Russia tree-planting would represent a benign form of international partnership
MOSCOW (January 17, 2020) — While US-Russian relations keep sinking in a seemingly bottomless ditch, optimists aren’t ready to give up and wonder whether there is anything to reverse or at least to stop this process before Armageddon. One thing for sure, it wouldn’t be easy since Congress and the mainstream media present Russian President Vladimir Putin as the ultimate evil who is responsible for almost all the world’s calamities.
Who says there’s no bipartisan consensus in Washington? These days, anyone calling for the resumption of US-Russian dialogue is suspected to be a Putin stooge, but for The New York Times, even the Russian culture is under great suspicion. The paper warns of the danger of malign influence on visitors to the “Russian Lounge” inside the Kennedy Center, at a California state park on the site of a 19th-century Russian settlement or to the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History at American University.
According to The New York Times, the institute’s sponsored events, such as performances by well-known Russian artists, or bridge-building, including US-Russian cooperation on space exploration and during World War II, are questionable because they present Russia in a more positive way than it deserves. However, for Democratic presidential prospects and the left, climate change is another existential threat.
Their solution? Some version of the Green New Deal. While details differ, the bottom line is the same: trillions of dollars spent, massive government intrusion into the economy (aka socialism) and drastic dismantling of advanced industrial economies with an emphasis on the negative: Root out production of carbon, methane and other gases that are synonymous with industry and agriculture.
Oddly, since even Al Gore concedes that ingenuity and technology are the keys to finding a solution, Green New Deal advocates propose little in the way of positive steps to eliminate those evil gases without returning to the pre-industrial age.
But in fact, as suggested by environmental activist Robert Zapesochny and former American diplomat Jim Jatras, there may be a constructive new deal on climate change that is genuinely green: trees.
There are 3 trillion trees in the world. Trees are major absorbers of greenhouse gases. A hardwood can absorb up to 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, adding up to about a ton of carbon dioxide in its first four decades.
Thomas Crowther and a team of researchers from ETH Zurich have calculated that the world has an additional 2.2 billion acres of land suitable for reforestation. That is enough room to plant an extra 1.2 trillion trees and provides a lot of potential for carbon sequestration. More than half of reforestation potential is in six countries: Russia (373 million acres), followed by the United States (255 million), Canada (194 million), Australia (143 million), Brazil (123 million) and China (99.3 million). Ironically, the bulk of this is in the planet’s north because of the very warming at issue.
The possibility: 1.2 trillion trees could take up 205 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere. That is two-thirds of the 300 billion tons of carbon released into the atmosphere from human activity since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Put another way: As the planet warms, more land becomes suitable for growing trees that absorb gases that are held responsible for the warming.
According to the nonprofit Cool Effect, the average American produces a carbon footprint of 18.3 tons of carbon dioxide annually. Planting trees sufficient to offset this effect could cost as little as $136.12 a year. Thus, tree planting is one of the cheapest methods for carbon offsets. That brings us back to Russia, which has the biggest potential for massive reforestation.
This would involve the Russian government setting aside land for this purpose as well as a structure to allow people from all over the world to contribute — maybe through a kind of Uber app to allow average people to erase their carbon footprints right from their smartphones. With regard to verifying the plantings, amazing technology is already available, such as the use of drones to shoot seeds into the ground, planting hundreds of trees in a matter of minutes.
Whatever our differences with Moscow, the Russians would likely be receptive to the idea. Cooperation on planting trees in Russia not only would represent a benign form of international partnership — which could be expanded to the U.S. and Canada, second and third in terms of forestation potential — but it also could dovetail with plans already underway to cope with climate change.
Northern forestation could also reinforce other innovative projects, such as Pleistocene Park, an effort to keep methane trapped in the Siberian permafrost by bringing back Ice Age plants and animals.
I wonder what President Trump’s reaction to this idea would be. Hasn’t he said a zillion times that getting along with Russia is good for America?
During World War II, no one in their right mind objected to FDR’s alliance with Josef Stalin against Adolf Hitler, but these days, especially for Never Trumpers, allying with Mr. Putin against climate change might be a bridge too far. Well, for them there might be an even more effective climate initiative that is perfectly consistent with current attitudes toward Russia: nuclear winter.
A thermonuclear war would be the ultimate in bioengineering: a sharp increase in temperature followed by prolonged planetary cooling. Best of all, most if not all of those troublesome carbon-producing humans and methane-blasting cows — and pretty much everything else — would be gone forever. What’s not to like?
Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow.
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