The surprising downsides to planting trillions of trees

“Solving a problem as vast as climate change or biodiversity loss is never as straightforward as planting lots of trees. People often think, “We’ll just plant trees and call that a restoration project, and we’ll exonerate our carbon sins,” said Robin Chazdon, a forest researcher at the University of the Sunshine Coast. Usually, she said, “that fails.”

Buzzy tree-planting programs tend to obscure the fact that restoration requires a long-term commitment of resources and many years of monitoring. “We should just stop thinking about only tree-planting,” as climate scientist Lalisa Duguma has said. “It has to be tree-growing.” Even fast-growing trees take at least three years to mature, he added, while others can require eight years or more. “If our thinking of growing trees is downgraded to planting trees, we miss that big part of the investment that is required,” Duguma said.”

” A bigger problem still is that many large planting campaigns don’t account for the underlying social or economic conditions that fuel deforestation in the first place. People may cut down trees to collect firewood or carve out land for their animals. In those cases, putting seedlings in the ground won’t do much to end deforestation. “Planting trees might not be the intervention,” Fleischman said. “The intervention might be giving people a substitute for firewood.””

“there are plenty of successful restoration programs — and they’re getting better, said Chazdon, who’s also an adviser for the WEF trillion trees campaign. “There is ample evidence that when restoration is done properly, it works,” she said.”

A Jobs-Killing Civilian Climate Corps Is Not the Way To Fix Climate Change

“The backlog of forest restoration projects suggests that there are issues on public lands that really need to be addressed, but that is not an argument for creating a vast new federal bureaucracy with as many as 1.5 million government employees.”

It’s time to freak out about methane emissions

“In the public conversation about climate change, methane has gotten too little attention for too long. Many people may be unaware that humans have been spewing a greenhouse gas that’s even more potent than carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate not seen in at least 800,000 years. It harms air quality and comes from sources as varied as oil and gas pipelines to landfills and cows. But methane and other greenhouse gases, including hydroflurocarbons, ozone, nitrogen dioxides, and sulfur oxides, are finally getting the attention they deserve — thanks largely to advances in the science.

Until the past few years, methane’s relative obscurity made sense. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is by far the largest contributor to climate change, and it comes from recognizable fossil fuel sources such as car tailpipes, coal smokestacks, and burning gas and oil. The most troubling part is that it sticks around in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, making climate change not just a problem for us now, but generations well into the future. Carbon is now embedded in our language, from “carbon footprint” to “zero-carbon lifestyle.””

“Even though methane is not nearly as well understood as carbon, it’s playing an enormous role in the climate crisis. It’s at least 80 times as effective at trapping heat than carbon in a 20-year period, but starts to dissipate in the atmosphere in a matter of years. If this is the “decisive decade” to take action, as the Biden administration has said, then a methane strategy has to be at the center of any policy for tackling global warming.

Methane could mean the difference between a rapidly warming planet changing too quickly and drastically for humanity to handle, and buying the planet some much-needed time to get a handle on the longer-term problem of fossil fuels and carbon pollution.”

“Identifying the millions of sources of methane around the globe isn’t so simple. Cattle release methane, and so does decomposing organic material. All the food waste that goes into landfills release methane. And natural gas is almost entirely methane.

If you’ve heard politicians call natural gas a “bridge fuel,” what they mean is that natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than coal. It’s wrong to call it clean, because burning methane still releases carbon — and methane that escapes without burning is a powerful warmer.”

“Environmental Defense Fund, which has commissioned flights to monitor methane over Texas oil and gas fields, has found that oil fields in the US are leaking 60 percent more methane than the Environmental Protection Agency estimates. University of Michigan scientist Eric Kort found methane spewing from offshore wells at far higher rates than previously understood. The environmental group Earthworks, using expensive, on-the-ground camera equipment, helped track down some sites that were repeat offenders of venting methane into the atmosphere.

The scientific papers have mounted: Since 2013, at least 45 scientific papers have highlighted the disproportionate role of oil and gas operations, according to a review by the advocacy group Climate Nexus.”

“There’s widespread agreement, even from some in the fossil fuel industry, that the place to start is tackling leaks. This will get easier as scientists gather better data about where methane is leaking. From the industry’s perspective, companies are losing product and dollars.”

“Fractions of degrees could translate into wild swings in extreme weather, or tipping points we don’t even fully understand. In the effort to prevent climate catastrophe, methane will count tremendously.”

The US is inching closer to passing a game-changing climate policy

“A time when the United States runs mostly on wind- and solar-powered electricity could be a reality in only a few years. It wouldn’t require any scientific breakthroughs or technological leaps for clean energy to overtake coal and natural gas, which still dominate 60 percent of the US power sector. What it would take to challenge a century of fossil-fuel dominance in record-breaking time is one sweeping, underappreciated policy: a clean electricity standard.”

“A clean electricity standard is a bit of a misnomer because the actual policy being discussed is even more boring-sounding: a clean electricity payment program that pays utilities to clean up their act and fine them for missing deadlines. Still, this approach could effectively double the amount of wind and solar on the market, moving the nation toward roughly 80 percent renewable sources of electricity by 2030, and within reach of 100 percent clean electricity by 2035. It’s critical to getting the US halfway to Biden’s pledge under the Paris climate agreement.”

“Two of the biggest ways Americans contribute to climate change is in their transportation and electricity usage. You might cut your carbon footprint by making your home more efficient, installing a solar panel, and even buying an electric car — and the power that flows from your outlet is a lot cleaner than it was a decade ago. But coal and natural gas, more often than not, are still the status quo. This reality limits the impact of well-meaning actions: A coal-fired power plant may be charging your Tesla, and gas might be powering your office’s air conditioning.”

“The biggest short-term benefits aren’t even about climate change. Continuing to cut coal also slashes the country’s air pollution, like the ozone and particulates that damage people’s lungs and hearts. These gains would easily dwarf what the Environmental Protection Agency has accomplished under previous presidents because it would close more coal-powered plants than even President Barack Obama’s most effective environmental regulation, the mercury and air toxins rule.
And then there are the lives saved, according to research from Harvard University: By 2030, the policy would save 9,200 lives because of the sudden cut in air pollution. Over the next 30 years, that number grows to 317,500 lives saved.”

The devastating new UN report on climate change, explained

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations’ climate science research group, concluded in a major report that it is “unequivocal” that humans have warmed the skies, waters, and lands, and that “widespread and rapid changes” have already occurred in every inhabited region across the globe. Many of these changes are irreversible within our lifetimes.

This is the first report of its kind in eight years, and a lot has changed. Scientists have backed away from many of the best-case scenarios. They’re more confident than ever that human-caused climate change is already worsening deadly weather events, from flooding to heat waves. And they’re investigating culprits of climate change that warm the planet even more than carbon dioxide.”

“The goal of these reports is to compile the best available science and create a solid foundation for decision-makers to act, whether that’s to invest in clean energy, relocate people from high-risk areas, or help the most vulnerable places cope with unavoidable impacts.”

“While researchers have better answers now on some fronts, they are also blunt about the things they still don’t know, which could have huge effects on the livability of the planet. Certain tipping points, feedbacks, and currently unappreciated mechanisms could further tilt the climate out of balance in ways that are hard to predict.”

“in the eight years since the last comprehensive IPCC report and the six years since the Paris accords, humanity’s output of heat-trapping gases has only grown. Even with a dip in emissions stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere reached a record high this year, topping 419 parts per million, a level the planet has not seen for at least 2 million years.

This rise in emissions has given scientists unprecedented opportunities to study climate change in real time. Alongside improvements in computer simulations, measurement technology, laboratory experiments, and historical records, scientists have gained far more insight to, and confidence in, humanity’s role in cranking up the planet’s thermostat.”

“According to the report, it now seems impossible that the world will get lucky and warming will somehow stay within the Paris agreement targets without massive action to limit emissions, starting right away.”

Where Republicans Are Starting to Worry About Big Oil

“Fracking has also accelerated life on the surface. Some landowners have made millions of dollars from selling the rights to oil beneath their land to major corporations. And struggling agricultural crossroads, including Watford City, the county seat 20 miles southeast of Novak’s farm, have found new life as boomtowns. During the past decade, a new high school and hospital, and housing developments sprawling from Main Street into the prairie, have arisen to serve the more than 10,000 people who have come from afar to work in the McKenzie County oil field.

But installing an industry atop an agricultural zone has brought less-heralded changes, too, including an elaborate system to deal with the saltwater, which is actually a polluted mix of naturally occurring brine, hydrocarbons, radioactive materials and more. Billions of gallons of it are produced by oil drilling and pumping each year.”

“Over the following weeks, industry clean-up specialists dug dirt, built berms and installed pumps to try to decontaminate the pasture and its springs. But nearly three months later, a water sample taken far down the gully, where it broadens into a wetland, contained 149,000 parts per million of chloride — 600 times the advised limit, and a clear indication that saltwater and its dangerous contaminants were still present.

The damage to Novak’s land, while dramatic, isn’t uncommon in the North Dakota oil fields. More than 50 saltwater spills happen each year in McKenzie County, when tanker trucks crash, pipelines leak, or well pads or disposal sites catch fire or otherwise malfunction. Many spills are contained on well pads and at disposal sites. But others drain into fields, farmyards and roadways. Novak worried about his pasture, a water source for cows, deer, pheasants and more. And he feared the cumulative impact of so many saltwater spills in a county that is home to hundreds of streams and springs, and where farmers and ranchers often rely on water wells for livestock and themselves.”

” Today, tax revenues from oil operations make up more than 50 percent of North Dakota’s annual budget. Republican leaders in the state, who hold all federal and statewide elected positions, have continued to push for a carbon-based economy, as North Dakota now depends on oil more than any other state. The North Dakota Legacy Fund, an investment account approved by North Dakota voters to guard some oil tax revenue for future expenses, is worth more than $8 billion. Oil tax revenue from that and other sources has buoyed schools and health care across the state, lowered income taxes for residents, and funded everything from flood containment systems in eastern North Dakota to major highway projects.”

““Sometimes you have a really good company that will clean it up. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you don’t ever find out about it,” Jappe said. “I wish saltwater had a little bit more regulation. There just needs to be more accountability.”

Jappe would like the state to require tanker trucks hauling saltwater to carry placards that indicate the toxic load. She would like to see more state health and environmental quality inspectors on site, including some who live and work in McKenzie County year-round, as many now travel from the eastern part of the state for shorter stays.

She is especially concerned about the damage that can come if pipes injecting saltwater a mile underground were to leak. She told me she is not confident underground aquifers, let alone fields and pastures impacted by surface spills, are safe. She worries that residents don’t have enough protection under current oil-field oversight by state agencies that can’t keep pace with development.

“We’re their lab rats,” Jappe said.”

The Scariest Predictions in the New U.N. Climate Report Are Also the Most Unlikely

“Unabated man-made climate change would likely become a significant problem for humanity by the end of this century. But the more plausible emissions scenarios suggest it is eminently possible to grow the world’s economy while keeping global temperatures below catastrophic thresholds, by gradually transitioning from fossil fuels.”