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Can Restoring Forests Fix the Climate?
Alex Steffen, 31 Jul 06

Ally Clark-Williams Dery looks at the damaged forest lands of Western North America, and asks, Does reforestation hold the key to solving our carbon imbalance? The short answer? No, though it wouldn't hurt.

A quick vacation to Washington's Olympic Peninsula reminded me of two things. First -- dang, those trees are huge! And second -- dang, there's still a lot of clearcut coastal forestland that's still just basically sitting there: no trees, just scrub and piles of decaying stumps.

Which got me to thinking: how much CO2 could the clearcut land store if returned to its full rainforest glory? Enough to take a serious bite out of our climate-warming emissions?

...on an annual basis, we can expect an acre of regrowing coastal forest to capture and store about two to three tons of CO2 per year. How much is that? Counting gasoline, diesel, coal, natural gas, jet fuel, and minor petroleum products, the average Northwesterner puts about 12 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. ... So just to capture my personal share CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, I'd have set aside and restore at least 4 acres of clearcut coastal rainforest.

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The problem is that since we're putting carbon that has been underground for millions of years in the atmosphere, even if we were to return the Earth to pre-industrial state (all forests back to their full glory), there would still be more carbon than there was then (280ppm, IIRC).

So while helping forests grow back certainly doesn't hurt, and not only because of their ability to capture carbon but because they help sustain biodiversity and support interlinked ecosystems, it is not enough. That's why we must "decarbonize" energy production and transportation (probably in that order) as soon as possible. Fix the source of the problem, not the symptoms.

Posted by: Michael G. Richard on 1 Aug 06



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