As a cheap and easy option to reduce their contribution to global warming, many companies and governments have been looking at ‘carbon offsets’. But offsets in the form of planting new trees only helps cancel out emissions from forest destruction and fossil fuel burning that’s already occurred – carbon that’s already in the air. They are wrongly portrayed as ‘offsets’ that allow more logging and burning of fossil fuels. This method of carbon accounting is easy to manipulate to benefit the polluters.
We must approach this problem with a fence at the top of the cliff as opposed to an ambulance at the bottom. We are now beyond worst case scenario figures in temperature forecasts, so we should not be CO2nned by the ‘tree planting option’ and ignore forestry’s massive contribution to emissions. The most effective, easy and fast- acting solution is to stop clearing and burning our ‘land lungs’ immediately.
The clearing of forests for farming, which has been done over the past 200 years in Australia, has released large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These are still out there, creating the warming we are now experiencing. Most greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for 200 years, so planting thousands or even millions of trees is only replacing a tiny part of the tip of the iceberg. Millions upon millions of hectares of forest have been destroyed; millions upon millions of tonnes of coal and oil have been burnt in just the last 50 years, let alone since European arrival.
Reabsorbing the historical carbon loads released from clearing, logging and burning by planting relatively limited areas of trees is a start, but the incentive should not be to give polluters permission to keep producing CO2.
Tree planting and revegetation are a necessary part of the urgent work we need to do, but must never be seen as an easy fix-it tool that allows us to increase our carbon debt in other areas.