Carbon Trading

The concept of carbon trading is based on a cynical lie.

The Carbon Cycle is absolutely fundamental to all life on earth. The concept is simple, everybody is taught it at school but while you will find most people able to quote bits of it few remember the whole thing. Put simply and concentrating on a tree as a prime example the carbon cycle is as follows.

From the seed to the mature tree the driving force is photosynthesis. Sunlight, water and carbon-dioxide come together with a catalyst chlorophyl to form carbohydrates with some oxygen left over. This is the up side of the cycle. Water is driven up inside the tree by osmosis and the sticky sap runs down by gravity under the bark where the Cambium layer uses it to make a new layer of wood.

Already many readers will be struggling, water does not move up the tree via capillary action. Capillary action depends on a meniscus pulling so no tree could ever reach 29 feet high (maximum column of water supportable by a vacuum). The force is osmosis and the solute is sugar rising in strength as the source (leaves) is approached. We all understand sap to be the sticky stuff that oozes when a tree’s bark is damaged, rising in the spring, forget it, the source is the leaves not the roots. Should osmosis ever be interrupted air enters the cells so it can the never restart, winter or summer therefore the column of water inside the tree can never be interrupted without killing the tree. Flow rate will vary winter or summer as water is consumed in the leaves, no leaves no flow, the leaves sprout first, there is no great surge of sap in the spring to kick-start everything!

Whenever the above growth process breaks down by damage or age its replaced immediately by decomposition, all manner of organisms go after the sugars and the starches and with stronger chemistry the cellulose will also be broken down eventually.

There are two distinct modes of decomposition namely aerobic and anaerobic the former is where oxygen is freely available the latter is where it is not. Conditions for anaerobic decomposition are difficult to achieve on land, only deep bogs really work. Any tree rotting where it drops on land however will simply disintegrate aerobically such that every scrap of carbohydrate produced in life will decompose in death. Sadly the process consumes oxygen and by the time its complete there is nothing left of the tree and all the oxygen it made in life has been taken back in death. Chemically speaking there is absolutely no difference between complete rotting and burning, even the heat output is the same. The only difference between landfill and an incinerator is the time taken, except where oxygen is limited by a crust of soil, then carbon rich gasses of much higher complexity than carbon dioxide are produced e.g. Methane.

No tree growing on land has therefore ever contributed one scrap of oxygen to the atmosphere without taking it back again when it died and rotted.

Carbon trading is where as an example an oil company buys a rain forest and claims that all the fossil fuel his business causes to be burned is offset by the trees taking in the carbon dioxide and replacing the otherwise lost oxygen. A simple look at the figures involved exposes the lie instantly. If said rain forest takes in these thousands of tons of Carbon dioxide and gives back the Oxygen then the carbon has to remain behind. These tonnage’s of carbon are per hectare per year and has been going on for millions of years. Those rain forests should be perched on the tops of mountain chains thousands of feet high made of pure carbon.

Show me one and I’ll sign up to carbon trading!

Geof Woollvin BSc Hons MIEE MIET