April 2021 – Trees and Carbon

With the topic of climate change on the rise, often we hear things like ‘Reducing carbon emissions’, ‘negative carbon’, ‘neutral carbon’, ‘decarbonizing’, ‘reducing your carbon footprint’ and ‘the war on carbon’, but what does it all mean? We hear these terms, but how many of us actually understand what carbon is, or why it is so concerning?

Carbon is life. It exists in all known life forms, and life is impossible without it. Carbon moves in a cycle, through the trees, the oceans, the ground, the atmosphere, and all life, from air to land and back to air in a continual loop. When combined with water, Carbon becomes sugars, alcohols, fats and terpenes. Nitrogen and Sulphur in combination with Carbon creates amino acids, antibiotics and alkaloids. Phosphorus and Carbon make up DNA and RNA which are the codes of life itself, in addition to ATP which is the energy-transfer molecule required by all living cells

An Architect and Author Specializing in Sustainable Development, William McDonough explains “But carbon – the element – is not the enemy. Climate change is the result of breakdowns in the carbon cycle caused by us: it is a design failure. Anthropogenic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere make airborne carbon a material in the wrong place, at the wrong dose and for the wrong duration”. He continues “In the right place, carbon is a resource and a tool. Carbon dioxide is the currency of photosynthesis, a source of Earth’s capacity for regeneration. Soil carbon is the guarantor of healthy ecosystems and food and water security.”

Carbon sequestration takes a combination of capturing carbon from the air and a method to store it safely forever. David Johnson at the New Mexico State University Institute for Energy and the Environment found that the best method of managing soil carbon and promoting plant growth was not through added nitrogen or phosphorus, but rather with the carbon inputs from other plants. Carbon is essential for soil health.

‘Carbon farming’ is a variety of farming methods implemented to sequester atmospheric carbon into the soil and roots of crops. Through these applications, the biomass of any farm landscape is increased, and it allows for plant material to naturally decompose to increase organic soil carbon. In turn, this improves the fertility and water retention of the soil, promotes plant growth and decreases the necessity for external fertilizers.

In recent years, you may have heard of the “no till” method of gardening. This technique is practiced so that the soil is not disturbed by tilling, preventing the release of stored carbon into the atmosphere; instead, it is contained and added to, to promote more sustainable agricultural practices.

One example of this is to cut and drop your weeds to allow them to decompose and add nutrients to your soil, as opposed to digging them up by the root, which would disturb and release stored carbon. The removal of the weeds is actually taking nutrients away from your garden, when they would otherwise be adding to the soil nutrients through decomposition.

At the beginning of March, the Nature Conservancy of Canada released a report stating that East Vancouver Island is one of 9 Crisis Ecoregions in Canada, with several species at risk or facing extinction. Emily Giles of the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) states that “When these areas are destroyed, carbon is released back into the atmosphere and accelerates the climate crisis. It is therefore critically important that we protect these habitats due to duel benefit they can bring for both biodiversity and the climate.”

Planting perennial trees with large root structures is one very effective and natural method for high carbon sequestration year-round, as the carbon is cleaned from air by the trees, and sent into the ground where it is kept and stored. By having native plants integrated into you yards and gardens, you will be creating more habitats for the species at risk in our ecoregion.

For this reason, trees and nature in general are the most important and also the most overlooked contributors to the fight against climate change. The Climate and Land Alliance comprised of 40 International scientists concluded that “The ‘natural technology’ of the forests is currently the only proven means of removing and storing atmospheric CO² at a scale that can meaningfully contribute to achieving carbon balance”.

Angela Hicke – Van Isle Wild

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