Why do we dedicate a whole day to celebrating trees? Turns out, trees uphold the planet’s equilibrium more than we think; so much so, we should be giving them more than hugs. Trees provide homes to plants and animals, enhance human well being, and mitigate climate change (IPCC). Moreover, a tree has the ability to absorb carbon dioxide, thereby acting as a carbon sink.
In short, a carbon sink is a natural reserve that absorbs more carbon dioxide than it emits into the atmosphere (UNFCCC). Examples of carbon sinks include coastal and ocean sinks, in addition to land sinks: plants, soils, and our guest of honor, trees.
Trees and other plants capture carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and store it in living biomass, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (Project Drawdown). The land sinks’ talent to sequester carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere is impressive; according to Project Drawdown’s 2020 Review, “land sinks currently return 26% of human-caused emissions to the Earth”.
Interestingly, most carbon sequestration happens in a plant’s roots system, which at times can give trees an upper leg in absorbing carbon dioxide compared to plants that have less of a root system like grasses or flowers (Kell, 2012). Therefore, forests star in a leading role in mitigating climate change. Without forests and the other land sinks, the atmosphere would unquestionably contain more carbon dioxide, which contributes directly to global warming (IPCC). A warmer climate could have disastrous irreversible impacts globally, including rising sea levels, shifting weather patterns, and threats to our global food system (IPCC).
Since trees play such a critical role in mitigating against such unfavorable impacts, it’s imperative that we protect and assist these natural carbon sinks. Researchers are finding that tree varieties have different carbon sink capabilities (Sun et. al), and some research has shown climate change impacts may affect the ability of trees to sequester carbon (Rammig, 2020). Deforestation and changes in how we use land (e.g, converting more land for agriculture) contribute to an estimate of 10-15% of the world’s total carbon emissions (Project Drawdown) (Apeel Blog).
If we can preserve these land sinks through policy and maintenance, not only do we protect biodiversity, pollination, and ecotourism, but we reinforce these sinks’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide. Simultaneously, we can still do our part in supporting these natural sinks by minimizing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that are emitted into the atmosphere in the first place.
Collectively, if we scale the climate solutions that already exist, we can substantially minimize the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and even begin to see a decline in emissions (Project Drawdown). Recently, Project Drawdown recognized reducing food waste as the number one solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.
Just like we need to protect trees, we need to protect our food. Project Drawdown estimates that reducing food waste could prevent 87-95 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions. These savings are equivalent to the amount of carbon sequestered by over one billion acres of forest, enough to cover over half of the US (EPA Calculator)!
At Apeel, if we do our part in conquering food waste with the help of our customers, consumers, and greater communities, we can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, hopefully making the lives of trees and other land sinks a bit easier.
We continue to discover that climate solutions are interconnected, and just preserving trees or just reducing food waste is not even close to enough. We need to bolster carbon sinks while reducing carbon sources to begin to see some substantial impact and to ensure our planet can support viable ecosystems into the future
While today we have trees in the spotlight and celebrate them with more than a hug, we can use this peculiar time to think about how we can individually and collectively be champions for carbon sinks for long-term sustainable development. Arbor Day and Earth Day are no different than any other day at Apeel. If we all have this mindset, we can all make small sustainable choices that will have lasting effects in the long run.