Please, please plant a tree?
It’s related to personal finance, I promise. Well, sort of. It’s related to how we interact with the world and how we take care of it.
This post is going to have math. Not a lot of it, but still some pretty large math. Large numbers that is, and hope. And a little bit of defiance against the technocracy which inflicts so many people, making them unable or unwilling to take simple steps to affect change. Because technology will save us.
Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But much like an emergency fund and the imfamous , let’s save some money in the bank before we need it, shall we?
And it begins by planting trees. A native tree or a fruit tree or just a pretty tree in your eyes. But do it, plant one as soon as you can and then another next year.
Human activities emit, on average, almost 10 gigatons of carbon per year into the atmosphere at this point. That is 10 billion tons of carbon, or 10 000 000 000 tons. And that is not even the amount of CO2 that we emit, because CO2 has two oxygen atoms as well, so to get the total CO2 number, we have to multiply that number by 3.67.
That is a lot of carbon.
Especially when you take into consideration that there are only natural sinks on the planet to take up 2 gigatons of carbon annually. That is mainly through sedimentation of organic carbon material on the ocean floor. You know, the process which spent millions of years creating the oil we are now consuming in a little over a century?
But this is not a post about the doom of it all. Largely, this is a post about hope. Because there is a simple way we could help mitigate the effects.
You might have heard about the recent IPCC report from 2018. There was a lot of talk about it in leading news all over the world. It talked about how we might stop the global average temperature from increasing beyond 1.5 degrees, as opposed to the 2 degrees we have been operating with until now. It is sombre reading. Big changes are required, and fast. But they are possible.
One of the things that is brought up as a realistic demand is carbon capture technology. We have to develop technology which efficiently hoovers the atmosphere and sucks out the carbon. The problem? This technology is far from mature, and does not yet have the efficiency the industry demands to implement it. Large parts of the industry is waiting for this technology to mature.
If only there was some magical natural process which sucked carbon dioxide from the atmosphere…
Yup, you guessed it – plant a tree!
Trees are natural carbon sinks, but only if they are managed properly. They do suck up carbon from the atmosphere, yes. But if the extent of our forestry management is to plant trees only to burn them as fuel – then the net carbon budget would be zero. You have to plant trees and let them stay there. So in essence, reforest large swathes of land.
I have talked to leading air scientists in Europe who, completely honestly, believe reforesting is not enough. Carbon capture is the only way.
But just because it is not enough on its own – does that mean we should pass it up?
Our world is covered by very different types of trees. From large tropical beasts to more modest temperate pines. It is difficult to give a reasonable average for how much carbon a tree absorbs per year. Some sites operate with an average of 48 lbs (21 kg) for North America, while a German site I found expect about 10 kg per year. Another added that an acre of forest can absorb about 2.5 tonnes of carbon, but we want to do this on a tree by tree basis. We also have to take into account that a sapling will absorb less than a mature tree. But forgive the difficulty of providing an accurate number for a moment, and let’s just move forward with the most modest of the numbers at 10 kg per year. 10 kg is 0.01 metric tons.
If we begin with tiny Norway as an example, what would happen if one tree was planted and allowed to stay for every inhabitant (5.258 million in 2017)? We would absorb an additional 52 580 tons of carbon. That’s not a lot at all compared to the massive number of 8 gigatons that the planet does not have a natural sink for, but then we are a very small country.
What about Europe then, at 741.4 millions in 2016? That brings us up to 7 414 000 tons of carbon per year. Still only 0.09 % of the annual emissions, but every little bit counts in this race, right?
Let’s size up and add the population of the world into the mix – standing at 7.66 billion as I write this in late 2018. Now we’re up to 0.076 gigatons, or almost 1 % of annual emissions.
And that’s just for 1 tree per person from the most moderate estimate I could find. Some of us have large gardens, and could plant much more than one per tree per family member. We could plant native trees and fruit trees. Useful trees which act as pollinators and sources of hyper local food with next to no food miles.
But the benefit of trees stretch far beyond their ability to capture carbon. They also have a cooling and air purifying effect, which is especially important in heavily asphalted cities. Their roots act as erosion control and they bind a lot of water, which can help in flood areas. Plus food, I mentioned food, right? And with remarkably little work required on your part. As long as the pollinators survive. And that means not only free food for you, but less carbon spent on trucks transporting faraway food to you. Lowering emissions in two ways – win!
As we can see from the numbers, only one tree per person does not amount to much if we continue to emit at the rate we currently are. So for sure, emissions need to come down drastically and more measures than just planting one tree are needed. Did you know, for instance, that a well manicured lawn is acting as a carbon source, and not a carbon sink? So lay off the fertilizer and ditch the lawn mower and plant some trees instead. Then use those trees and build yourself a house, efficiently storing the carbon for 100 years or more – while you plant more trees and we find other solutions.
Making sure we keep large areas of land forested is, amusingly enough, one of the reasons I eventually would like to purchase a larger plot of land with forest on it. Just so I can make sure it stays that way. Government incentives can make sure there are more than one tree per person too. And if everyone ditched the useless lawns and planted forest gardens instead? Excuse me while I dream of a better world in what was supposed to be the bitter realisms paragraph.
But 1 % is still 1 %, which is infinitely better than no %. I am a huge fan of improving life, one increment at a time. And if your bank account is a leaky faucet, you have to start somewhere!
I choose to believe in the future. Mostly because the alternative is to only see doom and gloom, which is just a recipe for giving up. I chose to believe because that makes me act and hope for tomorrow.
And because it leads me to plant trees, even if we might not see the fruits of our labours for years to come.
But planting a tree is like putting money in the bank. It’ll just keep growing. And the best part? I can plant more than one.
Hopeful hippie out.