Carbon neutrality gifts are one of this year’s hip, eco-political holiday items. But if you were hoping to off-set your greenhouse gas emissions by planting trees, ecologists will tell you it is probably “pointless.”
The idea has been to plant trees since forests absorb carbon dioxide and help cool the air. However, forests at certain latitudes (typically in the northern hemisphere) have a warming effect because they retain heat in their canopies. Conversely, natural terrain (especially snow) reflects most sunlight back into space.
Confusion can be traced to the difference between reforestation and afforestation, both policies that are encouraged in the Kyoto Protocol. Second to fossil-fuel combustion, deforestation is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, pulling back on deforestation slows emissions while reforestation compensates for them by sequestering carbon and restoring natural habitat.
Ideally, afforestation (or just forestation) would do the same, but, as the ecologists conclude, it can cause unintended consequences. Over and over again, the environment teaches us just how carefully we must tread on this planet.