we would literally run out of room for any more after just a few years of planting tens of billions of seedlings.
Fortunately, we have the ability to lower our emissions from the source to bring down our annual emissions from 40 billion metric tons to something more manageable — and we can utilize different means of offsets in addition to planting trees (already discussed in our previous articles).
Conservationists are understandably eager to harness this enthusiasm to combat climate change. “We’re tapping into the zeitgeist,” says Justin Adams, executive director of the Tropical Forest Alliance at the World Economic Forum, an international nongovernmental organization based in Geneva.
So, all we need to do is plant more trees, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. While reforestation is an essential part of an effective climate change mitigation strategy, it’s important to note that on its own, planting trees alone won’t fix the climate crisis.
Equally as important is forest conservation, reducing our emissions, and prioritizing planetary health. It’s all interconnected, and we should be taking all of these actions to reduce our collective global greenhouse gas emissions.
But have you ever wondered how carbon is offset?
There are several different ways that it can be done, but today, we will be discussing the most popular one— and most utilized: planting and protecting forests.
And the mechanism behind this is pretty simple: just think back to sixth-grade science, where we all learned that trees take in carbon dioxide, along with sunlight and water, for photosynthesis.
As a by-product, trees give off oxygen, which is necessary for life, and they store CO2, which has become an unavoidable by-product for all the things we do today. Using trees for their natural ability
to sequester – or capture – carbon has been instrumental in slowing atmospheric CO2 build-up and giving us a chance in the face of climate change.
However, there are limits to what trees can do. And while there are other emerging forms of offsetting, including some that are very promising, it is still better to refrain from emitting CO2 in the first place, whenever possible.
So how Do Offsets Work?
Basically, carbon offsets work by sequestering, or capturing, of CO2 through mechanisms that have measurable CO2-absorbing capacities. The amounts are purchased by individuals or companies that are looking to offset their emissions.
That’s what offsetting is in its simplest form.
Sequestering carbon is usually done through organic means, with trees being the current best option, as they take in CO2 for photosynthesis, as mentioned.
When it comes to removing human-caused emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere, trees are a big help. Through photosynthesis, trees pull the gas out of the air to help grow their leaves, branches and roots. Forest soils can also sequester vast reservoirs of carbon.
Different types of trees sequester different amounts of carbon, depending on the species and the location. On average, a typical hardwood tree absorbs around 20 kilograms (~ 50 pounds) of CO2 per year, with fluctuations based on the age of the tree and where it is located.
At this rate, each tree sequesters about 1 metric ton of carbon within the first 40-50 years of its life, which is relatively impressive, especially if the tree can stay standing for several hundred years — and is part of a larger forest of planted trees that all take in the same amount of CO2.
Human activities currently emit around 40 billion metric tons of carbon per year. So, at our current rate, we would need to plant 40 billion trees each year to negate our total emissions each year.
This would be next to impossible, as in addition to the logistical challenges of planting so many trees,