Why planting forests is a carbon reduction folly

Planting trees to offset our carbon emissions is a strategy explicitly written in to the Zero Carbon Bill as a global warming mitigation action.  Is that an effective and efficient means to mitigating the drivers of climate change?

There has been some discussion in the media as to how reliable forests actually are as a long term carbon sequestration tech. These discussions have ranged from the impacts that forest fires have on sequestration rates (California have seen a lot of sequestered carbon being burned back to CO2), to the integrity of carbon offset forest agents actually doing what they are paid to do. There is however, a more compelling argument against purchasing carbon offsets for our emissions.

The carbon footprint of a return flight from Auckland to London Heathrow for two.

The Sustainable Anglicans’ Carbon Footprint Calculator was used to help answer these questions. Let’s examine this issue by looking at the unexplored implications of a return flight for two from Auckland to London. 

Calculating the total carbon emissions from the flight alone yields nearly 7 Tonnes of CO2e (see “By the numbers” box).

For those who prefer travelling first class, their emissions are more than trebled to 21 T CO2e.

For some perspective on what that tonnage means, the average total consumption-based emissions per person has been calculated at around 10 T CO2eq1.  So each person on that return flight to London is burning between one third  and 100% of the NZ yearly average!  

That’s a lot of carbon for a leisure trip and to make us feel better about it, most airlines, including Air New Zealand, offer a carbon offset scheme2.

The price from different carbon offsetting companies to offset these emissions can vary a lot.  Air NZ for example, quote NZD$ 114.64 under their FlyNeutral scheme.   I am going to go with the NZ ETS cost at $25/T CO2e, so the offsetting cost would be $173.27, around 50% more than AirNZ’s quote.

In Air NZ’s words, “In simple terms, offsetting one tonne of carbon means there will be one less tonne of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there would otherwise have been.”  The reality is quite different as the series of charts below shows.

The first slide (0 stems planted) depicts the unmitigated 7 T of emissions as a flat line for the 30 years of the chart.  The fact is that today’s CO2 emissions are present in the atmosphere for centuries and contribute to global warming whilst there.

Planting seedling trees will remove those emissions and slide 2 (30 stems planted) shows how long it takes to do so for 30 seedlings of a variety of forest types.  All data comes from the Ministry for Primary Industries Carbon Lookup Tables 

If Exotic hardwood trees are planted, then the 7 T COe emitted in that 2019 return flight will be fully offset by 2029.  Planting indigenous trees will take until 2047 to achieve the same.

Many will, like me, think that 10 years to offset a single return flight is simply too long.  So how many trees need to be planted to achieve the offset in say five years? 

Slide 3 (100 stems planted) shows that it takes one hundred exotic hardwood or pine trees to offset 7 T CO2e over five years.  Natives, planted at the densities assumed in the MPI tables, will take 13 years until 2033. 

If you want to do this offsetting with natives, that’ll take more than 500 trees to be planted (Slide 4 – 500 stems planted), and will require between one and one half hectares of land to offset emissions from a single return flight.

Some will think that is an effective and efficient means of offsetting carbon emissions.  Until you look at the numbers.

In 2018, Air NZ alone, carried over 1.2 million passengers to America and Europe.  If each of their passengers purchased emissions offsets, then around 600 million trees would need to be planted.  That’s more than the additional trees the Billion Trees program would plant (around half of the program’s billion trees3 are trees already expected to be planted as part of the commercial industry’s normal replanting schedule).  All for around 3% of our carbon emissions.

But that is for just one year.  What if we want to travel to London each and every year (if not us, then someone else will do)?

Slide 5 (500 trees planted) shows that of those 500 trees, only exotic hardwoods and pinus radiata would ever sequester the carbon from annual return flights to London.   Natives trees would not.

Slide 6 (250 trees planted) makes clear the folly of planting forests to offset carbon emissions: any plantings of less 250 trees would not, over the 30 years to 2050, offset the emissions from one couple flying return trips from Auckland to London every year. How much land do we need to have to offset flight emissions?


1 https://www.airmilescalculator.com/distance/akl-to-lhr/

2 https://www.airnewzealand.co.nz/sustainability-flyneutral-faqs

3 https://www.mpi.govt.nz/dmsdocument/31695/send

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A Climate Emergency?

So, Auckland Council have declared a “Climate Emergency”.

In the words of Councillor Penny Hulse, chair of Auckland Council’s Environment and Community committee, this declaration is “a call to action for Council to take seriously, its role in climate change.”  She went on to say that Council needs to “… make sure that all policies we set and budgets we set, are set with a climate change lens in mind.”

That is signalling a clear intention to take action.  But it’s not actually taking action is it?

If the emergency were say, seismic readings indicating an increased likelihood of a volcanic eruption, then for sure, Civil Defence would be activated and we would see real actions aimed at protecting Auckland’s population and property.

To be fair to Council, they are taking some actions around climate change.  They have drafted a plan – the Auckland Climate Action Plan (ACAP) – that will go out to public consultation in July/August.  They adopted the Auckland Plan and Unitary Plans adopted in 2018.  Then they have plans in development around: Strategic Asset Management; Measuring Asset Performance; establishing a Landslide remediation fund; profiling spatial dimension community asset risks (flooding); a Natural Hazards Risk Management Action Plan; a Natural Hazards Research Plan and plans for Coastal Compartment Management.

They have implemented a Live Lightly programme, a Sustainable Schools Plan and a Waste Management & Minimisation Plan. 

The current state of Council’s Climate Change mitigation and adaptation actions is an impressive list of plans but contains little in the way of what is needed – actual climate mitigation actions.

Some people will leap to Auckland Council’s defence and say that I am being unfair, that the thinking and planning work needs to be done before actions are implemented.  They are right, that desktop work does need to be done.  But.

Actually, action is required to mitigate the drivers of global warming.
(excerpt from Auckland Council report “Climate Change Risks in Auckland”

Can we afford to wait to see if these plans and intentions translate to an actual reduction in Auckland’s emissions?  If the emergency were say, seismic readings indicating an increased likelihood of a volcanic eruption, then for sure, Civil Defence would be activated and we would see real actions aimed at protecting.

Perhaps Council see no hope for mitigation actions having an impact worthy of going for.  That seems so in the framing of this header in their risk assessment report.

This may be why their report Climate Change Risks in Auckland focuses more on adaptation and less on mitigation.  Perhaps that too is unfair on Council, for the report is a risk assessment and as they say in the report, “Understanding the climate change risks and impacts on vulnerability for Auckland is imperative to both mitigate and adapt to climate change and to inform planning and decision making.”  

If it leads to a new climate change lens, where the word “URGENT” is writ large across it, then perhaps we will do what needs to be done – to reduce fossil fuel CO2 emissions.

Actually, taking mitigation actions is not that difficult.  As we have experienced in many of the St Andrews events and projects this past year or three:

  • Our Earth Day events have been carbon negative – we have sequestered more atmospheric CO2 than was emitted in the running of the events plus that emitted by all the people attending them.
  • Our communal food garden has
    • provided food-miles-free food
    • not required any artificial fertilisers
    • used no town-supply water even given the particularly dry summer we just had
    • reduced wastes going to landfill with kitchen waste from parish events going to the worm farm plus garden waste going to the compost
    • provide an opportunity for local people to gather as Friends of St Andrew’s Food Garden
  • Six “Grow Your Own Food” courses have taught many people how to increase their self-resilience.

These are all real climate actions that any parish can implement. For advice on how your parish can do similar things, call the Sustainability Fieldworker, John, on 021 46 36 86.

Celebrating World Earth Day 2019

Please come and celebrate World Earth Day 2019 with us on
Saturday 27th April at St Andrews Anglican Church, 43 Queen St, Pukekohe or on
Sunday 28th April at Footbridge Estate in Bombay, 59 Chamberlain Road, Bombay.

With the impacts of climate change being increasingly felt here in New Zealand and around the world, not only do we need to reduce carbon emissions from our human activities, we need to also remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Earth Day is on 22nd April each year.  For each of the past two years, we have had small scale events – at St Andrews, Pukekohe. in 2017, and at St Paul’s, Buckland, last year.

The Charcoal Fire nearing the time to extinguish it to create the biochar.
The Charcoal Fire nearing the time to extinguish it to create the biochar.

Time to extinguish the 2017 fire so that the char we want is not all burned to ash. The young ladies had some fun with that and no one got wet.

Jan Wallace, vicar of At Andrews extinguishing the 2018 Charcoal Fire under the supervision of the local fire brigade.

For our 2019 Earth Day event we aim to sequester 1-2 tonnes of atmospheric CO2 in the biochar we will bury plus an additional 14 tonnes over 10 years with the fruit trees planted atop the biochar.  That will make this event more than carbon neutral.
So come on the Saturday with your children (little eco-warriers) to experience the Charcoal Fire
Or come on the second day (Sunday 28th April) to learn more about our climate actions in the seminar series:
 
Innovations & Sustainability Seminars (3pm – 4:20 pm)
  1. Biological treatments of agricultural pests and diseases
    Dr Stephen Ford
  2. New Zealand’s transition to a low emissions economy
    Rod Oram
  3. The need to sequester atmospheric carbon and biochar’s role in achieving that
    John Allen
  4. Ecotheology: Climate Action from a Church perspective
    Dr. Nicola Hoggard Creegan

Our objectives for this event are:

  1. to acknowledge and celebrate World Earth Day 2019 (22 April)
  2. for children to learn through fun and activities, about climate actions (Saturday)
  3. to offer seminars (Sunday) as a means for people to learn about:
    1. Biological treatments of agricultural pests and diseases
    2. New Zealand’s transition to a low emissions economy
    3. The need to sequester atmospheric carbon and biochar’s role in achieving that
    4. Ecotheology: Climate Action from a Church perspective
  4. To make the event carbon-negative***

***  Carbon-negative: burying more carbon, in the form of biochar, than is burned in getting to/from and used in planning and running the event.  Plus we will plant 50 fruit trees (==500 stems/Ha) over the biochar, sequestering CO2 at a rate of 14.1T/year for 10 years.

To print the brochure: Click the image to open it in a new window and print it.


Our programme is

Day 1: Saturday 27th April, 8 am to 12 noon.
@ St Andrews Anglican Church, 43 Queen St, Pukekohe

The Charcoal Fire
Lighting at 8 am using a top-down burn method to reduce smoke and carbon emissions
Quenching at 11:40 am
Attendees can take a lump of char home with them

Static Display of Biochar production tech
8:00 am – 12:00 pm

Climate Q&A Forum
The need to take climate actions to hold global warming to well below 2°C… 9:00 am – 11:30 am

Children’s games and activities
9am – 11:30 am

Sausage sizzle and drinks available
9am – 12 pm

Day 2: Sunday 28th April
@ Footbridge Estate for Innovation & Sustainability,
59 Chamberlain Rd, Bombay

The Charcoal Fire
Lighting at 1 pm using a top-down burn method to reduce smoke and carbon emissions
Quenching at 4:30 pm
Attendees can take a lump of char home with them

Innovations & Sustainability Seminars

    1. Biological treatments of agricultural pests and diseases
      Dr Stephen Ford
    2. New Zealand’s transition to a low emissions economy
      Rod Oram
    3. The need to sequester atmospheric carbon and biochar’s role in achieving that
      John Allen
    4. Ecotheology: Climate Action from a Church perspective
      Dr. Nicola Hoggard Creegan

Static Display of Biochar production tech
1:00 pm – 5:00 pm

Vintage High Tea
Food for sale at 1pm and 2:30pm.
$35 pp. 
Bookings essential – email Ngaire@footbridge.co.nz


To make the event carbon-negative, after the event we will:

Establish the Terra Preta Orchard:

  • Burning 1.5T dry wood will yield around 400 Kg biochar
  • Burying that 400Kg biochar ½m below the soil surface will sequester around 1.5T CO2
  • Inoculating the biochar with compost/vermicast tea will activate it with soil micro-organisms
  • Covering the biochar with excavated soil ensures the char is retained
  • Planting 50 fruit trees will sequester a further 1.4 T CO2 each year for 20 years
  • Event emissions are estimated at 1.5 T CO2e

Sustainable Anglicans

What does sustainability mean to you?

One dictionary defines sustainability as “the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level”.

Let’s consider water.  On the one hand, we have had enough flooding throughout the country, to realise that we do not have a water flow (rate) problem.  On the other hand, the dry period we have experienced this year has, for many, severely tested their access (level) to water.

What this tells me is that we do not have a water flow problem but instead, have an issue with water storage.  That problem is easily fixed with the local collection and storage of rain water.  This concept, a rain water harvesting system, is what we have in the St Andrews, Pukekohe, community food garden.  The consequence is that in this growing season just finishing, we have not used town water to keep the garden growing.

In our food garden then, are climate and water sustainability actions that anyone can replicate at home.

The food garden also features waste sustainability in the form of a worm farm and composting system that recycles food and garden wastes to apply to the garden as fertiliser.  We have not imported any fertilisers to apply to the garden this year so from those perspectives, production from the garden can be sustained at its present rate.

And of course, the garden itself adds to our community’s food sustainability and energy sustainability by growing our own food locally, and avoiding the carbon emissions from transporting it.

Not only do these actions meet the sustainability definition above, they also provide for local resilience and a measure of adaptability to climate change.

However, I prefer a more compelling definition of sustainability: meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

This is what last month’s global School Strike for Climate Action was all about.  In what may well have been the largest global day of climate action ever, these young people are coming of age at a crucial time in our response to climate change.  Unless we take action now, they will be the generation that will have their futures compromised, the generation that has to face the consequences of our past actions, but to which they have contributed so little cause.

Here are two climate/sustainability actions that local people can take to help ensure their future is as fulfilling as our past has been.

One is to join us on the Grow Your Own Food course that starts at St Andrews on April 10th.  For six Wednesday evenings, from 7:15 pm to 8:30pm, we will cover food growing: from the role of soil organisms, through when to plant seeds and seedlings, and crop rotations, to planning your own easy-as productive and no-dig food garden.

Second is to plan on coming to our 2019 Earth Day event.  Spread over two days (Saturday April 27th and Sunday 28th) where we will take the next essential action in mitigating climate change: removing carbon from the atmosphere.  So mark your diaries now: The Charcoal Fire Earth Day 2019 event will be held at Footbridge Centre for Innovation and Sustainability, 59 Chamberlain Rd, Bombay, Auckland.

Cherishing our Earth at Fieldays 2018

I was at Fieldays last week, as an exhibitor in the Innovation Centre.  It was an exciting three days plus one.

Here are some thing that struck me as I observed the weather, the people, the products and of course, the innovations.

First was that despite being the 50th anniversary year, the weather still made its presence felt.  ’Twas not the parka-penetrating chill of the sou-westerlies.  Nor the eeriness of foggy mornings.  No, it was the wheel-spinning wetness that led to hour-long waits to get out of the parking lot that I remember most about the weather.  Is 50 years not long enough to solve that energy-consuming problem?

Then there were the people.  Those who looked away when eye-contact was imminent, those who freely gave a big smile without expectations of anything in return, those who listened to learn about dairy’s role in climate change, and those who either did not care or simply did not want to know.  Guess which group was in the majority?

That so much of the activity was focused on products that we want but do not need, was the big disappointment for me.  We will never achieve societal and environmental sustainability for as long as we try to consume our way to ego-satisfaction.

Finally, innovation in the agricultural sector is a major aspect of Fieldays and there were some really great ideas on display.  However, unlike the judges view that the winners of the awards choose their problems to solve with care, it seemed to me that they choose their products not to solve the problems that the world need solving, but instead, chose them to make a profit.

Will I return for Fieldays 2019?  Of course I will.  Despite my cynicism, it was still a buzz.  But I could do without the Saturday when the general public turn out.

Grow Your Own Food: a means to an end in an uncertain world

A beginners “Grow Your Own Food” course is offered at Pukekohe’s St Andrews Church hall on Wednesday evenings, starting August 30th.  Over six weeks, the workshops will focus on practical, organic food growing techniques that don’t require a green thumb to follow.

Grow Your Own Food Course 2 flyer“When I was a kid,” recalled project manager John Allen, “our family and most of our neighbours had vegetable gardens.  Growing our own food was one of those things we just did.”

For many of today’s generation, the arts of growing vegetable have been forgotten or were never practiced.   In the uncertain world we are on the threshold of, there are many good reasons to learn those arts.

First is that growing your own food is a means for individuals and households to mitigate the drivers of global warming, to adapt to climate change, and address social justice issues.

In today’s society, it is easy buy whatever food we want, whenever we want it. The impacts of a warming climate are changing that.

For example, the crops that can be grown in some areas is changing due to warmer temperatures, stronger winds and unexpected rainfall patterns.

A recent report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal, concluded that climate change will cut crop yields.

A 2015 report by WWF, The Calm before the Storm highlight how disruptions to long supply chains will affect the availability of food.

These change will lead to food prices rising.

As well as these impacts, there are many others reasons for people to grow their own food.

For some, saving money is the reason.

For many, it is about knowing what has gone in to their foods.  People are looking for ways to avoid the chemical pesticides or genetically modified organisms that are increasingly finding their way in to our foods.

For an increasing number, it is about consuming in-season foods, grown locally on family-centred organic farms.  This is a reaction to industrialised global food chains that feature excessive food miles, lowered nutrition values and pesticide residues.

For others, it is about the simple pleasures of working outdoors, getting our hands dirty in the soil and harvesting what we have grown.

For most of us, growing our own food is a combination of these reasons and is a practical action for sustainability and resilience in the face of uncertain world.

Take this opportunity to learn the simple arts of food growing.

Enquire below or visit facebook.com/groups/GrowYourOwnFoodNZ/


Removing our weather blinkers to take climate action

Another Tuesday, another severe weather warning from the MetService.  On Good Friday, Cyclone Cook is expected to dump 200mm of rain as it passes close to or over the North Island.

NIWA’s modelling suggests that the upper and eastern North Island “currently stand the best chance of experiencing an impactful weather event from Wednesday through to Friday morning”.

Huh?  The “best” chance?  Like it’s a desirable event?

Try telling that to those in Edgecumbe who may never be able to return to their homes. For them, last week’s flood was a catastrophe.

Heavy rain events are now regularly occurring somewhere in the country.

Last week’s event was much more than a flash flood.  It was more than a 1 in 100 year event.

Have we normalised extreme weather to the extent that we are now blinded to its causes?

A new study, linking human-caused carbon pollution to extreme weather patterns in the northern hemisphere, ought remove our weather blinkers.  The study, published on nature.com, finds that this pattern has only recently emerged from the background noise of natural weather variability.

As report co-author Michael Mann says, “We came as close as one can to demonstrating a direct link between climate change and a large family of extreme recent weather events.”

This study will not placate those increasingly affected by the increasing incidence of extreme weather events.

Should someone be held to account for those affected?  To me, yes of course.

The responsibility lies with each of us who continue to release new carbon to the atmosphere – nature will hold us and future generations to account.

Our grandchildren will not thank us for shrugging our shoulders and writing this off as “acts of God”.

An event at Pukekohe’s St Andrews Anglican Church on Sunday 23rd April, is an opportunity for us, individually and collectively, to make a stand against our climate changing actions.

At 8 am, a fire will be lit in a special in-ground pit.  When the fire is extinguished at 11 am, more than one third of the wood burned will be turned to charcoal.

If left to rot in the field or burn completely, one hundred percent of that timber would be turned to ash and all of its carbon released back to the atmosphere.

Instead, burying the biochar will sequester carbon away for a long time, effectively taking carbon out of the atmosphere.  Planting fruit trees on top of the biochar will remove even more atmospheric carbon.

Join us at 18 Wesley Street, Pukekohe any time between 8 and 11 am and show your support for a climate action that does make a difference.

Is the Pope being used to support BigAg?

subliminal

[suhb-limuh-nl]
adjective, Psychology.

1.

existing or operating below the threshold ofconsciousness; being or employing stimuliinsufficiently intense to produce a discretesensation but often being or designed to beintense enough to influence the mentalprocesses or the behavior of the individual:

a subliminal stimulus; subliminal advertising

 The article below was first published by Corporate Europe Observatory and is best read on that site as it includes many pertinent visuals.
The article begs the question of whether corporate lobby groups and multinational corporations used the Pope’s influence, without his approval, to push their own agenda around industrialised agriculture.
To me, the case is well made.  What do you think?

The Pope and the Pesticides

“On March 28 2017, participants in the 10th Forum for the Future of Agriculture were greeted with a big surprise at the beginning of the conference: a “special” video address from Pope Francis! Although the lobbying event is an annual Brussels mainstay for the big agribusiness lobby, organised by Syngenta and the EU lobby group of large landowners (ELO) every year.”

. . .

“The day following the FFA, the video title on the FFA’s website and on Youtube was changed from “FFA 2017 Address From His Holiness The Pope” to “His Holiness Pope Francis on agriculture and environmental issues”. FFA organisers told CEO that this was because the former title could have been interpreted as being “potentially misleading”, and La Machi told CEO that they had asked for the title of the video to be changed. Indeed, it did mislead the participants.”

Here’s three reasons to Grow Your Own Food

Glyphosate was back in the news last week.  As expected, a second European agency found that that the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen.

On the face of it, this latest determination is contrary to that of a UN agency’s classification in March 2015, that glyphosate was “probably” a human carcinogen.

Both determinations looked at the hazard that glyphosate poses to human health and came to different conclusions.

Of the two agencies, the UN one studied only independent research.  It also explored the impact of other chemicals added to glyphosate.

These differences mean that the UN research carries more weight for me when I consider using chemical pesticides.

Instead of looking at hazard, the European Food Safety Authority looked at the risk that glyphosate poses, and also found no basis for classifying the chemical as a carcinogen.

Hazard and risk?  Are they not the same thing?

No, not really.  Hazard is about the possibility of a substance being a carcinogen.  Risk is about how likely it is that you will get cancer from being exposed to the hazard.

If you don’t expose yourself to a hazardous substance, whether nuclear waste or glyphosate, then the risk of contracting cancer is negligible.

So if you have to use this hazardous chemical, then taking precautions will reduce the risk of it undermining your, or your children’s, health.

The risk is zero when you grow your own food without using glyphosate.

IMG_1388
Laying out the St Andrews Communal Food garden

When it comes to the risks of eating GMOs, there are no precautions we can take despite the risks being real.

Scientists are concerned that we do not know how differently our genes will work, when we eat GMO foods.

Again, these risks posed by GMO foods are minimised when we grow our own food.

IMG_1476
The St Andrews Communal Food garden early in its development

The third reason to grow your own food, is around the need for us to take action on climate change.

Harvesting fresh produce from our own garden achieves two climate actions.  One is a reduction in green house gases emitted to the atmosphere.  The other is to increase the carbon stored in our soils compared to industrialised agriculture.

Glyphosate, GMOs and climate change, are all hazards.  All are issues of our time, consequences of a capitalist economic system focused more on corporate profits than on the health and wellbeing of people.

As hazards, there is now little that we can do individually, to undo their presence in our society.

But the risk these hazard pose can be minimised when you grow your own food.

IMG_1601
Just a part of the harvest from the St Andrews Communal Food garden

——

A beginners Grow Your Own Food course runs at Pukekohe’s St Andrews Church hall on Wednesday evenings, starting April 5th and running for six weeks.  Interested?  Please leave your name and contact number at 09 238 7228.

Or download our brochure: Growing Your Own Food Course.page1