Winter appears to be in rapid retreat, and a few days of spring-like weather are headed our way before the long humid days of summer. Mesquite trees have begun to leaf out, and a few migratory birds have appeared in the canopy of live oaks. Gardens have been planted, and a few berry-sized tomatoes cling to the vine, while citrus trees are beginning to bloom. In short, it is the time of renewal. It is the time of hope and of promise.
Ground Hog Day has passed, and Arbor Day is on the horizon. For many, the significance of Arbor Day has been lost along with the legend of Johnny Appleseed. Society is just too advanced for such quaint notions, but should it be? Is there significance in planting a tree? Is there hope and promise?
For me, the answer is yes, and it has always been so. I can still recall visiting Bird Island Basin in the 1970s and observing the fresh-water ponds. The ponds were mere depressions that gathered and held rain water. There were no trees along the shoreline, but I thought there could be, so I recruited my brother, and we planted willow trees along the shoreline. I am happy to report the trees are still standing, still producing oxygen and providing a habitat for local wildlife. In the course of human events, it was not a particularly significant event, but for me it was one filled with hope and promise.
It was with that spirit of hope that Arbor Day was first celebrated in Spain in the year of 1594. In the United States, the first Arbor Day was celebrated in Nebraska on April 10, 1872. An estimated one million trees were planted. By 1883, Arbor Day had spread to Australia, Canada, Europe and Japan. On April 15, 1907, Theodore Roosevelt issued an “Arbor Day” proclamation to the school children of the United States. The proclamation emphasized the importance of trees and forestry. Now National Geographic claims that half of the world’s oxygen is produced by trees and other vegetation, and therein lies the hope and promise of our future.
It is claimed that excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is contributing to global warming, and that taxing carbon emissions is the solution. An absurd proposition, but a proposition held dear by so-called environmentalist. It would seem as though environmentalist prefer a social solution to a scientific solution. It is not clear how taxation can convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, but through photosynthesis a tree certainly can, and trees – not taxation – may provide hope and promise to our friends, the confused environmentalist.
Trees (all plant life) take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen through the process known as photosynthesis. If a tree grows at the rate of 100 pounds per year, then the tree stores approximately 100 pounds of carbon and releases approximately 100 pounds of oxygen into the atmosphere. When a tree reaches maturity and stops growing, the tree stops producing excess oxygen, and can be said to be in a state of equilibrium. When a tree dies and begins to decay, the carbon trapped in its cells is given off as carbon dioxide. When a mature tree is harvested for lumber, the carbon remains trapped in its cell structure, and the carbon dioxide is not released into the atmosphere. If a tree is burned for fuel, the carbon in its cell structure is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. The same thing can be said of burning fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum and natural gas are stored carbon that was created through a process known as anaerobic decomposition millions of years ago. Dead plant life was buried and subjected to heat and pressure and over time created vast deposits of fossil fuel. When fossil fuel is burned, the stored carbon is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, in much the same way as burning a log in a fireplace.
Interestingly carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is essential for plant growth, and it is considered to be a nutrient for plants. Since carbon dioxide is a nutrient for plants, as the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere increases, plant growth accelerates and reduces the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Conversely when carbon dioxide is depleted in the atmosphere plants quit growing and begin to die. It kind of reminds me of the law of conservation of matter that was taught in sixth grade science class which states, “Matter cannot be created or destroyed only transformed.” So if you want to reduce the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, consider the scientific solution, and plant a tree.
“If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if you think in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.” – Confucius
Until next time…