The U.S. would need to cover at least 89 percent of its land with forests to sequester all the carbon from coal-fired power plants, according to a new study from Michigan Technological University researchers.
It’s not a realistic solution to burning of fossil fuels, said Joshua Pearce, professor of material sciences and electrical engineering at Michigan Tech. Instead, the U.S. should move away from using fossil fuels and develop more efficient and effective solar panels and solar farms, he said.
The study was published in Scientific Reports, a Nature publication.
But that doesn’t mean forests shouldn’t be protected.
“Living forests are our best hope for removing carbon from the atmosphere; and yet the rate of forest destruction from logging in this country is among the highest on Earth,” said Danna Smith, executive director of Dogwood Alliance, a North Carolina-based forest protection group and principal organizer of the #Stand4Forests platform released Monday.
The platform is a forest protection statement signed by more than 200 organizations, scientists and elected officials from around the nation.
Research has shown that it will take both forest protection and a move away from fossil fuel consumption to effectively combat climate change, said Chad Hanson, a research ecologist with the John Muir Project, which signed the platform statement.
Smith said mature forests are needed to help handle carbon that is already in the atmosphere.
“We shouldn’t be thinking of them as a way of allowing us to emit more,” she said. “We have to scale down emissions while ramping up protection of forests.”
She said mature forests also help cool the planet, and their roots absorb vast amounts of water that can help minimize damage from flooding, such as the southeast experienced recently with Hurricane Florence. The southeast of the U.S. is the world’s largest wood producing region, Smith said.
“We are talking about protecting forests in the Amazon, but not in our own back yard,” Smith said. The logging industry is getting a free pass on climate change, she said, while we are destroying our forests at four times the rate and scale of logging in South America.
The statement was signed by 40 mayors; organizations such as Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club; and leading climate scientists and advocates, according to Dogwood.
The group also released a report — “Seeing the Forest: Nature’s Solution to Climate Change” — saying industrial logging is a major source of carbon emissions in the US.
This year the recorded amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 411 parts per million, well beyond the 350 ppm that climate scientists have said is safe for humans, the forest report said.
Meanwhile, Pearce of Michigan Tech stressed more reliance on solar energy.
Coal plants require 13 times more land to be carbon neutral than the manufacturing of solar panels, according to Pearce.
A one-gigawatt coal-fired plant would require a new forest larger than the state of Maryland for all of its carbon emissions to be neutralized, the study found.