Op-Ed: California’s carbon-offset forests aren’t trapping much carbon. Here’s how to do better.
A few years ago, I read a report that was going to be published in The Journal of Forestry. “California’s Carbon Forests Are Not Actually Working, But You Can’t Know That,” a cover article blared, with a big, red, red-bordered head photo (photo credit: author). It was by a trio of researchers at the University of California at Berkeley who argued that while carbon stocks in the state’s national forests have dramatically increased, the total amount of carbon stored is actually quite small.
What this meant, they argued, was that the forests were not actually storing any significant amount of carbon.
And so the report was canceled, but the headline stuck.
This was the lead-in to a blog post (written with my co-author, Michael Grinspoon) for the Huffington Post, where we had a similar argument, with one significant difference: We disagreed with the conclusion that the forests were not actually working. We concluded instead that the forests are in fact working and can do more to help the planet.
While the authors of the original report were correct to point out that California’s forests were not storing significant amounts of carbon, we are not.
The argument we make in this new blog post is that California’s forests are storing carbon, but the amount is very small in absolute terms. We show that California’s forests and the forests of all of the U.S. are much more effective than many have been led to believe, and a lot of that is due to the incredible investments the state has made to protect them. That’s true in absolute terms, and also true in relative terms, as demonstrated in the graph below.
The graph from the original JF report (see the “The Reality is Far From Perfect” graphic on page 20) shows the state’s total forests (blue line) as having a total carbon stock (blue shaded area) that is over six times larger than the total amount of carbon stored in the natural forests of the entire Western Hemisphere (green