Back of the envelope calculations (4) An hour, six months, food and cars


Sometimes I’ve heard girls complaining that sweets are like “ a minute in your mouth and a lifetime in your waist”. CO2 is a bit like that, but on the other side.
Some years ago we produced a technical paper for the Basque Government on climate change and urban planning. A fast calculation showed that in the current climate context of the Basque Country a hybrid car’s worth in CO2 emissions running at 110 km/h was equivalent to six months of carbon capture by a mature European beech. This back of the envelope figure was in fact more sophisticated, and based on several science documents including specific studies on the growth behaviour of different species and other factors. On the whole of the Basque Country (both a well forested and highly developed area by Spanish standards) forests were worth 2,9 million tonnes of CO2 capture by year, while the global regional emissions were some 20 million.
Back of the envelope calculations must be handled with care in climate change terms, as there are many confuse data, not always based on good will. Concisely, trees absorb CO2 to grow, and this CO2 goes to wood mass and in part to the soil; the metabolism of the plant defines how fast that plant grows, so a given species could have quite different behaviours as CO2 sink in Maine compared to Madrid or to Manila, as climate and soil qualities matter. In the end, buying car enticed by the fact that a tree will be planted to absorb that CO2 seems quite untrue; you could choose to drive just a few minutes a year, but I’m not sure this is the case. In the end, we are not that far from the kind of ad strategy also used for… cakes.

Mapas 2014 (12) Global Forest Watch

global forest watch

The United Nations Environmental Program, ESRI, Google and environmental groups have launched Global Forest Watch, a website that tries to track in real time the deforestation and forestation dynamics around the world. It is a premiere, with some room to kvetch: for instance, an industrial palm plantation (for an ecologist as speculative an investment as a golf course) is not discriminated from an old forest full of biodiversity. But it is, anyway, an interesting source.

The Konsen Plateau

It is common in geography to say that there is a rural framework. Thinkers as Ian Mc Harg introduced the idea of a territorial analysis by layers. All this can be seen, often, by a trained eye; east of Hokkaido, on the Konsen plateau, facing the Nemuro bay, these concepts are clear for anyone with google maps.

The lattice-shaped windbreak forest in Konsen Plateau, protected as Hokkaido heritage, are a curious example of an idea which certainly answers an environmental issue, which seems to have worked for a long time, but is probably invisible for a visitor not aware of the aerial image. The area is in the far north of Japan, swept by cold winds, so trees have been planted on a lattice to protect cultivation and livestock farms on the plateau. There are reticular lattices in other parts of the world (the Jeffersonian grid in the USA, roman centuriatio in Italy and other countries), but here trees in corridors over 100 m side is clearly interesting, especially when the linear forests merge with riverbank forests, or overalay with roads or other linear features. There are sections in which the frame is more minute. This is not like the old European roads with their margin trees, as roads only cross these linear forests, bur are not their axis. These are like inverse firebreaks.