Magazine article American Forests

The Devil's Bargain: "We Are Stardust, Billion Year Old Carbon, We Are Golden, Caught in the Devil's Bargain"

Magazine article American Forests

The Devil's Bargain: "We Are Stardust, Billion Year Old Carbon, We Are Golden, Caught in the Devil's Bargain"

Article excerpt

I doubt that 40 years ago, Joni Mitchell knew that carbon would become a devil's bargain in 2009. While carbon and climate change shouldn't make us choose between the devil and the deep blue sea, many in the public policy arena would like us to think that a devil's bargain is our only choice when it comes to slowing climate change.


Since 1988, when the trend of excess atmospheric carbon dioxide as a threat to life on earth became clear, AMERICAN FORESTS has been planting trees to counteract [CO.sub.2] in our atmosphere through our Global ReLeaf campaign. But beyond carbon, our first priority is to restore forest ecosystems by replanting native trees to provide erosion control, clean the air of pollutants, buffer and filter our watersheds, and provide wildlife habitat. Yet, after 20 years and many battles, the war over the role of trees and forests in the solution to excess carbon is still not won.

Some would have us believe that trees and forests shouldn't count in the carbon fight, because their carbon benefits are too hard to quantify, too uncertain over the long term, and that they provide an easy way for polluting industries to avoid taking hard steps to reduce their carbon emissions. However, this perception ignores the huge potential value of trees and forests in carbon sequestration and storage, and works against forest restoration.

There are many issues surounding trees and forests and their role in fighting climate change. For a project to qualify for funds through a carbon market, the most important issue may be "additionality," or the net carbon benefit above and beyond what might naturally occur on the site without the project. In many places, trees do regenerate naturally after major natural disturbances, so it is fair to count only the carbon from those sites that exhibit a net increase above that which would occur naturally.

Much of our work is on sites burned intensely by wildfire, where natural seed sources are destroyed. Replanting these areas with trees will help bring back the forest, saving the land from a nonforest future and associated problems such as loss of habitat and increased erosion. Assisted reforestation also ensures that native species thrive, not just those species that blow in, which could be non-native or worse, invasive.

When AMERICAN FORESTS first received word of a major donation from ConocoPhillips to plant trees in California, we had a number of projects in the state that needed support. …

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