Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Impossibility Of Cutting Greenhouse Emissions

The news media has been abuzz recently with a new genre of news story - carbon fraud.  The German automaker Volkswagen has admitted to purposely designing software to make its engines appear less polluting, both for diesel and for gasoline engines.  Now it turns out that China, either intentionally or not, has dramatically understated how much coal it has burned over the last 15 years.  The European Union has a "renewable" energy mandate that is causing it to cut down American forests for fuel - producing more carbon emissions than if European coal was burned!  The stories of carbon fraud are becoming more numerous as the incentive to lie about emissions become stronger.  Unlike something like deforestation of the rainforest, there is no satellite or other system capable of monitoring carbon emissions.  We can measure carbon in the atmosphere (see below), but we can't really tell its source with any real accuracy.

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as measured by the NOAA, increasing steadily for the last 50 years with the sawtoothed shape because of absorption by plants.
What are we to make of this carbon cheating?  Well, there is an economic parable called 'Tragedy of the Commons' that might be illustrative.  In medieval England, many small landowners of a village, all of whom owned livestock, owned land surrounding a large grassy area called a commons.  These small landowners were of course allowed to graze their livestock on their own land, but were also allowed to have their animals graze without restriction on the commons.  What happened with this arrangement?  The obvious - the villagers all grazed their livestock on the commons before letting their livestock on their own private land.  Because of this, the commons was soon ruined, turned to a grass-less mud filled wasteland as grass was pulled up by the roots, while the privately owned land remained pristine.

Say that everyone in the village realized the problem and came to an agreement - you can only graze your livestock one day a month on the unfenced, unguarded commons.  Some villagers would be responsible and abide by the agreement, but some would invariably cheat - perhaps taking their livestock to graze at night or when others were away.  The result would be the same - a muddy, ruined commons.  The only way to stop the cheating would a large wall around the commons (not practical) or an incredible police state monitoring the villages and their flocks at all time.

The utility of this parable to greenhouse emissions is obvious.  The Earth's atmosphere is in every sense a 'commons' - every nation and every person has access to it.  We cannot restrict a country from it for abuse or deceit.  Eventually, regardless of how little in greenhouse gases we emit as individuals or even as a nation, our work can be completely undone by others.  What good would it have done in the above parable for one landowner, seeing the ultimate fate of the commons, to only graze his animals there once a month? None - his sacrifice would have been meaningless in the context of everyone else's abuse.

So, what can be done?  Is the world doomed to much higher greenhouse gas concentrations because the atmosphere is a common area, with no real restrictions or controls?  No!  While the atmosphere is a commons, land is not and is frequently privately owned.  Is there anything that can be done on land to pull carbon out of the air?  Yes - we can plant giant, long lived trees - we can plant sequoias..

Giant sequoias, Sequoiadendron giganteum, the largest tree and the largest living thing on earth, once covered much of the world.  They thrived on the higher carbon dioxide concentrations available then as well as warmer temperatures, two conditions we are likely to see replicated soon..  These trees are very fast growing and can still, if planted correctly, be grown in almost all temperate areas.

What is more, the largest of these trees, called General Sherman, is so large that is has sequestered over an average American's lifetime of carbon emissions - over 2.2 million pounds of carbon.  Sequoias also live for thousands of years, with many now alive growing at the time of Christ.  This longevity means they will to continue to store as well as continuously sequester carbon for centuries.

We tried to plant these trees many times here in the Midwest without success before discovering a device that could water, nurture, and protect the tree without our intervention.  This device, the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon, is shown with a sequoia tree below.

Two years' growth of a sequoia with the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon.  No water was manually added to the Waterboxx or the tree after planting - not once - and the tree has thrived after the Waterboxx was removed.  
We have had a one hundred percent success rate planting sequoias with the Waterboxx here in Indiana, and plan to continue planting elsewhere.  Can our success be replicated?  Yes!  If every set of grandparents came together and planted one sequoia tree each for every new child in their family (for a total of two trees per new child), we could one day see all carbon emissions offset by growing trees.  If more than two trees were planted per new child, we could see America's net carbon emissions decrease, even if we couldn't directly measure it.  What's more, sequoias tend to grow faster as they age.  Sequoias are well adapted to survive common threats like forest fires and have few pests.  Sequoias can do what no other tree can - pull carbon reliably from the atmosphere at an increasing rate, and store it for thousands of years.

Companies, countries, and even continents will continue to lie and mislead about their carbon emissions.  Future "climate agreements" will just make this mendacity more likely as the incentive to cheat increases.  As this happens, a  person's individual carbon emissions will become meaningless in the face of widespread cheating.  We can decrease total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere only by removing it from the atmosphere - and the best way to do this is by planting long lived and massive trees like sequoias.

If you want to buy a small sequoia tree, we recommend  If you want to take the effort and try to plant from seed, we recommend this site.  To purchase a Waterboxx to grow a sequoia here in the United States, visit Dew Harvest at

We would love to read your comments below.  

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post. I have come across several news articles over the past decade usually saying that tree planting will not affect carbon emissions in the slightest. But they never include what tree species they factor into their calculations. The sequoia would be a great species to propagate widely.
    Since you are in love with Sequoias I think you would appreciate this book:
    The artwork in it is amazing, and the stories behind each tree are great to read. Good luck with your planting.