Cancelling carbon pollution

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Photo: Ivan BerriosPhoto: Ivan Berrios
 
 
Editor’s note: The COP25 United Nations climate change meeting was originally planned for December 2 – 13, 2019, in Santiago, Chile, but was canceled due to ongoing social unrest in the country over economic and social inequality issues. 
 
By Paul Coleman
 
 
How many trees would have had to be planted to offset the carbon from all of the international visitors to the COP25 UN climate change summit in Santiago, Chile? Thanks to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and my personal experience planting trees here in Chile, I came up with a conservative calculation for 20,000 - 30,000 international visitors to Santiago. The numbers are shocking and are a very sobering reminder as to just how far we have to go to mitigate climate change. I believe they would have had to plant 43 million trees within one year to absorb all of the air flight carbon produced to attend the climate change meeting.
 
There exist numerous calculators to check the carbon your air flight will create. They appear to be fairly accurate, but calculators that estimate how many trees you would have to plant to absorb that carbon vary greatly and almost all base their calculations on the amount of carbon a mature tree can absorb. A well quoted estimate is around 44 pounds per year. While it is very nice to know what a 50-year-old tree can absorb in a year – a tree that you can't plant unless you are the Incredible Hulk – it is useless information when estimating the carbon absorption capacity of a very young tree. In fact, it is very misleading.
 
It took me a while, but I ultimately found accurate information on this issue. And not surprisingly, I found that a young tree absorbs a whole lot less than 40 pounds!
 
 

Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
 
 
Using data provided (see the figures in the table above) by the EPA and my own knowledge of having planted 1200 trees provided by the Chilean Forestry Service (CONAF), I have calculated that the average tree planted here in Chile would be much smaller than what is considered a year “0” tree in the United States. Nevertheless, I used the EPA statistics in the table for a year “0” tree for convenience and their “moderate hardwood” recommendation (1.9 pounds = 0.86 kilos) to find an average of carbon absorbed by softwoods and hardwoods in that first year of planting.
 
Here is the mathematics for carbon created, flying economy, and using this carbon calculator and the figures provided in the EPA table. https://calculator.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx?tab=3
 
London – Santiago, return = 1.85 Metric Tons Carbon Produced ÷ .86 kilos carbon absorbed by a freshly planted tree = 2151 trees needing to be planted to absorb the carbon of that return flight within one year.  And here are some other travel calculations:
Tokyo - Santiago = 2930 trees need to be planted per person
New York - Santiago = 1406 trees need to be planted per person
Sydney - Santiago = 1937 trees need to be planted per person
 
Most visitors would have come from Europe, Asia, North America and Australasia. As an average amount of kilometers flown, I have chosen a flight from London to Santiago. I am also choosing the lower figure of 20,000 visitors to calculate how many trees should be planted here in Chile to absorb the carbon created by those visitors within one year.
 
Visitors 20,000 x 2151 trees = 43,020,000! This is astonishing and by my calculations, which have been very conservative, the number of trees needing to be planted could be much higher, especially when you consider that flying first class and business class creates way more carbon than economy. A person flying business class on that same trip would have to plant 6230 trees. 
 
 
 
 

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