OSU Research Challenges Carbon Thinking

By Joel DeVyldere

SequestrationTaking carbon back out of the atmosphere will involve some significant priority shifting, a new report reveals. A study from Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Science examines various federal policy options for meaningfully addressing climate change, finally concluding that things get messy.

“One of the great challenges of our time is providing food, timber, and housing, while also preserving the environment,” says OSU professor of environmental economics David Lewis. Lewis collaborated on the report with several other U.S. universities and the World Wildlife Fund.

The study hopes to present viable policy options to address the 21st century climate crisis; a measurable exponentially accelerating increase in global temperatures driven by the anthropogenic release of carbon into the atmosphere. While the classical approach to climate change involves keeping the carbon out of the atmosphere in the first place (reduce, reuse, recycle, etc.), supplementary approaches include adding biomass to the earth in order to suck the carbon back out of the air.

The OSU study simulates paying land-owners $100 per acre annually to allow farm or timber land to be reforested. This option would see increase of 14 percent in forestland and 8 percent in carbon storage by 2050. By contrast, charging landowners $100 for each acre which they designate for urban development would increase habitat for some endangered species, but would also allow a measurable loss in carbon storage capacity.

Deforestation, driven by an infinite economic growth paradigm, has posed serious challenges for strategists concerned with the growing instability of the global climate. Forests and wetlands pull carbon out of the air, and then slowly release it as the trees and plants decompose.

Habitat loss is historically understood as an interrelated problem with the climate change crisis. Both are augmented by deforestation, and both are measurably addressed by the options in the Lewis study.

Carbon sequestration options like those found in the reforestation plans are proposed as a partial solution for climate change-related crises such as increased sea level, chronic droughts, wildfires, and the loss of arable land. Possible short-term consequences of large-scale reforestation include higher domestic food prices or a spike in the price of lumber.

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