Trees Give Back to Us, Even When They Die
The values and impact of trees beyond carbon
Photo by Erin Testone on Unsplash
Imagine your impact from a single tree planting going beyond a few years.
While short-term effects are often at the front of our minds, the long-lasting impacts of trees can be seen throughout the years of its e growth. As the tree builds up its protective bark and soaks in sunlight which releases the oxygen we breathe, it simultaneously stores the carbon from natural processes that help it function.
This storage occurs in all parts throughout the tree, in branches, leaves, and even roots, without us even seeing. According to the USDA, over 50% of dried tree parts are made of carbon.
At maturity, the one tree you planted will have the ability to absorb over 48 pounds of carbon dioxide over the course of one year. Thanks to the carbon capture and release process, there is a value in each and every tree planted.
How does it work?
This long-lasting impact of tree planting, called carbon sequestration, occurs when a tree continues to capture and store carbon within its soil throughout the duration of its life.
In order to explain the necessity of many trees, it is important to understand how the carbon capture and release process works, as it takes many years to cycle through.
During photosynthesis, trees take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in order to produce sugars, or food to grow and function and release oxygen, which helps us breathe. Trees are then able to build and strengthen their structures such as leaves and bark.
When a tree begins to die or rot, the stored carbon is then released from the biomass, litter, forest soil, and dead wood, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
Although maintaining tree health plays an important role in ecosystem services and human health, natural causes such as respiration and human causes such as harvesting and fires have the potential to release this carbon which can compensate for emissions (UNECE).
By increasing the amount of carbon storage and having a plentiful amount of young and old trees, carbon emissions will in turn decrease.
However, we may not want to rely on fires to increase carbon storage and reduce carbon emissions.
Therefore, emissions from different sources can be taken into account based on the availability of forests. Over one year, an acre of mature trees can absorb the amount of carbon dioxide produced by a car driven 26,000 miles.
In order for these carbon offsets to occur, it is important for communities to collaborate on tree planting together to achieve the maximum potential for carbon absorption.
Photo by aiokr chen on Unsplash
How trees provide, dead and alive
Although we may view a tree as useful only when it’s alive producing oxygen for us to live, when the tree dies, trees also release the stored carbon into the atmosphere when they die.
As mentioned earlier, a tree stores carbon in all parts of itself. Once it dies, this carbon is released either directly or slowly over time by decomposing. Even when trees are repurposed and harvested and become wood products, the carbon stays until decomposition or burning, according to the USDA.
The total amount of sequestered carbon in U.S. forests per the USDA is about 27 years of carbon dioxide emissions. This may seem like a lot of carbon dioxide released back into the atmosphere.
However, it is important to consider how much carbon dioxide each human emits. For example, Penn State University shares that the average U.S. citizen emits around 27 tons of carbon dioxide a year.
To keep up with human consumption rates, it is necessary to have both young and old trees in forests to increase the amounts of carbon released back into the atmosphere.
Because of this, we need large forested areas and to continue planting trees in order to increase the amount of stored carbon in these trees, which ultimately can help offset greenhouse gas emissions.
Cultivating large forests for success
The carbon capture and storage process by trees certainly plays a huge role in mitigating human impacts in the long run, even without it being apparent to the naked eye.
Unfortunately, planting one tree does not give the world the capability to erase all greenhouse gas emissions or solve climate change impacts.
On the other hand, planting and managing many acres of n forested land can set up future generations for success with clean natural resources, simply by maximizing carbon storage over time.