The Forest Loses its Trees

Tamalpais State Park. Image: Miro Korenha

by Ashira Morris, ODP Contributing Writer

California’s iconic giant sequoias, Joshua trees, and coast redwoods had resiliently survived centuries, weathering fires and droughts. They are among the oldest living things on earth. But this year’s massive wildfires, fueled by the climate crisis, burned four million acres of California and many of its majestic trees.

“These are not mere numbers, not mere trees,” wrote the New York Times in a deep dive into the trees’ devastating 2020 and what their future could be. “They represent something both bigger and more personal.” 

Why This Matters: The damage done by this year’s fires is alarming. For trees that have survived so much over the past thousands of years, to have so many wiped out so suddenly does not bode well. Sequoias, for example, are usually thought of as fire-proof thanks to their thick bark and their “crowns” of needles and branches that only grow at the top of the trees that reach up to 275 feet tall. Like many trees, they benefit from low-severity fires. But this year, the raging wildfire flames leapt high enough to burn the sequoias. Climate trends point toward bigger, hotter, more destructive wildfires. 

“The apocalyptic chickens are coming home to roost, way sooner than we thought,” said Christy Brigham, the resource manager at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks told the Times. “We are seeing impacts now that we thought we would see in 50 years.” 

 

Meaningless Carbon Offset Trees: Meanwhile, East Coast forests that don’t face threats of destruction are being “protected” by big, polluting companies like Delta and JPMorgan Chase as carbon offsets. The companies claim that preserving the carbon-absorbing trees counteracts their emissions, but “by taking credit for saving well-protected land, these companies are reducing nowhere near the pollution that they claim,” Bloomberg reports. This corporate carbon offset program is run by The Nature Conservancy, which identifies the properties and gets a share of the money that funnels to the landowners. 

 

Carbon offsets are an increasingly popular way for companies to tout being environmentally friendly: in the first 10 months of 2020 alone, companies claimed more than 55.1 million carbon credits, equivalent to the pollution from 12 million cars. It’s a 28% increase from the same period in 2019.    

Offsets as a means of conservation is a more complicated process that the public or buyers of offsets might realize. Risks must become better understood and accountability more stringently enforced.

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