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Plant a tree

TL;DR – Plant a tree today. Better yet, plant two.


Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, you have to be acutely aware that our planet is facing a climate crisis. For centuries we’ve been digging up Carbon that was sequestered in the Earth in the form of oil, coal, natural gas, and peat. We’ve been burning these fuels for energy, and the products of this combustion (mainly Carbon Dioxide) have had a very measurable impact on the composition of our atmosphere. This modification is causing (again very measurable) changes to our climate.
I want to avoid making any political statements (this is a technical blog), but please plant a tree (or even better, many trees).

What is a tree made of?

A tree is made mainly of wood. Wood is the hard-fibrous material that comes from the trunk, stems, roots, and branches of a tree.
The chemical composition of wood varies from species to species, but is approximately 50% carbon, 42% Oxygen, 6% Hydrogen, 1% Nitrogen, and 1% other elements (mainly Calcium, Potassium, Sodium, Magnesium, Iron, and Manganese) by weight.
As well as being fibrous, wood is also porous, and is comprised of three basic types of substances (along with absorbed water).
Cellulose is a long crystalline polymer derived from glucose and constitutes about 40% of wood (by weight). Hemicellulose contributes around 20-30%, and are polysaccharides (they contain many different sugar monomers; cellulose only contains anhydrous glucose). Hemicelluloses in wood are shorter chains at 500-3,000 sugar units per polymer cf. celluloses at around 7,000-15,000 glucose units per polymer. Lignins are complex, cross-linked, phenolic polymers, rich in aromatic sub-units.

Carbon in trees

Approximately 50% of the weight of a tree is Carbon (this depends on species and can be as high as 60%). Fully grown trees can also be very heavy (search on the internet for videos of trees falling over and crushing houses and cars if you need convincing). If a tree weighs a couple of tons, half of the weight of that tree is carbon! Where does this carbon come from? From our atmosphere of course. The seed for a tree weighs just a couple of grams, and a mature tree weighs many tons. To grow, trees photosynthesize (using energy from the Sun), turning water and carbon dioxide (pulled from the air) into hydrocarbons.
A living tree sucks carbon dioxide from the air and locks it into wood as it grows.

End of life

Image: Wikipedai
What happens to all this locked in carbon when a tree is chopped down? Answer: Nothing!
When you cut down a tree, you do not hear a hissing sound like a deflating balloon! Carbon does not escape a tree when it is felled; it stays exactly where it is.
What happens to all this locked in carbon when a tree is sawn into planks? Answer: Nothing!
What happens to all this locked in carbon when these planks are turned into furniture, or used to build a house? Answer: Nothing!
That’s right, your great grandma’s wooden china cabinet is still storing all the carbon it captured when it was a living tree. None of it has leached out, out gassed, or evaporated!
Even if you take your grandma’s china cabinet to the dump and it gets buried into landfill, it is still storing the carbon it captured, and 50% of the weight of the cabinet is carbon pulled from the air.
Unless you burn the wood (returning the carbon back into the air), the carbon trapped in wood stays in the wood.

What about decay?

I have heard the argument that, if wood is buried under the correct conditions, it will decay and rot away, releasing all the stored carbon back into the atmosphere. Yes, this can happen, but it happens slowly (burning essentially releases this instantly, as opposed to over decades).
However, rotting can’t happen to all wood. Think about it, if all wood rotted away where did all our coal come from in the first place? If all wood decays away, there would be none left all those millennia ago to get turned into coal!

Plant trees

We need to plant hundreds of millions of trees to offset the damage caused by centuries of burning fossil fuels. Even then, we’ve gone so far to the wrong side of the curve the experts suggest that even planting these millions might just be enough to pause the percentage of greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere, but planting trees alone will not be enough to reset things. Other measures are also needed.
So why bother? Well, imagine if your sibling really, desperately, and urgently needs $10,000 to get them out of a situation and calls you for help. Knowing this you search and source and manage to wrangle up $8,657 to give them; all you are able to afford and obtain. When you tell your sibling what you were able to do, do you think your sibling would reply “That’s OK, don’t bother, if you can’t give me the full $10,000 I don't want any of it!”
It's the same with climate change. Just because we don’t have a full solution to the dilemma now, it’s no excuse to not do all we can to attempt to slow the tide.
It might take a generation or more to grow and mature a large tree, but that’s no excuse not to doing all we can today. Quoting the ancient Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree is a century ago. The second best time is today!”
The best time to plant a tree is a century ago. The second best time is today!

Plant trees

Please plant trees. Each tree you grow can sequester a ton, or more, of Carbon. They also look nice, provide shade in the Summer, and offer homes for birds, insects, and other critters. You can climb them, put swings in them, and (if you plant fruit trees), even eat food from them. It’s win-win-win all the way home.
(Oh, and Maple Syrup!)
It does not cost you anything to plant a tree. The seeds for trees, quite literally, grow on trees!