Despite what your favorite Fox News lovin’ uncle tells you, carbon dioxide is hella bad for us. By “us,” I mean the planet and the life forms that inhabit it. CO2, when trapped in our atmosphere is devastating over long periods of time. This is, of course, not anything new or shocking to say — we’ve known what a danger greenhouse gases pose to us for a long, long time. Saying that CO2 is deadly and dangerous for the ecosystem is as controversial as saying “seat belts save lives.”
Luckily for us, trees essentially breathe the stuff, and it’s been one of our longest-running attempts to mitigate the damage done by CO2 with them. The idea is simple enough — plant trees because they process the carbon dioxide. It’s not the only solution, but planting trees to offset carbon dioxide was at least something we could do to help things.
Now, though, studies are showing we simply cannot plant enough trees to save ourselves. The bottom line, these new studies show, is that there just isn’t enough available land to plant the number of trees we’d need to “eat” all the CO2 we produce. In fact, if we covered every inch of the lower-48 United States we’d still only capture about 10% of greenhouse gas.
In fact, even attempting to plant enough trees like that would basically starve people out because the trees would replace all the other vegetation and farm crops. So we’d kill ourselves off trying to plant enough trees to not kill ourselves off.
Plantations would need to be so large they would eliminate most natural ecosystems or reduce food production if implemented as a late-regret option in the case of substantial failure to reduce emissions, finds the new study in Earth’s Future, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. (AGU)
The AGU study makes it clear under no uncertain terms — humans have to cut their C02 emissions. Planting trees won’t exactly hurt the cause per se, but it’s also not going to solve the greenhouse gas problem, either.
“If we continue burning coal and oil the way we do today and regret our inaction later, the amounts of greenhouse gas we would need to take out of the atmosphere in order to stabilize the climate would be too huge to manage,” said Lena Boysen, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Potsdam, Germany, and lead author of the new study.
Time and again these studies show a rising level of urgency needed to address and combat CO2 emissions. There’s no denying that tackling climate change is a monumental effort, but there’s also no denying that we have to start by drastically reducing how much carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere. If studies are showing that all the trees we can plant wouldn’t even make more than a 10% dent in CO2 pollution, then we have to start putting other solutions on the table.
Nuclear power should be considered. Wind and solar farms should be increased and heavily subsidized. And yes, trees should continue to be planted. All of these are solutions that should be attempted because all of them provide a net benefit to the ecosystem. But the bottom line is that if we don’t stop putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and soon, nothing we do will be enough.
“In the climate drama currently unfolding on that big stage we call Earth, carbon dioxide removal is not the hero who finally saves the day after everything else has failed,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of PIK and co-author of the new study. “It is rather a supporting actor that has to come into play right from the beginning, while the major part is up to the mitigation protagonist. So this is a positive message: We know what to do – rapidly ending fossil fuel use complemented by a great variety of CO2 removal techniques. We know when to do it – now. And if we do it, we find it is still possible to avoid the bulk of climate risks by limiting temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius.”
Despite knowing these things, the question remains as it ever has been: Do we have the capacity and courage to act on these findings, or will we continue to let political arguments dominate the debates? If we don’t act soon, it might not matter.
Writer/comedian James Schlarmann is the founder of The Political Garbage Chute and his work has been featured on The Huffington Post. You can follow James on Facebook and Instagram, but not Twitter because he has a potty mouth.