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Why it's important

Odds are, the electricity running your computer right now comes from a combination of sources including at least some coal and natural gas. These power sources produce carbon dioxide that until recently was buried deep in the Earth. This CO2 is then released into the air, where some of it contributes directly to climate change, and some of it is taken up by soils and trees and the ocean, where it enters the natural carbon cycle. This CO2 is eventually also released back into the air when the soil is disturbed or the tree decomposes. Ultimately, all CO2 we emit from fossil fuels makes it into the atmosphere and we don't have much in the way of good options for getting it out in the long term.

The only way a tree is a carbon storage mechanism is when it becomes a table
The first thing to do is to stop using so much energy from fossil fuels, in order to reduce the amount of carbon that is being introduced to the atmosphere, which is why that gets so much coverage on this website. The second part of the climate change issue is to do what we can to undo as much of the damage we have done in the last couple centuries by pulling carbon out of the air and putting it back deep underground. It is estimated that all of what has currently been introduced to the climate system will result in a warming of about 0.5 °C (0.9 °F) even if everything were to return to 2000 levels immediately. This is in part because of what's already in the air and also because climate effects sometimes take a long time to present themselves.

This coal had been stored underground, along with oil and natural gas. Pulling it up and burning it releases CO2 we need to get back underground.Credit: Wikimedia Commons
In addition to the effects from increased atmospheric CO2, we are seeing negative effects from too much CO2 in the oceans causing something called ocean acidification. In short, there is too much carbon everywhere in the carbon cycle because we have been adding to this closed loop for too long. It is time to now take some of what we added in out.

As was said on the What It Is page, trees are often pegged as the solution to this problem, but are in fact only a short term solution, if even that. Protecting old growth trees from either dying or being cut down is important because they are made up of lots of carbon that was used to grow and create the tree you see. However, that big old tree will eventually die and unless it is turned into some wood product that isn't burned or decomposed, it is likely to release its stored carbon back into either the atmosphere directly, or the soil and then the atmosphere. In the long run, the only way a tree is a carbon storage mechanism is when it becomes a table. In addition, there tends to be a lot of carbon stored up in soil, most of which eventually makes it back into the atmosphere over time, but clearing areas for planting lots of trees can disrupt this soil and actually release more carbon than the tree would take up. This stresses the importance of putting carbon back where it came from, underground, where it can't ever make it back into the atmosphere for a long, long time.
Up next: Where we are
Wikipedia - Climate Change
Wikipedia article on climate change
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UK National Trust - Trees
UK National Trust statement on trees and their role in averting climate change.
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