Prep Day 2 – Planting Trees

I’ve been reading and researching more about the current state of the science of climate change. I came across the following interesting head-to-head featuring a leading opponent of human-influenced global warming:

Head to Head – Climate change: Fact or fiction?

An excerpt:

“Given the accelerating rate at which CO2 is accumulating in the atmosphere as emissions rise, we should expect an accelerating commitment to warming. So the statement that “we’ve only seen a little bit of warming so far means it won’t matter in the future–we won’t see any warming in the future”–flies in the face of our basic understanding of the way the carbon cycle and the planet system works.”

-Professor Myles Allen, School of Geography, Oxford University

A also found an interesting “calculator”:

We can change this, but it will require thinking differently. Here’s one simple thing we could do which would make all the difference–though “simple” is an awfully relative term:

Trees are great at sequestering carbon dioxide. In fact, a healthy tree can pack away about a full ton of carbon dixide in its first 40 years of life. The solution? Planting a whole lot of trees. 

A silly solution, you say? People would have to plant too many trees, you think? Not really. Here are some numbers to chew on:

  • In 2013, the U.S. emitted 6.673 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents into the atmosphere. That’s just about 21 metric tons per person.
  • A healthy tree can sequester about a ton of carbon dioxide in the first 40 years of its life.

Taken together, that means that to correct our 2013 contribution to global warming, we’d need to…

…plant 21 trees per person

and then

…wait about 40 years for them to do their work.

This could be a viable solution if we were prepared to do it. After all, it’s not very hard to plant 21 trees per day–much less per year.

But we’d need:
1) a place to plant them
2) a lot of people to do the work–because most people are occupied with other things.

…since the current rate of unemployment is 5.3%–as of June, there were 2.1 million people unemployed in the U.S. (source:…

…we’d really only need about half of those people to be willing and able to plant an average of 21 trees per day, and we could essentially erase our collective carbon footprint!

…there are really only about 4 months out of the year (2 months in Spring and 2 months in Fall) which are ideally suited for planting trees.

…that means that each of those people would have to plant three times as many trees over those days…(or in reality, 4.2x as many if they only worked weekdays) to accomplish the same objective.

Now it’s looking a bit more difficult.

Because that means each of them would have to plant 21 x 4.2 ~ 88.2 trees on average, or about 441 trees per five day week, Something like 11 trees per hour.

Well let’s see…that might not be so bad–though our recent track record of employing Americans in agriculture jobs seems to be somewhat spotty. 

Let’s go with the thought anyway…

Let’s say we employ those seasonal tree planters at $15/hour + benefits to plant our carbon-removing trees, and let’s assume there’s a million of those laborers willing to do those 40 hour weeks for 14 weeks out of the year. Let’s further assume that “benefits” in this case round out to about $6/hour, and we end up having to employ about 15% more people than expected due to illness/absenteeism. What’s our cost?

Well, it’s just 520 hours x $21/hour x 1,150,000 laborers = $12.56 billion/year! Wow, that seems like a lot to fix our carbon addiction…

…of course, if you look at it as only 1/65th of the U.S.’s defense spending  for that same year, it puts it into a bit better perspective.

…or, if you look at it as less than half  the cost of a single one of these:

…or, if you remember that we minimum wage is a great deal less than $15/hour plus benefits–about half of that, really.

…or, if you remember that there are a lot of people who don’t have jobs that would love the opportunity to work instead of collecting unemployment or welfare.

Probably we’d have a better perspective on some of these things if we’d start thinking about more than a few facts at a time. It’s time we associated some urgency to the problem of global warming, rather than assume our children will figure it out fifty years from now.

Especially considering there’s likely to be about twice as many people vying for 70% as much land space by then.

One thought on “Prep Day 2 – Planting Trees

  1. Trillionth ton calculator – a good site to look at. Thanks for the link.
    I did a back of the envelope calculation on how many trees it would take to sequester 1 trillion tons, and it comes to a grid of trees 40 feet apart on all of the land area of the earth. Which does sound like a daunting task, but your calculation above shows that we could make a difference, and I think the real point is that a committed effort to plant LOTS of trees would push into the future the critical date, allowing the world to catch up in other ways (like phasing out ICE cars!). Trees are not the solution. We need more TIME to address this problem, and LOTS of trees now will give us more time.

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