Pharos-Tribune

Online only

December 12, 2012

Do you deserve a lump of carbon under your Christmas tree?

— It's that time of year when even environmentalists committed to saving trees proudly display a massive tree carcass in the living room, bejeweled and topped with a star. American cities are rarely greener than during Christmastime, when every other street corner can seem to be occupied by a tree peddler.

Christmas trees play into a wider debate among environmentalists: Are tree farms better or worse at carbon sequestration than untouched forests?

The pro-tree-farm argument goes like this: When you plant a tree, it goes from seedling to full-grown plant by rapidly extracting carbon from the atmosphere, including carbon that humans have emitted by burning fossil fuels and raising cattle. (When a climatologist looks at a tree, he sees a leafy pillar of solidified greenhouse gases.) Once the tree reaches maturity, though, it slows its consumption of carbon. By way of comparison, think of the appetites of a growing teenager and a senior citizen. When you're done growing, you stop consuming as many calories. The best move, according to some tree-farm advocates, is to replace the mature tree with a new sapling and start the growth process over again.

Tree farmers have been making this claim for more than two decades, but many climate experts think it's bunk. The most obvious objection to the theory is: What becomes of the trees once they're cut? According to research out of Oregon in the 1990s, 58 percent of felled trees are used for paper, mulch, firewood or other short-term purposes. In those cases, the tree's sequestered carbon quickly reenters the atmosphere after decomposing or burning. The remaining 42 percent is used in ways that keep the wood intact more than five years, such as homebuilding and furniture production. Even in those cases, though, the carbon doesn't stay sequestered forever.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Online only
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

Does Indiana need a statewide water management plan and an administrator to implement it?

Yes
No
Unsure
     View Results
Featured Ads
AP Video
Japan Landslide Rescuers Struggle in Heavy Rain Raw: Severe Floods, Fire Wrecks Indiana Homes Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future Raw: Russian Aid Convoy Arrives in Ukraine Hamm Talks Emmy Chances Okla. Policeman Accused of Sex Assaults on Duty Raw: Egypt Bus Crash Kills at Least 33 Two Bodies Found in Adjacent Yards Dominican Republic Bans Miley Cyrus Concert Raw: Israeli Air Strike in Gaza Raw: Rescue Efforts Suspended at Japan Landslide Raw: Bodies of MH17 Victims Arrive in Malaysia Raw: Smaller Marches in Ferguson Attorney: Utah Eatery Had Other Chemical Burn Farm Resurgence Grows With Younger Crowd Microbrewery Chooses Special Can for Its Beer Ky. Firefighters Hurt in Ice Bucket Challenge Federal Investigation Will Look at Use of Force Community Deals With Michael Brown Aftermath US: We Do Not Pay Ransom to Terrorists
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.