Planting Trees and Managing Soils to Sequester Carbon

Net zero deforestation is a necessary step in reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

| January 2009

Trees Bulldozer Deforestation

Although banning deforestation may seem farfetched, environmental reasons have pushed three countries — Thailand, the Philippines and China — to implement complete or partial bans on logging.

Photo By Fotolia/jorgophotography

As of 2007, the shrinking forests in the tropical regions were releasing 2.2 billion tons of carbon per year. Meanwhile, expanding forests in the temperate regions were absorbing 0.7 billion tons of carbon annually. On balance, a net of some 1.5 billion tons of carbon were being released into the atmosphere each year, contributing to global warming.

The tropical deforestation in Asia is driven primarily by the fast-growing demand for timber. In Latin America, by contrast, it is the growing demand for soybeans and beef that is deforesting the Amazon. In Africa, it is mostly the gathering of fuelwood and the clearing of new land for agriculture as existing cropland is degraded and abandoned. Two countries, Indonesia and Brazil, account for more than half of all deforestation. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, also high on the list, is a failing state, making forest management difficult.

Included in the Plan B blueprint to stabilize climate are plans to end net deforestation worldwide and to sequester carbon through a variety of tree planting initiatives and the adoption of improved agricultural land management practices. Today, because the earth’s forests are shrinking, they are a major source of CO2. The goal is to expand the earth’s tree cover, growing more trees to soak up CO2.

Although banning deforestation may seem farfetched, environmental reasons have pushed three countries — Thailand, the Philippines and China — to implement complete or partial bans on logging. All three bans were imposed following devastating floods and mudslides resulting from the loss of forest cover. After suffering record losses from several weeks of nonstop flooding in the Yangtze River basin, Beijing noted that when forest policy was viewed not through the eyes of the individual logger but through those of society as a whole, it simply did not make economic sense to continue deforesting. The flood control service of trees standing, they said, was three times as valuable as the timber from trees cut. With this in mind, Beijing then took the unusual step of paying the loggers to become tree planters — to reforest instead of deforest.

Other countries cutting down large areas of trees will also face the environmental effects of deforestation, including flooding. If Brazil’s Amazon rainforest continues to shrink, it may also continue to dry out, becoming vulnerable to fire. If the Amazon rainforest disappears, it would be replaced largely by desert and scrub forestland. The capacity of the rainforest to cycle water to the interior, including to the agricultural areas to the south, would be lost. At this point, a fast-unfolding local environmental calamity would become an economic disaster, and because the burning Amazon would release billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere, it would accelerate global warming.

Just as national concerns about the effects of continuing deforestation eventually eclipsed local interests, now global interests are beginning to eclipse national ones as deforestation has become a major driver of global warming. Deforestation is no longer just a matter of local flooding, but also rising seas worldwide and the many other effects of climate change. Nature has just raised the ante on protecting forests.

1/15/2009 11:58:33 AM

Replanting hardwood forests is not only good for the planet it can be profitable as well. The increasing price for tropical hardwood lumber reflects the growing demand and the shrinking supply. In Hawaii, people are starting to replant native species and high demand species of tropical hardwoods for small and large investors. The wood produced by these trees will help take some of the demand off native forests and will tie up carbon for generations in the form of fine furniture, flooring and other high end uses. The very process of turning degraded sugar cane land into forested land will increase organic matter in the soil and improve water retention. Projects like this now make economic sense. Hopefully this trend will be repeated throughout the world.

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