Politics and science, whether physics, biology or economics, are often at odds. Policy makers often think they have things figured out, and do not need more science. Nuance is lost in swapped accusations, soundbites, elections and positions taken. But sometimes solutions do exist, overlooked by those who prefer admiring the problem, and blaming others for it. Improving humanity’s oxygen footprint is one such solution.
First, forget this solution if arguing is your thing. Many seem intent on wrangling over things they do not pause to understand, certain in ambiguity, indifferent to hard numbers, confident in their baseless assumptions. Whatever your politics, if this is your angle, this article is not for you.
But if you are still curious, someone who wonders how much of temperature trends can honestly be sourced, what the staying power of current trends really is, whether there are unaccounted-for variables, what mankind is responsible for, and what man has no responsibility for, whether someone else may be in charge, than come along with me.
Political danger lurks in talking about “global climate change,” never mind historic weather patterns, ancient temperature trends, the five major ice ages and intervening warm spells, saw-teeth minor ice ages, alternating glaciation that averaged 70-to-90 thousand years, interglacial warming that ran 10-to-30 thousand years.
So, let’s focus on just one idea. The media harp on the “carbon footprint.” There is truth in the idea that carbon levels have, recently and briefly in geological terms, risen. Of course, this is important, because we live in exactly these same geological times. What happens now affects us.
To be more specific, those who harp on “climate change” are sifting, stirring, mixing and matching data that reflects an uptick in the Earth’s temperature, generally tied to a reported rise in atmospheric carbon. They point to the period 1750 to 2011 as a stretch marked by less absorption of carbon, more production through burning of fossil fuels, especially coal, oil and gas.
Put aside questions of causality, overlapping geological trends, other heat-trapping gases, sun flares and cycles, collateral causes of ice ages and intervening waring periods – consider just the carbon footprint.
The central point, often obscured, is that there is too much heat-trapping carbon. The question is, compared to what? The answer – hard to contest – is compared to formerly ample sources for absorbing carbon. In other words, maybe the right question is not why do we have more carbon, but why do we not have more carbon absorbing sources?
The “overload” of carbon in the atmosphere is just an imbalance. Liberal policymakers wish to address the imbalance by reducing manmade sources, pushing hard for government control over the means of production and distribution of energy, as well as transportation, communication, agriculture, land use, and other private sectors.
Their view is that carbon imbalance is man’s fault, will not be remedied by nature, waiting or moderation – and therefore requires big government programs, centered on controlling the private sector.
But return to facts. What if we focused not on increased government control of the private sector, but ways to restore the balance between carbon and sources of carbon absorption?
If this imbalance is the problem in our geologic age – then why not ask the obvious question: How could we increase carbon absorption, plants that use carbon dioxide and emit oxygen? How could we – as nations, states and individuals – not reduce our “carbon footprint” but increase our “oxygen footprint?”
In truth, both achieve the same outcome, if it can be achieved at all in our time. The atmosphere is rebalanced, increased carbon absorbed, proportionally more oxygen emitted, and less heat trapped.
Is this possible? Yes. A riveting study in the New York Times notes “for the first time, scientists have sought to quantify” this “thought experiment.” Scientists asked: “How many trees could be planted on every available parcel of land … and what impact could that have…?” Answer: “The planet could support nearly 2.5 billion additional acres of forest without shrinking our cities and farms,” which would “store a whole lot of the extra carbon.”
Exactly how much? The effort could absorb “200 gigatons of carbon, to be precise – generated by industrial activity over the last 150 years.” This Zurich study concludes the impact of turning policy-makers’ hourglass upside-down, seeking to pull carbon out of the atmosphere with reforestation “could absorb two-thirds of historic emissions.” How about that?
The study even does calculations that confirm common sense. “The reason forests are important is that they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and incorporate it in their roots and branches.” When trees die, that carbon returns to the soil, where “it can remain for millenniums.”
Most interestingly, although sure to disappoint the budding socialist movement and New Green Deal devotees, “a handful of countries could make a very big difference” by increasing carbon capture not decreasing emissions, especially where too many trees have been taken down.
Before we begin bragging about our “oxygen footprints,” the study notes that un- deforested federal land could be reclaimed, re-capturing carbon. Says the New York Times: “Researchers found that Russia could restore 373 million acres … of forest,” the United States 255 million acres, Canada for 193 million acres. Australia, Brazil and China also figure into the mix – to boost the globe’s “oxygen footprint.” So, there you have it – a glass half full, not socialist and empty.
The main point? Decrying the end of time, life and oxygen, demanding more government for a crisis that will end mankind in a dozen years, myopically reading geologic history, blaming others, and declaring defeat – unless government swoops in – is just one way to look at life, and carbon.
The other is to think out of the box, create carbon trapping options, and plant more vegetation to restore balance in our time. The best thing we could do is stop “carbon footprint” shaming and start competing over our “oxygen footprint.” Besides, trees are nice. Even science likes them.