Something Old, Something New

carbon capture and sequester

There are only two ways to reduce the excessive levels of greenhouse gasses that are driving up the earth’s temperature. The first is to reduce the amount of carbon we are putting into the air.  Second, we need to capture and sequester carbon.  

Yes, we need to stop burning fossil fuels.  This gets most of our attention but is proceeding far too slowly.

Just as importantly, we can also work on removing the greenhouse gasses already in the atmosphere. No one is suggesting we should slack off on reducing emissions.  However, we must be much more aggressive about removing carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide makes the atmosphere retain the heat that is contributing to wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Something Old…

Do you remember learning in grade school that trees absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen? Trees are among the oldest “technologies” in nature; they are an essential part of our living ecosystem. Indeed, scientists estimate there are currently about three trillion trees on the planet.  The scientists also estimate those trees are holding approximately 400 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

carbon capture and sequester
Trees are on the front line of carbon capture and sequester

That makes the continuing deforestation of the Amazon basin not only irresponsible but life-threatening. Now, however, we have a powerful rationale to demand stopping and reversing deforestation.

Ecologist Thomas Crowther and his colleagues at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university, presented a report at this year’s American Association for the Advancement of Science Conference in Washington, D.C., arguing that planting additional trees is one of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gases.

Crowther believes planting 1.2 trillion new trees around the planet would sequester about 160 billion tons of carbon dioxide. That is the equivalent of about a decade’s worth of global emissions.

But how could we ever plant a trillion trees in a decade? That’s 100 billion trees a year, a staggering number. But this is where “something new” comes in.

Something new…

A company called BioCarbon Engineering, based in Oxford, England, has developed a flying drone that can plant 100,000 tree seedlings a day.

The drones are can fly over a target area firing small “bullets” into the ground at precise predetermined locations. Each biodegradable bullet contains a seedling and appropriate nutrients.  The drones fire the bullets at exactly the velocity required to bury seedlings at the right depth in the ground.

The company, in conjunction with a nonprofit called the Trillion Tree Campaign ( envisions a flying army of 10,000 drones that would be able to plant a billion trees a day (do the math). With that capability, we could plant those trillion trees in less than four years.

Now that may seem like science fiction, but it is clear that the limiting factor in planting a trillion trees is not our ability to do it, but our will – our readiness to allocate the financial and human resources needed to make it happen.

Progress Is Underway

carbon capture and sequester
Youth around the globe are planting trees.

But the good news is that there are several organizations and global campaigns underway that have already planted billions of new trees. Plant for the Planet was founded in Germany in 2007 by Felix Finkbeiner, then 9-years-old. Four years later Plant for the Planet included young people in 93 countries around the world who had planted over one million trees.

By August 2018 that number had grown to over 15.2 billion trees planted in 193 countries.

In 2006, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) launched the Billion Tree Campaign. It has since been renamed the Trillion Tree Campaign and folded into the youth-led nonprofit Plant for the Planet organization.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UNEP program, commented, “… what is most remarkable is not its scale, but its spread. People from all around the world have enthusiastically joined the campaign and planted trees in their own communities.”

I am excited about these tree-planting drones that blend new and old technologies. I am particularly impressed  these campaigns have largely been led by young people all over the world.

Of course, it is equally important we continue to reduce new greenhouse gas emissions. We also need to leave as much of the remaining carbon-intensive fossil fuel resources (coal, oil, natural gas) as possible in the ground. That too is a matter of political will.

What does all this mean for us in Rossmoor? We can individually donate to the Plant for the Planet campaign (visit the website for more information).  As a community we can also support the landscaping initiatives in our Mutuals and by GRF. When we remove older trees we can replace them with new plantings. That’s the least we can do.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, August 21, 2019.  Email James Ware, PhD, at

One thought on “Something Old, Something New”

  1. We need to keep in mind that to be financially feasible, it takes adequate natural sources of water to grow newly planted trees. There are many places on the planet where such water sources exist — Oregon and Washington state come to mind. Areas of persistent drought with multiple competing needs for water may not be ideal for trees.

    There are many forms of vegetation that sequester carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Some (including some species of trees) with deep root systems can bring excess seasonal water down to aquifers for natural storage.

    As far as replacing a tree with another tree in Rossmoor, we need to consider several pros and cons, including why did the initial tree fail to thrive?

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