Climate change has serious effects on the environment and the existence of living organisms. Environmentalists and policymakers have been designing strategies to ameliorate climate change in a sustainable manner.
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As one school of thought believes that planting trees is an effective strategy of ameliorating climate change, the opposing school of thought believes that tree planting is a distraction and ineffective strategy of ameliorating climate change.
Therefore, the environmental consultancy company opposes the assertion that tree planting is an effective strategy of ameliorating climate change because of the following reasons:-
The size of land required to sequester current emissions
- Despite the presence of vegetation, the global emission of carbon has increased in the last decade by about 30%. According to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (2013), carbon emission had increased from 26.1 billion tonnes in 2002 to 34.4 billion tonnes in 2012.
- According to the United Nations Environment Programme (2012), the projection of carbon emissions is 49 gigatonnes by the year 2020 with an emission gap of about ten gigatonnes, which requires sequestration to reduce the temperature by 20C.
- A trillion trees are necessary to sequester ten gigatonnes of carbon dioxide for the global temperature to reduce by 20C (Plant for the Planet, 2014).
- If one hectare takes 1000 trees, the size of land required to sequester ten gigatonnes of carbon dioxide is one billion hectares.
- To sequester 49 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, about five billion hectares of land and 5 trillion trees are necessary.
- Five billion hectares comprise 37% of productive earth’s surface, which is essential in planting five trillion trees, which act as carbon sinks.
- Current forest cover is about four billion hectares, which means that 1 billion hectares are required to contain the increasing carbon dioxide emissions (Kirilenko & Sedjo, 2007).
- To plant one trillion trees in the one billion hectares is an extensive work when compared to a simple intervention of reducing carbon emissions.
- Increasing forest cover by one billion hectares consumes a significant part of productive land and consequently reduces agricultural production.
- Moreover, the sequestration capacity decreases as trees mature, and thus unsustainable in ameliorating climate change (McGuire, 2010).
- Therefore, the limiting size of land and the extensive work necessary to plant a trillion trees make afforestation an unfeasible strategy of ameliorating climate change.
Competing Land Uses
- Competing land uses due to the increasing population makes the expansion of forest cover untenable.
- As the population grows, more land for agricultural production, industrial development, urban development, and human settlements is essential.
- From 1960 to 2010, the population of the world has doubled, and projections show that by the year 2050, the population would be nine billion (Smith et al., 2010).
- As the population increases by three billion, extra space for settlement is necessary, which implies that people will encroach into the forestland and consequently reduce the forest cover.
- Additionally, the increase in the population by three billion would mean that agricultural production and industrial goods should increase by 50%.
- The expansion of the agricultural sector and the industrial sector by 50% implies that productive land should increase commensurately.
- Urbanization and migration patterns of people in modern society put more pressure on declining space and relegate afforestation to the remaining space.
- Land degradation due to human activities such as induced fires, logging, deforestation, overgrazing, and encroachment of forests significantly affect tree planting (Smith et al., 2010).
- Bio-energy has emerged and utilized a significant size of the arable land, thus increasing competition for land use (Rathmann, Szklo, & Schaeffer, 2010).
- Development of infrastructure due to increased population, industries, urbanization, and technological development need expansive land.
- Land use in wildlife conservation takes the considerable size of land, and therefore, competes with agricultural and industrial land uses.
- Catchment areas and water bodies are important water resources that require the extensive size of land (Wagner, Kumar, & Schneider, 2013).
Barriers that prevent forestation
- Tree planting requires one billion hectares, which is limited by the increasing population, as people require more land for settlement, industrialization, and agricultural activities.
- Harsh climatic conditions in arid and semi-arid areas limit forestation even though they have an extensive tract of land (Allen, 2009).
- Conservation of wildlife in natural settings limit forestation as artificial forests could be destructive to the natural environment.
- Urban planning policies focus on economic activities and treats afforestation as an unimportant activity in urbanization (Oldfield, Warren, Felson, & Bradford, 2013).
- Lack of funds or insufficient funds limits afforestation because it requires a million dollars, which are not readily available.
- Political will to advocate for the afforestation as a strategy of ameliorating climate change is absent.
- Awareness of the importance of afforestation in ameliorating climate change is very low among the population.
- Poor and landless people among local communities are focusing on encroaching forests and conducting deforestation, instead of supporting afforestation.
- International and regional treaties, which conflict, restrict afforestation in most countries (Backstrand & Lovbrand, 2006).
- Ethical issues surrounding the distribution of the climate change burden among nations, regions, nature, and individuals (Gardiner &Hartzell, 2012).
- Conflicts of interests between developing and developed nations concerning the sharing of burden threaten afforestation; even through developing, nations have vast space for afforestation.
- Poor management of forests due to weak policies reduces the effectiveness of afforestation in ameliorating climate change in a sustainable manner (Allen, 2009).
- Changing climate patterns affect the growth of trees in some regions that experience frequent natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, and global warming (Smith et al., 2010).
What other effects of greenhouse gases
- Across the world, greenhouse gases cause 150,000 deaths and affect daily-adjusted life years of about 5.5 million people, which poses a significant burden to the health care systems (Shelfield & Landrigan, 2011).
- Greenhouse gases such as ozone, sulfur dioxides, nitrogen oxides, and chlorofluorocarbons increase the occurrence of diseases because they expose humans to many chemicals that have diverse impacts on their health (Smith et al., 2009).
- Greenhouse gases increase the average temperatures of the earth and consequently enhance the spread of infectious diseases such as malaria, tick-borne diseases, and dengue fever amongst others due to migration of vectors (Smith et al., 2009).
- Aerosols and related chemicals that people use in their households trigger the occurrence of allergic diseases such as asthma (Shelfield & Landrigan, 2011).
- Particulate matter of greenhouse gases contaminates the air and affects children because it causes infant mortality, low birth weight, and preterm birth (Shelfield & Landrigan, 2011).
- Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, sulfur oxides, and nitrogen oxides accumulate in the air and mix with rainwater to form acid rain, which causes acidification of lakes and oceans, and thus, threatens the lives of aquatic organisms (Hodgson, 2011).
- Nitrogen oxides when mixed with water form nitrates, which are important nutrients for the growth of phytoplankton and eutrophication (Moss et al., 2011).
- Due to eutrophication in lakes and oceans, decaying phytoplanktons release massive amounts of methane gases into the air (Moss et al., 2011).
- This implies that even if trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air, other greenhouse gases that have adverse effects on human health and global warming still exist.
- In this view, the reduction of greenhouse emissions is paramount in preventing diseases and stabilizing global warming.
Over what timescale can forests be implemented and adapted to a changing climate? Afforestation requires a timescale ten years for trees to have a significant effect on the level of carbon emissions in the atmosphere (Plan for the Planet, 2014).
The current emission gap carbon dioxide is 10 billion tonnes in which, if absorbed by the plants, the temperatures would decrease by 20C (United Nations Environment Programme, 2012).
Predictions show that planting one trillion trees and maintaining current levels of carbon emission would eventually lead to a zero-emission gap by the year 2050 (United Nations Environment Programme, 2012)
As trees mature, their capacity to reduce carbon emission decreases, and hence, rejuvenation of forests is essential to the main absorption capacity of carbon dioxide at an optimum level.
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However, natural disasters such as droughts, hurricanes, floods, and natural fires reduce the effectiveness of forests in absorbing carbon emissions that are in the air (Smith et al., 2010).
The disturbance of forests caused by natural disasters has detrimental effects on the capacity of trees to absorb carbon dioxide, and would consequently lead to an increased period needed for the absorption to be significant.
Therefore, given the unreliability of forests in reducing carbon emissions, afforestation is not a feasible strategy of ameliorating climate change.
What are the alternatives to forest-sequestration
According to Obersteiner et al. (2001), bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is an alternative method of sequestering carbon dioxide to forest-sequestration, as it utilizes biomass in capturing and storing carbon for a long period without causing undue fears of releasing it into the atmosphere.
Using landfills as burying grounds for biomass to imitate the natural processes that lead to the formation of fossil fuels is appropriate in removing carbon from the carbon cycle and storing them in the ground permanently.
Storing carbon in subterranean reservoirs of oil and gas, as in the case of the Sleipner Project, has proved to be effective in reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the air (Herzog, 2001).
Ocean storage allows the sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions in the deep ocean, where they undergo the process of forming fossil fuels (Herzog, 2001).
Mineral sequestration is a sequestration method that converts carbon dioxide into minerals by reacting it with oxides such as calcium oxide and magnesium oxide, which are available naturally, to form stable carbonates.
Overall, the analysis of the assertion that tree planting is an effective strategy of ameliorating climate change shows the contrary.
The space, the number of trees, competing for land uses, the existence of other greenhouse gases, extended timescale needed to realize the impacts, and the presence of alternative strategies negate the use of afforestation as a strategy of ameliorating climate change.
In this view, the environmental consultancy company disapproves that tree planting is an effective strategy of ameliorating climate change due to the aforementioned reasons.
Allen, E. (2009). Restoration ecology: Limits and possibilities in arid and semi-arid lands.
Backstrand, K., & Lovbrand, E. (2006). Planting trees to mitigate climate change:
Contested discourses of ecological modernization, green governmentality, and civic environmentalism. Global Environmental Politics, 6(1), 51-75.
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Gardiner, S. M. & Hartzell, L. (2012). Ethics and Global Climate Change. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10), 1-5.
Herzog, W. (2001). What Future for Carbon Capture and Sequestration? New technologies could reduce carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere while still allowing the use of fossil fuels. Environmental Science & Technology, 35(7), 148-153.
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Smith, K., Jerrett, M., Anderson, R., Burnett, R., Stone, V., Derwent, R., … Thurston, G. (2009). Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: health implications of short-lived greenhouse pollutants. The Lancet, 374(9707), 2091-2103.
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