A piece from The Independent Institute chortles that planting trees looks like “by far—the cheapest and most effective approach to mitigating climate change.” So much for overthrowing capitalism. Darn.
The Independent article by Robert P. Murphy goes into a long discussion, some would say digression, about Ronald Coase’s seminal insight into the right way to think about social cost that only an economist could love. And we do. In this case, Murphy says, fixating on the idea that we are emitting too much CO2 would point us toward inefficient policies like carbon taxes if the real problem was that we were planting too few trees. If so, one could get CO2 out of the air far more effectively by paying people to plant trees than by fining or taxing them for driving cars.
It would also have the advantage that while a world with fewer cars would be a poorer world in many ways, a world with more trees would be a richer one because trees are very cool. Indeed among the reasons why urban life is often unhappy and stressful is that city-dwellers see far too little of nature. (Even the typical urban “Avenue”, a word meaning tree-lined street, has far too few trees and far too much concrete and asphalt.)
Unfortunately, as we have pointed out, the drawback to the Guardian’s unexpectedly chirpy take on this study, that “As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating” is that trees are not vertical sticks with green fuzz. They are living things and like all living things they eventually die. And when they die all the CO2 fizzes back out and we may be stuck because there’s a limit to how many trees we can plant before the entire Earth is covered in wood.
Adding to the complexity, the Earth is already a lot greener than it was 40 years ago because of, uh, all the CO2 we’ve put out there. So the best way to have less CO2 is to grow trees and the best way to grow trees is to have more CO2. Almost as if there were this vast natural cycle we did not understand and tampered with at our peril. Though Inside Climate News does insist that in today’s warmer world trees burned up in forest fires won’t grow back. And apparently we can take the science as settled on that point because, they quote “University of Arizona climate scientist David Breashers” as saying, “Nobody saw it coming this soon”. Funny how the more surprised the scientists are by what just happened, the more we’re meant to be that they know exactly what will happen next.