Carbon abatement is for sissies. Let’s stop thinking like consumers and start thinking like producers. If there’s surplus carbon dioxide, instead of releasing somewhat less of it by modifying our personal consumption, let’s figure out ways of sucking it back out of the air and using it for our personal production.
So what can we make with all that carbon dioxide? Well, lots of things, but for the sake of this post, let’s make trees out of it. A good stand of trees will turn greenhouse gases into biomass and lumber. Planting a stand of trees on our own property is a way to take charge of the problem directly. You can buy a lot of rural land in need of TLC for the price of a hybrid car, and doing so will be much better for the environment.
According to some statistics I’ve used before (see my February 2007 newsletter), if you take 16 acres of pastureland and plant trees on it, you’ll achieve a personal carbon footprint of zero, even if you live to be 100 years old, harvest the trees every 30 years, and otherwise do nothing about greenhouse gases. If you plant more than 16 acres, your carbon footprint will be negative! This is infinitely better than what you can get by altering your consumption style.
Taking the tree route is not very hard. In large areas of the country, forest is the default condition: unless you mow, plow, or keep cattle on it, your land will turn into a forest on its own.
So I recommend that you get some nice acreage somewhere, not too expensive, and allow it to revert to woodland. Put a house or a cabin on it, while you’re at it. What the heck.
Do this on low-value land that never should have been cleared in the first place. It’s cheaper that way, and it takes ecologically marginal land and turns it back into what it wants to be. On our farm, we’re letting the forest reclaim a good-sized chunk of our property.
A negative carbon footprint ought to be low enough to satisfy the most guilt-ridden soul, and the timber income every thirty years is nothing to sneeze at. Lumber is durable and won’t turn itself back into carbon dioxide anytime soon, and the amount of carbon in the soil remains much higher on timberland, even after logging, than it is on pasture or cropland, if the trees are allowed to come back.
I think you’ll find that you can do amazing amounts of carbon fixing by acquiring land of your own and reforesting it — orders of magnitude than you can do by the lifestyle changes that are normally recommended. Nature is so much more powerful than we are that she should always be called upon to do the heavy lifting.