Do old forests still remove CO2?

November 2, 2023

Do old forests still remove CO2?

In Episode #4 of the Carblecast, Sander Reuderink, CEO at Carble, asks if old forests still remove carbon? Listen to Sander as he goes back into Earth’s history (from Earth as a barren rock to today’s climate), explains how carbon is sequestered and released into the atmosphere, and shares his vision on what we need to do to remain within our planetary boundaries. Or continue reading the article covering the gist of Sander’s video.

Trees stop growing, so can they store carbon indefinitely

A while back, one of our customers mentioned that regenerative agriculture could continue to store carbon indefinitely. But since trees do not reach indefinite sizes, where does this indefinite amount of carbon end up?

Let’s revisit the basics

To get to the bottom of this, let’s recap the miracle of photosynthesis - which is mayby the most important process taking place on our planet. Our planet is 4.5 billion years old and for most of its lifetime, earth was a very inhospitable place. The early atmosphere consisted largely of carbon-dioxide with smaller proportions of water vapour, ammonia, and methane. The early earth’s atmosphere contained no oxygen to support animal or human life.

Carbon dioxide levels

The earth starts to breathe

A billion years ago, carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere suddenly dropped. At the same time, oxygen levels increased. The cause: early plant-life was harnessing the power of the sun to split water and carbon-dioxide molecules and recombine them into oxygen and organic material. This is what we call photosynthesis.

Over millennia, the organic material was buried deep underground, where under immense pressure it turned into coal and oil, storing massive amounts of carbon. Earth turned from a barren rock into a planet hospitable to animal (and human) life.


Fire reaches paradise

The problem started when humans discovered fire. Humans started to cut down the forests for firewood, releasing all the carbon stored in the trees into the atmosphere. Then we discovered that if we dug up coal and oil, we could burn much more at a faster rate. This all resulted in an exponential increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, accompanied by an increase in temperature. If we do not change trajectory, we are slowly returning earth to the barren state of a billion years ago.

What does this mean for commodity markets like coffee and cocoa?

To avert this doom scenario, we need to prevent new carbon from entering the atmosphere and remove old carbon from the atmosphere. In the tropical commodity sector, this means:

  • preventing any new deforestation 
  • and switching to regenerative practises. 

And no, regenerative practises will not store indefinite amounts of carbon and will reach an equilibrium at maturity. But until then, they will remove carbon and contribute to net zero tropical commodities - which is exactly where we need to go!

Questions after watching or reading through episode #4 of the Carblecast? Please reach out

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