US Carbon Emissions Quiz > October 30, 2008

Which of the following accounts for 20% of US carbon emissions?

  • Power plants

  • Deforestation

  • Transportation

A. Deforestation.

Trees absorb carbon from our atmosphere, so when forests are clear cut or burned, the carbon is released. And while both power plants and fossil-fuel based vehicles produce more carbon emissions than deforestation, it’s important to proactively stop deforestation here in the U.S. and abroad.

It’s estimated that more than 80 percent of the Earth’s natural forests have already been destroyed. Up to 90 percent of West Africa’s coastal rainforests have disappeared since 1900, and Brazil and Indonesia—countries housing the world’s largest existing rainforest regions—are being stripped and burned for logging and agriculture. World Wildlife Fund* (WWF) estimates that the world loses nearly 36 million acres of natural forest every year—roughly the size of New York State.

Here in the U.S., the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) found that as of 2005, the U.S. has the seventh largest annual loss of primary forests in the world.

The Carbon Storage of Forests

But just how important are forests in the grand scheme of carbon control? In 2005, the FAO estimated that forests held 638 gigatons (Gt) of carbon. Furthermore, a study published by the Environmental Defense Fund* (EDF), states that tropical forests account for slightly less than half of the world’s forest area, but hold as much carbon as temperate-zone and boreal forests combined.

“Trees in tropical forests hold, on average, about 50 percent more carbon per hectare than trees outside the tropics,” the report says.

In addition to storing large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), vegetation from forests also store other greenhouse gasses, including methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).

Not surprisingly, when this vegetation is cut or burned, it releases its stored chemicals into the environment. From the EDF report: “Deforestation releases carbon, principally as CO2, to the atmosphere as the organic carbon stored in trees and soil is oxidized through burning and decay. Other greenhouse gasses, such as CH4 and N2O are also emitted as a result of the conversion of forests to agricultural land. “

Preventing Deforestation

While deforestation may account for only 20 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, it happens to be one of the easiest sources to prevent.

EarthShare member charity, Conservation International*, has helped conserve 143 million acres of forest over the last three years, and continues its deforestation efforts through their program, Lost There, Felt Here. Lost There, Felt Here has protected more than 17,000 acres of forest—and a contribution of just $15 will help protect an entire acre.

You can also give back to the planet by planting trees through American Forest’s* Global ReLeaf program, which helps individuals, organizations and corporations improve the local and global environment by planting and caring for trees.

The Conservation Fund is also involved in reforestation, having restored 20,000 acres of forests with six million trees through its own carbon sequestration programs. These six million trees will capture more than 7 million tons of carbon CO2 over their lifetime. Check out the Fund’s Go Zero® Carbon Calculator to estimate your own carbon emissions and determine how much you need to give back to negate your footprint.

Deforestation resources: