Op-Ed: California’s carbon-offset forests aren’t trapping much carbon. Here’s how to do better
A photo posted by The Guardian (@guardian) on Jan 14, 2014 at 1:25pm PST
The first thing I heard about this new website, Carbonfund.org, was how the editors described it as an “independent, objective, and non-partisan effort to raise awareness of, and to educate policy makers about, the global climate crisis.”
It’s a worthy calling.
While we’re talking about the climate crisis, some people are talking about the forest crisis. The United States has the third largest forest, or forested landscape, on Earth, after Brazil and China. The United States has the largest timber harvest in the world, and for decades, the American government and American corporations have sought to take a slice of the carbon-credit pie.
The United States also has the largest number of privately owned wind farms, solar arrays, and geothermal power plants, and the industry is booming. The idea is you can simply cut down the trees and replant them with carbon-fertilizing plants, and as long as you don’t blow away that precious carbon, you’ll be rewarded with carbon credits to your name. And if you own a wind farm that gets more energy from the power of the wind than you put in (you did a study, didn’t you?), now you’ll get a dollar credit for every kilowatt hour you produce.
The problem is, the United States does not have enough carbon sinks, the kinds of forests that absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide and release it back into the atmosphere.
There’s also the fact that in order to reap the benefits of the carbon credits, you have to have a way to harvest the carbon the forest can soak up. But you can’t easily cut through the trees or chop up them. And you can’t burn the trees as fuel.
In short, forests are not going to get you out of the carbon-credit trouble.
California’s forests have already done a great job, absorbing about 13 percent of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But as the United States’ forest carbon sink, we have a long way to go. The country will need to increase our forest carbon sink by 30 percent and