Trees and CO2 | The Vicious Cycle

carbon offset forest 03 Trees and CO2 | The Vicious Cycle

We hear all this talk about our planet’s CO2 problem being solved simply by planting trees. Corporations that make and sell electronics and other carbon dioxide-producing goodies have even implemented so-called off-set programs in an effort to make their gadgets seem less harmful. Indulge in guilt-free shopping: buy a computer and we’ll plant a tree somewhere on your behalf. Problem solved.

But a recent Environmental Graffiti article suggests that additional greenery doesn’t solve the problem, it exacerbates it.

What we know is that oceans and plants take in anthropogenic carbon dioxide during photosynthesis and generally store it — which does, in fact, reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere. But what many don’t realize is that when the microbes in these plants decompose (as they do at the end of every growing season), they produce and release CO2. Inhale, exhale. Call it the full cycle of carbon.

carbon offset forest 02 Trees and CO2 | The Vicious Cycle

The article cites a 20-year study, which analyzed 30 areas in the frozen north. Its results suggests that trees are already suffering from a weakened ability to absorb CO2. But that’s only half of the damage. The increase in the planet’s temperatures has caused longer growing seasons and thereby increased plant growth across the globe — which ultimately leads to quicker plant decomposition.

The study “focused particularly on the date in autumn at which the forests switched from being a net sink for carbon into a net source. Instead of decomposition occurring later in the year, it is actually getting earlier – in some places by a few days, but in others by a few weeks.”

carbon offset forest 01 Trees and CO2 | The Vicious Cycle

You don’t need to be a philosopher to figure this one out: CO2 causes global warming. Global warming means faster plant growth. Faster growth brings about quicker plant decomposition, which increases the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. More CO2 in the atmosphere accelerates global warming.

What does this mean? It means the trees, through no fault of their own, are actually working against us in a sense. So, instead of planting trees as a global warming Band-Aid, we need to attack the root of the problem by stopping CO2 emissions and then somehow figuring out ways to reduce the amount already in the atmosphere to acceptable levels.

Whatever you do, don’t blame the trees. We did this to ourselves.

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