Capturing Carbon

It’s difficult for me, and probably you as well, to imagine ways in which I can actually counteract rising CO2 levels and climate changes. A recent village newsletter and a few conversations have reminded me of what we can do locally, by reducing heat islands and encouraging photosynthesis for carbon sequestration, also known as carbon capture.

Heat islands are generally thought of as being solely in urban areas, but the components within those urban areas are found in small communities such as my own. Black-top streets, concrete sidewalks, and a few trees along boulevards and on properties come to my mind as being similar. The EPA recommends counteracting urban heat islands with green roofs, cool roofs, and porous paving with trees and vegetation. Shade trees not only give wonderful relief from the Summer-heat but are also known for their presence to instill a feeling of safety and hospitality from a caring community. They can co-exist with walkways of porous pavements, as seen locally on the WTC campus, where precipitation seeps down into the ground to nurture the vegetation, prevent run-off and erosion, and often reduce dangerous ice build-up. Although initially labor-intensive, brick and porous paving can also be utilized on driveways and parking areas. These are means which can be pursued locally and individually.

On average, an individual with a 2000-calorie diet emits 2 pounds of CO2 each day. Since trees capture carbon, do you know how many trees would capture those 2 pounds? The answer is fifteen! However, when you consider the average American’s daily fossil fuel consumption, it would take 730 trees or roughly 7 acres of forested land to counteract that individual’s CO2 level. For perspective, in my village of 2.10 square miles with a population of 1933, it would require 1,411,090 trees or 13,531 acres of forested land. However, our 2.10 square miles is equal to only 1,344 acres. It seems insurmountable, but I’ve figured that I am exceeding the original 15 tree equation and although non-specific, I’ve mentioned other things in a previous blog about further reduction of my carbon footprint.

Focusing on carbon capture by trees alone without considering other vegetation would be a mistake. Perennial native plants are excellent for carbon capture and are usually better than most worthy non-native plants. The native plants are already suited to the growing conditions of the region and will provide habitats for endemic beneficial insects and wildlife. Plus it’s best to mimic nature by diversifying because the plants will support each other in all kinds of weather and soil conditions. Growing from seed or planting perennials will keep soil and carbon stores intact. Since dead vegetation releases its carbon storage, perennials will reduce that loss.

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