyze what it would take in "Silver Bullet" terms to deal with the problem solely with one tool. How many sq miles of solar pv to power the US? How many tons of steel for wind? How much ...

  •  The idea that *anything* meaningful in (2+ / 0-)

    this area is pure fantasy.

    Heck, look what we have accomplished a couple decades after this became an urgent problem - a cap & trade "solution" that is essentially at the whims of financial markets (which we all know are  well beyond the control of any government on earth . . .).

  •  Interesting, thanks. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, JeffW

    Are these your own graphics or are you getting them from somewhere else?  And is there one on wind power?

    •  yes (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, JeffW

      They are a product of the Land Art Generator Initiative which is mine and my wife's project.

      Wind image is here but it's not as polished a graphic. It again makes obvious the fact that no one technology alone will be the savior. We need to nurture and incentivize them all and so so as quickly as possible.

      Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear. ~William E. Gladstone, 1866

      by intrados on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 02:23:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Sorry if I missed it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    (didn't see it in your links) but there recently Vol 325, Issue 5948, Pages 1585-1740 was an issue of Science devoted to carbon sequestration.

    The point being, there seems to be quite a few things that could be done if there was the political will to do so.

  •  tree-planting reduces co2 and also ensures (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marja E

    that your surface area will not be turned into a parking lot.  conservation will play a key role in addressing this challenge.

  •  I''m nowhere near a "scientist" (0+ / 0-)

    But it seems as if ignoring the methane deposits in melting permafrost and in cold water ocean floors might be a pretty big mistake in frequently published "calculations."

    It's a biosystem, not a math problem.

    Look! A recently married gay immigrant couple at an abortion clinic! Teabags!

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 03:18:19 PM PST

  •  I appreciate the work you put in (0+ / 0-)

    on this graphic and diary, but it's really hugely misleading.

    I know you say your intent is to show that a multifaceted approach is needed, but the diary leaves the impression that your position is "woe is me, the world is going to end, nothing we do will help."

    Well of course, everything we do to address the problem will help. No single thing will be the solution -- not reforestation, not wind, not solar, not reduction of driving miles, nor development of alternative fuel vehicles. All of those steps must be taken together.

    There are also some big assumptions that you've made in producing this graphic. While I'll credit you with pointing out that these assumptions were made, you don't point out the problems with them.

    Number one is the number of tons of carbon that trees can uptake. You use an average figure for this, and it just doesn't work. It's like saying on average, a Toyota Prius and a Hummer H2 emit X tons of CO2 a year, or saying on average a homeless vet in D.C. and Warren Buffett earn a billion dollars a year. It may be true, but I don't think you're going to see Warren and the homeless dude lunching at the same country club.

    Hardwoods remove much more carbon than softwoods, so a pine plantation in Georgia isn't doing nearly the work that a hardwood forest in Appalachia is.

    Also, for those who are metric-system challenged, the UN figure for tree spacing figures to be a little over 9 feet. I have done quite a bit of work with reforestation of abandoned mine lands in Appalachia and the spacing we use is 8 feet or less. That said, there are many mine lands that are unsuitable for reforestation because of steep slopes. Mine lands must be ripped to loosen heavy compaction before trees will grow, and you simply can't rip a 30-percent slope.

    What I and others have advocated is using those south-facing steep slopes for solar farms, and placing wind turbines on the high, level areas prior to replanting. Since the trees will never grow tall enough to interfere with the turbines, you get both a carbon-neutral power source and carbon sequestration on the same land. By the way, mining agencies in most states are encouraging mining companies to replant trees now instead of grasses and forbs. The current regulation is very weak, however: They should be REQUIRING replanting on all surface mines, and banning mountain top removal mining all together.

    You also can't view reforestation only as a way to remove carbon. There are many environmental benefits in addition to CO2 removal, including reduction of flooding, reduction of stream siltation, and reestablishment of wildlife habitat. There's also the economic benefit of job creation.

    For more, read about Green Forest Works for Appalachia, a proposal to plant 125 million trees on abandoned mine lands over the next five years and employ 2,000 people in the process.

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