Carbon Credits Market
Carbon Dioxide and the Global Warming Debate
by Lew Rothstein
Visit LegacyCarbon.com to find out about Legacy Carbon Credits.
It would be hard to live in the modern world and not have heard the terms Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming. The scientific research into whether the activities of industrialized man are a major cause of global warming has resulted in the conclusion that indeed we are changing the very climate of our world . The result of this process going unchecked will cause major disruptions to rainfall patterns, sea level increases and desertification of previously fertile regions. Governments and businesses around the world are taking notice: the increasing cost of excess emissions of greenhouse gases will be added to the cost of everything we consume.
Greenhouse gases are gases that when added to the atmosphere tend to trap the heat from the sun. This can lead to a gradual increase in temperatures and resultant changes in climate. Some of the better documented greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons. The historical record for the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been one of the best documented trends. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography and National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationÆ research laboratory on the top of Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii has been tracking these changes since 1958. In the graph in this article you can see the saw tooth pattern of seasonal changes making up the relentless trend of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere by a wide array of processes, but the process most directly attributable to human activity is the combustion of fossil fuels. When we burn organic matter like oil, natural gas, diesel fuel, gasoline and coal for energy, we are taking carbon that has been stored in the earth for millions of years, combining it with atmospheric oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. There is little doubt that the growing energy demands of the modern world and the growing energy demands of developing countries will only accelerate this process.
Trends in Greenhouse Gas Mitigation
The cost to the economies of the world to attempt to reverse this trend is staggering, but the cost of doing nothing may be even greater. One of the recent attempts to deal with the issue was an international agreement know as the Kyoto Protocol. It was ratified by more than 170 countries and since its implementation in 2005 the European Union has moved to give it the force of law. The concept is evolving into what is being called Cap and Trade legislation. The concept is relatively simple. If you are a business that produces greenhouse gases as a waste product there will be specific limits on what you are allowed to produce. If you exceed those limits you must buy credits from others whose activities remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere or reduce the greenhouse gases produced by traditional processes. This legislation is in a constant state of flux and hotly debated in governments around the world. Few would deny that it is the direction policy is moving. The recent elections in the United States suggest that Cap and Trade legislation is a lot closer to reality. Some have suggested that the trading in greenhouse gas credits will be one of the largest global markets. Much remains to be done to standardize the units and to certify the validity of any particular carbon offset.
Carbon Credits and the Tree Sponsor
The growing concern over global warming is very good news for the tree sponsor. When a tree grows it uses the energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into cellulose and other organic compounds. The amount of carbon dioxide sequestered or tied up in this manner can be enormous. When we destroy natural forests and burn the wood, we are releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. By planting trees you are helping to offset this trend.
During the life of a tree, it can sequester many tons of carbon dioxide. In this regard, tree farms are more efficient at removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than mature forests. A mature forest is in balance with new growth being offset by decay processes. It is a huge repository of carbon, but not a highly active carbon sink. A tree farm on the other hand is managed to optimize the amount of carbon tied up in wood. An average piece of wood of any species is almost 50% carbon. When the wood grown is precious tropical hardwoods, the lumber and products made from this wood will be around for generations. It will be a very long time indeed before that carbon finds its way back into the atmosphere. In addition to the carbon sequestered into marketable lumber, the below ground wood in the form of roots, traps a lot of carbon, the leaf litter contributes to the soil allowing it to trap a lot of carbon and the wood waste from harvesting and milling will be chipped and returned to the soil further increasing the organic matter content of the soil. It is impossible for us to predict what the future holds for the carbon credit markets, but any carbon credits generated by the lumber you derive from the sustainable growth of your trees are yours. You can actually become carbon neutral while profiting from the value of the wood your trees produce. For once you are not being asked to make an economic sacrifice in order to do the right thing for the planet.
A relatively simple calculation can help to clarify this*. If you plant 100 Koa trees, the anticipated yield over their 25 year growth and harvest cycle is in excess of 11,400 board feet. Koa weighs approximately 3.15 pounds per board foot. That makes the yield about 35,340 pounds. If half of this is carbon you have trapped about 17,670 pounds of carbon. By doing this, your trees removed 33 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A single planting of 100 trees will offset the carbon emissions of an average family for two years while still generating valuable hardwood lumber. In addition, all of the carbon left in the soil can be as great an offset to greenhouse gases as the lumber produced. Who says that going green can't be profitable?
Tropical Tree Farms vs. Temperate Reforestation
There is a debate about the mixed benefits of planting trees in temperate climates. Trees absorb the heat of the sun better than snow covered landscapes that reflect much of the suns rays back into space. The net benefit to global warming might be a mixed outcome at best. The situation is much different in the tropics. There is no snow to reflect the sun back into space under any circumstance, but by planting trees you can make a major impact on the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere allowing more of the heat from the sun to escape. Additionally, a tropical landscape covered in trees will have a higher level of cloud cover than an area cleared for agriculture. Those clouds also reflect sunlight back into space. Tropical tree projects generate a double benefit in the war against global warming.
Your Personal Carbon Footprint
Many people are becoming aware of the impact their lifestyle choices have on the environment. More and more businesses are becoming aware of the effect that their operations have on the planet as well. These socially conscious individuals and organizations are looking for cost effective ways to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases their activities generate and ways to offset the remaining greenhouse gas emissions that are a result of their activities. Most effective strategies have been a direct expense without the possibility of profitable return. Becoming a tree owner has the potential for profit while making a real contribution to the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Tropical hardwoods are a near perfect form of this approach since the wood they produce goes into cherished articles of value that are passed from generation to generation. The carbon footprint calculator provided here will give you an idea of the amount of carbon dioxide generated by your activities and the number of trees you would need to plant to offset that impact.
* This calculation is approximate and intended to be illustrative. Legacy Carbon, HLH's carbon company, is presently working with the premiere carbon certification group in the world to formally quantify the carbon resource associated with koa on our site. We are presently on track to have that official certification by the end of 2013, which would make our carbon project the first forestry carbon project in the US certified by this premiere carbon registry.
Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative
PO Box 22435 Honolulu, HI 96823
Phoenix Award Winner for Excellence in Sustainability and Conservation