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ScienceMag: realistic reforestation may devour all of our CO2 emissions

If CO2 were a climate problem, it would cost just some $300 billion to fix it

After a return from a very nice bike trip through the regional forests, our regional Hit Radio FM Plus switched from music to some talking. In recent years, I noticed that I can no longer listen to the public radio for extended periods of time – although I pay fees and although it was my main radio in the early 1990s or so – because there are just way too many totally disgusting far left activists over there. After a few thoughts of the type "I am a strong man who can survive a lot", the thought "does it really make sense to torture myself?" wins.

FM Plus is different, the jokes they add are rather pleasing, and I got used to it again. Now, the narrator said:

The experts have finally found out how to solve global warming. It sounds like a storyline from a Hollywood movie but it is true.
OK, some new rubbish, I thought. I had to go somewhere so I needed to find out quickly what the remarkable "solution" was. And I found it immediately, indeed:
The global tree restoration potential (Bastin et al., the technical paper in Science)
Adding 1 billion hectares of forest could help check global warming (Alen Fox, Science promo)
Restoring Forests Could Help Put a Brake on Global Warming, Study Finds (Sengupta, NYT)
I chose a random mainstream medium.



OK, first of all, I am absolutely convinced that the extra CO2 is a benefit. It primarily increases the ability of plants to withstand drought – fewer pores are needed in the leaves, so less water is lost due to evaporation through the pores. The biomass production has increased because of that. We have added over 40% to the pre-existing CO2 levels – it went from 280 ppm to nearly 410 ppm – and the agricultural yields have grown by some 20% just because of that CO2 fertilization. A billion or two people who are currently alive are being fed from this extra improvement of agriculture.



The effect of CO2 on the climate is negligible and every intelligent person may figure out within an hour of looking at this "problem" that this particular influence isn't worth a serious discussion. Sadly, a certain movement has sold this non-problem as one of the defining problems of our civilization and millions of simple people have bought it.

But if I thought that the CO2 were a problem, there would be an obvious solution. Incorporate the CO2 into biomass. And the most natural large object where you can insert carbon is... a tree. Trees and forests are pretty, as I reminded myself in the morning. They are also heavy. The total number of trees on Earth is actually a controversial quantity and estimates differ by an order of magnitude. Nevertheless, we may pick a rather persuasive study and say that there are 3 trillion trees in the world.

It means that there are about 400 trees per human being in the world, including infants. Imagine how huge number it is. When you look at a tree, it looks impressive. It weighs as very many humans. You might think that these trees must be rather rare – and there is one tree per X humans where X is rather large. But the reality is very different. 400 trees per person. Most of the trees are obviously at places where almost no humans live. If you look at trees that are lucky to live in centers of cities etc., those are rare, of course, and you share such a tree with many other people in the city. But trees on Earth are not really precious.

The 3 trillion trees on Earth sequester some 600 gigatons of carbon, about 200 kg per tree. Clearly, the average tree is lighter than a massive one you are imagining as a "tree". This average tree is about 400 kg: almost precisely one-half of the mass is water, one-half is carbon, and the rest is negligible. Some folks may be better tree experts but this is how a theoretical physicist who knows everything that is important in the Universe organizes this kind of knowledge.

Mankind is emitting some 10 gigatons of carbon a year. You need to multiply it by 3.67 (to 37 gigatons of CO2) to switch from carbon to CO2. So the existing trees on Earth sequester about 60 years worth of the current level of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. These are my statements – not statements from some fishy journals let alone mainstream media – which means that you can trust them.

OK, the study simply argues that by adding 10 million squared kilometers of forests – the area equal to the territory of the U.S. (or Canada, if you wish), 2/3 of the man-made emissions of CO2 since 1800 could be removed from the atmosphere (they apparently pre-decided that the elimination of 2/3 of a problem is a good plan). Planting a tree costs $0.30, they claim, and because one needs about one extra trillion of new trees (the number of trees would be increased by 1/3 in this project – they did use the same estimate of the number of trees in the world as I mentioned above), the total cost would be $300 billion. This is the overall amount, not an annual one.

Mankind is actually wasting more than $300 billion on the climate hysteria every year – while it doesn't do an epsilon to solve any problem, not even the detectable reductions of CO2 emissions! The suitable areas for the extra forests were "found" in Russia, U.S., Canada but also Australia, Brazil, and China.

The authors of that paper are clearly friends of forests and they talked about lots of advantages of extra forests. But as a top Czech entomologist and Islamophobe ;-) Dr Martin Konvička emphasizes, forests are terrible things for the regional ecosystems for quite some time because in a new forest, almost nothing else grows aside from the trees for a very long time. Note that the trees only become efficient removers of CO2 when they are a few decades old and tall enough.

On top of that, I think it's still a bad idea to try to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere even if we could. One billion people could starve to death because of that. And even the tiny, heating effect of the extra CO2 is almost certainly a net benefit.

But this paper in Science should be viewed as a new proof of a simple assertion: If CO2 were a problem, the total cost of the solution would be something like $300 billion, so everyone who wants to rob mankind of tens of trillions of dollars in the coming decades must be treated as a dangerous criminal. All legally impeccable methods to eliminate these criminals must be found and applied.

And that's the memo.

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