To say “create carbon sinks” is another way to say “reforest the planet.” Ever since EcoWorld posted its first page back in May 1995, our original and enduring mission is to promote reforesting. Our goal is to record a doubling of the timber mass of planet earth during the 50 year period from 1995 to 2045. But only trees? Why don’t environmentalists reforest their dogma? Why are environmentalists usually perceived to be a leftist? More specifically, why are environmentalists usually perceived to be anti-development, anti-capitalism, anti-nuclear, anti-genetic-modification, pro-recycling no matter what, and pro-carbon-reduction by any means?
Of course we need to quickly reforest the earth. Until we know for certain that forests cannot absorb anthropogenic CO2, we must put at least as much efforts into reforestation as we put into further regulating and cutting human industrial carbon emissions. If only 5% of the CO2 released into the atmosphere each year is caused by human industrial activity, then certainly if we double the timber mass of the planet we will be able to take up this amount of carbon.
If increasing levels of atmospheric CO2 could be the “tipping point,” catalysing the warming of a world already warming from more water vapor because the sun is hottor this millenium compared to the last – the sun does flicker – then why isn’t the “urban heat island effect” a tipping point too? Human civilization is now nearly 50% urban with the percentage rising every year. Densely-packed habitat and urban infrastructure for three billion people creates heat sinks on a planetary scale. Why don’t we plant millions and billions of big canopy trees in every city on earth? Why isn’t every urban heat island on the planet already carpeted with cooling canopies of big shade trees? It wouldn’t cost even one-millionth as much as converting to hydrogen fuel cell cars.
Nobody can say for certain if the glacier on Kilimanjaro is melting away because of more heat, or for lack of precipitation. Certainly with a little more rainfall, that peak would be white year-around through another epoch. So where did the forests go that once marched for thousands of square kilometers up her slopes, bringing rainclouds with them, and why don’t we put them back? If you want a bigger global carbon sink, you could sure make a good start with billions of new trees right there on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, and on all the other denuded slopes in the world, and across the tropics, and everywhere else.
If you are willing to regulate carbon, going to the point of classifying it as a pollutant, why don’t you reforest the Congo basin instead, to absorb more carbon? Why not dig a water tunnel north from the Ubangi River into the Lake Chad watershed? The water might even be gravity-fed, or lifted with pumps powered by thermal collectors. Let’s refill Lake Chad with water from the Ubangi river, and re-green the vast expanses of the Sahel with carbon-absorbing plants.
There seems to be no doubt that the earth is warming. But if the looming catastrophe is so huge we must avoid it at all costs, why don’t we build non-carbon emitting nuclear power plants in Siberia to move 25+ cubic kilometers of fresh water per year from arctic-bound rivers to refill the Aral Sea, and replant the Aral basin? This would help counteract the fresh water being introduced by icecap melt, and would bring the moderating effects of life back to one of the most desicated places on earth. The disappearance of the Aral Sea has been called by Al Gore the biggest environmental disaster in human history.
For the money we would spend on bureaucrats and lawyers every year trying to regulate carbon emissions, we could easily build 50 gigawatts per year of photovoltaic panels that require minimal maintenance. For even less, today, we could do the same with windmills, and we should. Why don’t we stop spending billions on experiments with hydrogen, and instead increase our photovoltaic and windmill capacity so that within twenty years they generate up to 200 quadrillion BTU’s per year?
If the precautionary principle must be invoked – and carbon emissions must be banned – because the potential catastrophe is so huge, then why is a discussion of the risks and benefits of genetically modified crops so unspeakable? If algae was successfully genetically modified to efficiently produce ethanol feedstock, we might have a carbon-neutral biofuel source capable of worldwide production of 50+ million barrels per day.
It is difficult to have a vision of nature and technology in harmony that wouldn’t permit one to believe nuclear power of any kind will ever be feasible. Fusion energy uses limitless fuel and consumes its own waste. Should we forget about that? Genetic modification is bringing us cures to deadly ailments, and preventing countless others. Should we stop learning about that, too? Who can dogmatically say on what grounds an environmentalist might excommunicate an environmentalist?
Reforest the planet, the far flung open forests and the urban forests, everywhere. Maybe that is something we can all agree upon.