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Offsets and Paybacks

Doing something about carbon.

Ever heard the term “carbon offset”?  Same concept Mom taught you: Clean up after yourself. You do your chores because you’re part of this family! The whole idea is that though you do something which dumps carbon into the air- driving, for instance- you compensate by doing something to take carbon out of the air.

As I wrote about “…it has a program where for every test drive or purchase it plants trees in the Mountains to Sound Greenway to absorb carbon equivalent to a year’s normal driving.  

Carter Subaru’s website explains the great benefits this way:

Other benefits of the trees:

In addition to neutralizing greenhouse gases, these trees will also provide critical wildlife habitat.

These trees will also help in water storage. Forests act as sponges in times of heavy rain or snow, absorbing and then slowly releasing water, a critical function in decreasing flooding downstream.  

This reduction in flooding helps protect fragile Northwest salmon habitat. Additionally, trees planted along streams and rivers help cool the water temperatures in these waterways to levels that keep salmon healthy.  

Forested hillsides are a vital part of our Northwest identity. Through this partnership with the Mountains to Sound Greenway, we are ensuring that we will have permanently protected forests right on the edge of our cities for future generations. These forests are places where we will be able to hike and play forever. “    

Carbon offsets work by sequestration, that is, holding it away from the atmosphere. The trees of Shoreline/LFP are recognized as having that effect here. One of the nation’s experts on sequestration is from Shoreline, Melissa Hagedorn,  and offsets are certainly part of the solution, but even if we all did as much of it as we could afford it’s not enough. It’s like paying only the minimum on your credit card bill- you’ll never pay down the principal- the real debt- and in this case the debt is carbon. What we’ve put in the air up to now will still be there doing damage two or three hundred years hence, unless some new technology allows us to fix it. Indeed, we put more CO2 into the air in three days than all the volcanoes in the world do in a year! It’s time to actively remove it from the atmosphere.

One possibility is that the CO2 can be sifted from the atmosphere whole. Some people hope to use it to make carbon-neutral liquid fuels but I hope we can find a low/no energy process to separate the carbon from the oxygen altogether. Plants do it, so why can’t we? That will double the effect- not only will CO2 be removed from the air, O2 would be put back. The carbon could then be put back into old coal mines or used in industrial processes, and perhaps the O2 could even be pumped down to an anoxic ‘dead zone’, like the one in Hood Canal, to reinvigorate the life down there. Then maybe life up here won't get worse.

Janet Way September 26, 2011 at 03:58 PM
Smart column Larry. I like that you've featured Carter Suburu's tree planting program and show a photo of the Interurban trees as examples. The Westminster Community knows intrinsicly that the trees that had been planned for cutting by City Light have enormous value for all the reasons you mentioned. They are saved for the moment. Here's hoping a more final agreement can be actualized between the community, City Light and City of Shoreline to really ensure the future of these trees. Also, that a real comprehensive tree ordinance can be crafted for Shoreline in the near future to get BETTER future for our "urban forest". That will add enormously to Shoreline's ongoing commitment to carbon sequestration. Shoreline signed on to the Mayors' Climate Agreement back in 2006. Now is the time to renew that commitment.
Larry Lewis September 27, 2011 at 05:38 AM
Thanks for the kind words, Janet. Tony takes good pics. Here are a few URLs I forgot to include: General definition: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_offset> Org devoted to offsets, + carbon calculator: <http://www.carbonfund.org/> A similar org: <http://www.carbonoffsets.org/> An org known for driving offests: <http://www.terrapass.com/> A useful article: <http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/07/how-to-go-green-carbon-offsets.php>

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