Climate solutions: A new look at carbon sequestration and the renewable energy sector

Farm and forest land in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Photo credit: Taylor Luneau

Articles about climate change solutions are hitting personal news feeds across the country. One of the most recent viral solutions highlights how trees really were the answer after all. In the highlighted study, a group of scientists took forest inventory data from 1.2 million locations across the globe and created a model of forest restoration potential. Their mapping highlights where new trees could be planted without having to take over agricultural or urban spaces and discovered that there is potential for 0.9 billion hectares of additional forest space which is more than 500 billion trees. Collectively, these trees have the potential to capture an additional 200 gigatons of carbon when they reach maturity and potentially cut atmospheric carbon by 25%. That is a lot of carbon capture! Tom Crowther, senior author of the study was quoted in the Independent stating “Our study shows clearly that forest restoration is the best climate change solution available today and it provides hard evidence to justify investment.” This is an amazing discovery and many are pointing to this as the most effective climate solution to date.

However, what many articles are failing to include in their reporting on this story, is that our current climate trajectory is negatively impacting our forest ecosystems, and will continue to shrink global canopy cover if we don’t change our ways, and fast. It seems the last sentence of the project report’s abstract was left out in many of the mainstream articles that circulated about the study: “Our results highlight the opportunity of climate change mitigation through global tree restoration but also the urgent need for action.” While planting trees to save the world is an exciting idea, many professionals in the field of climate science and climate policy are skeptical of the study and agree, tree planting alone is not going to save us from the errors of our ways, but most certainly can be a part of the solution. Many different actions need to be taken when we approach the pressing issue of our changing climate.

We recently posted a blog that touched on the importance of reducing our personal air travel, and if we can’t, choosing to then offset travel costs through either a donation based approach or a process called carbon offsetting.

While it's important for individuals to make informed changes to address the issue of climate change, systemic change is necessary if the world is to make the significant strides necessary to move the needle. An important part of this change will inevitably involve addressing how we manage our energy resources, specifically within the oil and gas industries. The current administration stands for an “energy dominance” agenda, and because of this, energy companies are producing record amounts of crude oil and natural gas. With over 12 million barrels being produced a day in the US, one would assume that the industry is booming, however, many of these companies are selling off assets and taking on debt, and six companies have declared bankruptcy this year. Yet when we look at the growth in the renewable energy sector, economic predictions show that new wind and solar will be cheaper than 96% of existing coal power by 2030. It seems then, that it’s time to start investing in clean, renewable energy, and divesting from dirtier, outdated energy sources.

At the end of the day, we need to continue taking personal measures to reduce our use and divest from the carbon economy. This could look like joining a volunteer day to plant trees in your neighborhood as the climate study above suggests, but it could also look like driving less, or purchasing an electric car (have you seen the new Rivian truck Alex Honnold is raving about?). You could commit to purchasing carbon offsets every time you fly, or using a donation based offset approach like Jet Set Offset. Another important action is supporting lawmakers who are actively working towards carbon reduction in their legislation. Decision makers hold a lot of power, but we vote them in. Get your friends to commit to doing their research and get them to the polls during your next local election, and start getting excited for the 2020 election.