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September 19, 2022

Zero Net Emissions Does NOT Require Zero Use of Fossil Fuels

The distinction is essential to an achievable climate strategy.

In the introduction to its May 2022 special issue SAVING FORESTS, National Geographic says “Each year forests and other vegetation absorb up to a third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels.” The implications of that statement are clear: if we reduce emissions from fossil fuels by two-thirds and preserve our vegetative cover, we will be at zero net emissions. We will NOT be increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. If we reduce emissions a little further or plant more trees, we’ll start to reduce the concentration of CO2 and temperatures should start to decline if atmospheric models from the UN are correct.

The SAVING FORESTS issue gives many examples of using trees to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequester carbon in the ground including better management of existing forests, reforesting abandoned farmland, controlled burns, and replanting burned areas with a mix of species less likely to fuel infernos. All these cost money; the logical question to ask, project by project, is “does this project remove more CO2 from the atmosphere per dollar spent than, for example, subsidizing electric cars?” But the question is never asked. Any money allocated to planting more trees must, apparently, be in addition to the nearly limitless cost of eliminating all fossil fuels.

On page 73 of SAVING FORESTS, in an otherwise excellent article on threats to trees, author Craig Welch contradicts the introduction and writes “The planet won’t stop warming until we completely [emphasis mine] halt fossil fuel emissions.” This is nonsense, of course, because it’s only net emissions which count. Earth isn’t punishing us for the hubris of burning fossil fuels.; but authors like Welch typically include a ritualistic condemnation of all fossil fuels in their articles to protect themselves from the suspicion that they are proposing carbon reduction methods which might compete with eliminating fossil fuels. They are intimidated by the green industrial complex which brooks no challenge to any of its schemes to replace fossil fuels no mater how impractical, slow, or expensive. That means that tree-plantings aren’t allowed to compete for climate mitigation dollars with schemes like subsidies for electric cars or reliance on battery technologies which don’t exist yet.

Equating the end of all fossil fuel use with the net zero goal means that we don’t prioritize our reductions because “all” fossil fuels are bad. If we confuse the goal of zero net emissions with a needless jihad to replace all fossil fuels, we squander wealth, deny people a way out of poverty, and quickly forfeit support for the programs necessary to reduce emissions.

A two-third reduction in net emissions in a reasonable time is doable if not easy. The world as we know it doesn’t have to end. Good news.

The National Geographic issue on trees is full of good strategies for maintaining and even increasing plant-based reductions in net emissions. But fear of offending the all-fossil-fuels-must-go crowd prevents the magazine from following its own facts to reasonable conclusions and policy recommendations.

See also:

Trees v. Solar Panels

Vermont Can Exceed 2025 Carbon Reduction Goal Just by Planting Trees

The Science Behind the Trillion Tree Campaign

Zero Net Emissions Does NOT Require Zero Use of Fossil Fuels – Continued (Hybrid generation is the best way to environmental goals)

 

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