Let’s Not Pretend Planting Trees Is A Permanent Climate Solution

Trees are our original carbon removal technology: Through photosynthesis, they pull carbon dioxide out of the air and store it. But there’s a catch. Carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere is only temporarily stored in trees, vegetation, and soil, while a sizable part of our emissions today, will remain in the atmosphere, much of it for centuries and some of it for millenniums to come. To date, carbon removal efforts by companies and governments have largely relied on trees and soil. But even under a best-case scenario, these can only provide around half of the removal needed. While carbon removal is often conflated with carbon offsets, the vast majority of offsets currently sold pay someone else to avoid emissions rather than removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. While governments should be encouraged to enhance the amount of carbon stored in trees, plants, and soil, we should be skeptical of claims that rely on temporary removals to justify additional “forever” emissions.

By Zeke Hausfather. New York Times. June 4, 2022.

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