Trees are nature’s way of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Growing plants take up CO2 and store it in the form of their roots, stems and leaves. And in fact, a significant factor in the growing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been the extensive deforestation that has gone on over the past couple of centuries.
Given this, people have considered massive planting of trees and other biomass as a comparatively safe, affordable and effective approach to removing the excess carbon in the atmosphere caused by fossil fuel emissions. A new study to be published in a journal of the American Geophysical Union looked at this approach.
The conclusion of the study is that growing plants and then storing the CO2 they have taken up from the atmosphere is not a viable option to counteract unmitigated emissions from fossil fuel burning. The extent of plantings required would need to be so huge that they would eliminate many natural ecosystems and reduce food production.
The study used global dynamic vegetation computer simulations to test whether even the most carbon-productive plants such as poplar trees or switch grass could act as a climate stabilizer if things really get bad. Even replacing a third of today’s forests and a quarter of all croplands could not do the job.
The bottom line is that we must dramatically reduce fossil fuel emissions in order to limit the effects of global warming. Maximizing plant growth and technological solutions like carbon capture and storage will help and will probably be necessary, but drastically changing the behavior that got us into the predicament we are in is the only viable solution.
Photo, posted May 2, 2017, courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington via Flickr.