Fred LaSor: Presidential candidates should start planting trees

As election season heats up for Democrats competing for their party’s presidential nomination, we hear with increasing frequency about the threat of climate change. Several Democratic hopefuls have invoked startling images: portions of Florida sinking beneath rising oceans, more destructive hurricanes, wildfires burning more forests, and horrendous flooding in Washington D.C. and the central United States. Forget for just a moment the confusion between weather and climate: fear-mongering increases with each presidential debate.

Along with the apocalyptic scenarios being spun by people who consider themselves visionary enough to lead the richest and most powerful nation in the world, we are (of course) being offered a number of “solutions” to the disasters that are said to be inevitable. All those solutions include increased government control, centralization, and calls for sacrifice on the part of the American public. Stop burning fossil fuels, we are told, or the polar ice caps will melt. Invest in more wind and solar power, they say, ignoring costs that accompany such investment but are seldom made explicit, like bird deaths or the price of decommissioning an obsolete wind farm.

It goes without saying that sacrifices we are called on to make do not extend to the lawmakers who want us to do “what’s good for the planet.” Will they give up electricity on hot days? Or air travel? What a silly notion: they are our betters, so they won’t make the sacrifices we do.

What you will not hear are suggestions that would “mop up” increasing quantities of carbon dioxide without concentrating ever more power and wealth in Washington, D.C. “Like what,” you ask? Like planting trees. They are an excellent means of soaking up carbon dioxide – far better than the carbon offsets Al Gore wanted to sell you from his personal investments, like indulgences from the pope.

A friend recently sent me an opinion column suggesting the world undertake a wide-scale tree planting effort to soak up carbon dioxide. I was reminded of “the green belt movement,” an effort launched in Kenya shortly before I was stationed there, with the intention of combatting rural poverty and soil erosion by teaching women how to plant trees and making seedlings available to them.

The movement was started by Wangari Maathai and the National Council of Women of Kenya. Professor Maathai was educated in the United States and Germany, and the Green Belt Movement estimated that tens of millions trees had been planted when I knew Maathai in the early ’90s. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

For Maathai, planting trees empowered women and addressed continent-wide deforestation that resulted from the widespread use of wood for cooking. The Green Belt Movement also taught farming skills such as bee-keeping.

I have planted trees on my property in my time here. Their number should, according to the Urban Forestry Network, absorb a quarter ton of carbon dioxide every year. They also provide shade and wind protection, two welcomed features in Northern Nevada.

Based on my family’s annual fuel purchases, we produce around four tons of CO2 in a year. I would need 300 trees to soak that up, a number I would be hard pressed to plant, and doing so requires pumping water which has its own carbon impact since I use an electric pump.

Maathai’s example is one we should consider. And politicians of both parties would better address climate change if they planted trees instead of threatening to ban the internal combustion engine or end air travel. Alas, planting trees doesn’t require a government program, and that’s why they don’t jump at this opportunity. I would vote for any candidate who calls for planting trees.

Fred LaSor has been following the climate change debate for more than a decade. He still thinks people who want us to believe it need to act like they believe it themselves.


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