Simply Scientific: Planting trees to absorb carbon dioxide

Half a million flocked to the streets of Montreal for the Climate Strike last Friday. A Swedish girl with braids led the crowd alongside Indigenous representatives. Pickets yelled that now is more of a time than ever to redefine tree huggers as regular citizens. Signs, such as “stop deforestation,” bobbed among the sea of people. However, what is it about deforestation that hurts the planet? How does planting trees exactly combat global warming?

The answer is intrinsically tied with the atmosphere, fossil fuels, and something called fixation.

Fixation is not about being excited to see that cute boy Sebastian from class on the shuttle again. It doesn’t reference picking at chipped nail polish or studying profusely. Fixation, for our purposes, refers to the process of converting something in a gaseous state to an organic solid one. Such deposition plays a major role in the growth of plants.

For trees, fixation starts around tiny windows on their leaves called stomata. Carbon dioxide passes through them like little Ellis Islands. From those portals, the gas assimilates into being an integral part of nature’s skyscrapers; used to synthesize sugars crucial to making bark, roots, et cetera. Without carbon dioxide, timberlands would have nothing to be made out of.

When plants evolved into existence, they diversified and spread across the habitable Earth. Vast forests expanded and soaked up tons of carbon dioxide from a prehistoric atmosphere. For millions of years, greenery all over the globe fixated tons of the gas into stalk, leaves, and whatever other arborous body parts that can cross the mind.

As geological eras progressed and different woods died, a lot of their remains became trapped underground. Hidden away by dirt and the ages, the forests of the past (along with some animals) would be pressurized and decomposed into fossil fuel. The same shrub a dinosaur might have eaten also feeds your uncle’s car!

In the period that H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine, the Industrial Revolution created its own chronological loophole. Humanity began burning natural oil and gas to spark the modern age we live in. As payment for all the progression, the planet has been forced to deal with almost two centuries of greenhouse gases transported from eons ago.

Gaseous carbon dioxide can take hundreds of years to leave our skies. Planting trees is a way to fix the substance into an organic form that won’t absorb the sun’s heat. A garden you like to read in is not only a sanctuary for the brain, but a way to maintain icecaps, safe sea levels, and weather patterns. Every nonelectric car and lawnmower helps pollute our ecosphere with chemicals from before our ancestors had fingers.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

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