Cars, trees and carbon dioxide neutrality

A local car manufacturer has been planting 25 native trees for every vehicle ordered by State Government during the 2006 calendar year to offset the carbon dioxide emitted by these cars during their time in service with the government.

It’s a gesture for sure, but a noble one? Trees planted for the purposes of carbon offset do not offset the CO2 immediately, it can take some years while the tree grows before any impact can be made. So does a tree in its first year offset the carbon dioxide generated by the vehicle in its first year? Not a chance, not even close. 2nd year? Nope.

3rd year?

I’m somewhat familiar with the area where these trees are being planted as I had a few acres in that region. Nothing grows fast there except weeds and there is an appreciable die-off rate in plantations the first few years. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration by any means to say around 15% of those trees will die before they can get to a stage of being of benefit. I wonder if this has been taken into account.

I’m not dumping on this idea at all – if it means even one extra tree is planted that may not have been otherwise, it’s great. We just need to get a little more realistic about carbon offsetting through tree planting and not to think that this gives us an excuse to drive and consume fossil fuels to our heart’s content.

Before you spend your cash on buying trees for the purpose of offsetting carbon dioxide emissions; given that you’ll never see the trees you buy; be sure you check into the company that’s running the scheme.

After doing some research into this subject, it’s become apparent that quite a few well publicized tree-planting carbon offset projects have failed. A recent instance of this was when a high profile band sponsored a tree planting project to offset the carbon emissions created during the recording of their album. 40% of those trees have died already; long before they would have been able to offset the emissions.

Fans of the band also paid quite a bit of money to sponsor a tree in the band’s “forest”. It’s my understanding that it’s by no means the band who were at fault, it *was* a noble gesture on their part – it was the company managing the plantations where the blame lies. Did the company go broke as a result of the failure? Of course not :).

In regards to carbon neutrality and cars, also bear in mind that while 25 trees, if they survived, might offset the carbon dioxide emissions of those cars for X years – it doesn’t offset the carbon that went into making them. It also does nothing for the other nasty chemicals that are pumped into the atmosphere by the cars during their life of service, nor during the manufacturing process.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is a point I stated in one of my blog posts – going green isn’t just about the type of consumption, but also the level of consumption. Remember that we are behind the eight-ball now. Driving your car twice as often and twice as far, then offsetting it with a few trees isn’t a solution. Driving your car half as much, but offsetting those miles with double the trees necessary – that is more towards a solution. Not driving or having a car at all – now that’s a real solution.

Unfortunately, zero car usage something that s still quite impractical for many of us given our lifestyles, but shaving a few miles off your car usage each week to what you *usually* drive, and offsetting, is a small step forward, but an important one.