Each planting season we collaborate with new Costa Rican host farm families to plant more trees on their degraded farms. To date, 21 families are collaborating with us to reforest pasturelands with more than 10,000 diverse rainforest trees. It is always a joy to move our tree planting work to a new host farm family in the Valley San Juan de Dios in Costa Rica. Maria and her husband Noah and their family are thrilled to be planting over 150 trees on their deforested land with your help this year 2016.
We toured Maria and Noah’s small farm with a group of agro-forestry students to decide what species to plant and observe any problems or challenges with the farm in general. There is a small stream at the foot of the hill exposed to the sun. So, we decided to plant large majestic rainforest trees perfect for protecting these precious waters and slowing evaporation for generations to come.
After a great tour and discussions of best land management practices, we all decided to plant at least 30 cocoa trees and many cashew trees mixed in so that the family could harvest these fruits and earn money in the future by collaborating with our cooperative group to make chocolate and other tree products.
A few days later, the trees were delivered and the whole family enjoyed admiring the over 45 species of hardwoods and fruit trees. The selection of tropical fruits include mammon chinos, guanabana, anona, breadfruit, oranges, lemons, caimitos, guavas, guayabas, cashews, almonds, karao, carambolas and more.
A crew of three women plus Alvaro planted the trees over a week of work and so far, every single tree is thriving. Our paid workers will be following these trees closely for the next four 4 years to achieve robust productive mature trees for maximum benefits.
The early months of every tree we plant are critical. We recently visited the newly planted trees with a touring group from another community interested in copying our community reforestation model. Seeing the freshly planted trees so healthy was rewarding for all.
The whole community benefits from paid tree planting work. The workers and neighbors producing and planting and caring for the trees enjoy being paid for their diligent work. Literally, we plant a grocery store on every farm where we reforest by including fruit trees, medicinal trees and lumber trees. The host farm family grows an abundance of opportunities for tree products.
The trees bring a notable positive social impact to families like Maria and Noah, living in marginalized areas of Costa Rica. They regenerate what was previously deforested and unproductive land. Families like them along with our paid workers develop valuable opportunities in collaboration with growing the trees and creating a wealth of products from the long term sustainable management of the land and the trees.
Seems like no matter where you are, talk about drought is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. I was recently in California this past April and was surprised to see the all fountains, even the ones in Beverly Hills, completely turned off. Babylon is running out of water. How ironic because Babylon used to be known for its lush hanging hydroponic gardens overflowing with plenty of water and more than enough food for all. Now look at us.
Water wars have begun whether you know it or not. Competition for this precious resource is going to become ever more fierce because we have altered our air composition and cut down way too many trees. Excess carbon dioxide is driving up temperatures which is, in turn, trapping in more water vapor.
Rainforests balance the global temperature and water cycles through recycling huge quantities of rainfall. Enormous amounts of water are continuously being elevated through the one-way, antigravity valving system of trees. Each canopy tree transpires some 200 gallons ( 760 liters) of water annually. For every acre of canopy rainforest, trees transpire about 20,000 gallons (76,000L) of water.  The tree feeds the rain-forming atmosphere by leaking atomized water out through its leaves while at the same time sucking in fresh water through its roots. Trees run the rainfall/snowfall system through their evapo-transpiration. So how do the trees recycle the rain?
Water evaporates from the sea and from the trees, first rising as water vapor and then condensing and falling as rain, a process referred to as evapo-transpiration. Some rainwater sinks into the earth and some rainwater drains away over the ground surface, depending on the temperature of the ground surface coupled with whether there are trees there or not. In forested areas, the trees cool the ground off with their shading branches and leaves. When the the ground is cooler than the falling rainwater, the warmer rainwater to easily penetrate the earth. Around 85% of the water runoff is retained, with 15% being absorbed by vegetation and humus and about 70% going to recharge groundwater, aquifers and underground stream systems.
In the full hydrological cycle like this, the trees recharge the groundwater table by sending it down through interconnected webs of tree roots. This is why biodiverse groupings of different species of trees, like those growing in a natural forest or highly diverse reforestation project, ensure that water is, in fact, penetrating the ground at multiple levels and actually nourishing deeper underground streams and reservoirs instead of draining them like in a monoculture or single species plantation.
In a healthy, full hydrological cycle, diverse tree root systems play another key role in regulation of the water cycle. Roots from all kinds of trees reaching down to all strata of underground levels draw water up from different layers of the soil and underground aquifers. This water then transpires through the tree leaves and rises as water vapor, cooling with altitude and condensing into clouds. Finally, the water aggregates into bigger droplets and precipitates as rain. Some say that water rising from trees is more highly charged and healthy water because it emanates from a living source, with mineral and trace element content much higher than transpiration from the sea, where many creatures have already absorbed the oxygen and carbon dioxide content leaving the water empty.
Now think about what happens to the water when we cut down the trees, particularly around the Equator where the majority of rainwater and oxygen is recycled on our planet. In deforested areas without tree cover, the temperature gradient of the soil is normally so hot that the cooler rainwater cannot penetrate it at all. Instead, the water runs off and just evaporates away. It’s just like when you throw water on a hot skillet and it sizzles and skitters sideways, just evaporating into thin air. Without the trees and cooling clouds to shade and protect and keep the soil cool, the rainwater cannot sink in.
The water vapor in the atmosphere at first increases and the rain spreads out over a much larger surface area instead. Sometimes the rainfall is excessive, then flooding occurs. At the same time, enhanced evaporation causes the atmosphere to become overloaded with water vapor and make the water fall somewhere else instead – sometimes far from the original source of the water vapor. By this process, devastating droughts can also result from the vicious cycle of rain created by a broken hydrological cycle. Yes, a flood in one region begets the next flood, and conversely, a flood can also be the cause of a future drought.
How can drought occur from too much rain? Critical consequence of the half hydro cycle is that there is no groundwater recharge. Think about it. Most of the water is staying on the surface because trees are not rooting the water down and transpiring the vapor upwards in a slow steady balanced process. Instead, the water is rising very fast, in large part as hot vapor and falling as rain without ever actually penetrating the deep levels of the earth. Often, if there aren’t enough trees to hold moisture in the soil, and the winds end up moving the vapor elsewhere which effectively removes the water from that local system.
Where there is no tree cover, the groundwater initially rises and brings with it underground salts, which contaminate the upper levels of topsoil. The plants are not able to metabolize these salts and vegetation and soils dry up and die. Over time the groundwater table will sink and disappear, because there is insufficient rainwater to nourish it and in turn, the supply of nutrients to vegetation from below the ground ceases.
Esteemed scientist Victor Shauberger calls this a biological short circuit which ultimately leads to widespread desertification. Why? The nutrients present in the upper zones of the groundwater table, which are normally drawn up by the trees to a level where they are accessible to the lesser plants are left below instead to sink with the falling ground water. The water table eventually drops to levels far beyond the reach of even the deepest tree roots, taking all soil moisture and trace elements down with it. No water means the desert reigns supreme.
When widespread desertification is the norm, not only is water lost in the deep bowels of the earth, but it also begins to be lost at the great heights of the heavens. The initial greater intensity of thunderstorms and storm activity at first raises the water vapor to levels far higher than normal, even as high as 40 to 80 km above the surface of the planet. Here the vapor reaches altitudes where it is exposed to much stronger ultraviolet and high energy gamma radiation, which break apart the water molecules by disassociating the oxygen from the hydrogen. Due to its lesser specific weight, the hydrogen molecule then rises while the oxygen molecule sinks. This way the water is effectively removed forever – gone gone gone for good.
So what can we do to restore a healthy, full hydrological cycle for our planet? Planting bio diverse trees within 10° of the Equator is one of the best solutions. In badly deteriorated soils, pioneering species are able to handle the higher levels of soil salts and are critical to plant so they can provide some early shade and ground cover which begins to lower the soil’s temperature. Soil conditions slightly improve as the trees move rainwater deeper into the earth, taking the excess salt down with it. Meanwhile a mix of fruit and hardwood trees can survive in the regenerated soil thanks to the process of creating shade and more soil moisture. Eventually, the pioneer trees die off because the evolved soil conditions are now no longer suitable and the dynamic balance of nature is restored.
When Justin Brothers, one of the Producers of the Envision Festival in Costa Rica, asked me to write an article about what ACCT does, I wondered what I could say that would resonate with this jet setting, fun loving, and mantra murmuring crowd. Non profit Association Community Carbon Trees- Costa Rica has been working with the ENVISION FESTIVAL since it’s inception 5 years ago in an effort to provide a way for people attending the event to offset their carbon dioxide emitted from the airplanes, trains, and automobiles used to travel to the Southern Zone of Costa Rica. Envision’s example of giving back to the local and global community has set the stage for other festivals to be more environmentally aware not just about their footprint for the festival itself, but also for the planet as a whole due to the countless environmental services and sustainable products rainforest trees so generously give us. Trees do so much for us from sucking up excess carbon dioxide to recycling thousands of gallons of rainwater each year, to providing food, medicine and products. With so many amazing qualities, it is hard to focus on just one reason why we love rainforest trees.
Perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions from people at the festival is HOW do the trees do their magic? Most people know a little about photosynthesis, that amazing atmospheric chemical exchange occurring in green plants which forms the basis of our symbiotic relationship with them. Humans exhale CO2 constantly, as do land based animals, and many fossil fuel consuming machines and factories. Trees breathe in CO2 and store the carbon molecule while literally recycling our pollution into the oxygen we breathe and the water we drink.
This mutually reciprocal relationship is nothing short of amazing as it provides for our most fundamental needs. Carbon is not the enemy. In fact, Paul Hawken, esteemed environmentalist, reminds us that carbon is an extraordinary element we need to hold hands with and collaborate. We need to fall in love with carbon.
I say we need to fall in love with rainforest trees too. Because they truly do hold hands with carbon and turn it into food for growth. Nevertheless, tree services often go unnoticed and taken for granted. That old cliche “Save the Rainforest” never really worked and now we have so much carbon in the air that it has become a menace to society and no one really has invented a better way than a tropical tree near the Equator to absorb it and give us so much back in return.
Let’s go deeper. How do we calculate how much carbon dioxide is captured by any tree? It depends on the growth characteristics of the tree species, the conditions for growth where the tree is planted, and the density of the tree’s wood. In other words, how big and hard does the tree grow over time? Where is the tree located and how old is it? Carbon offset is greatest within 10 degrees of the Equator and in the younger stages of tree growth, between 20 to 50 years. This is why it is so important for every tree we plant to “keep on living and giving” which makes our long term, paid community farmer rainforest management and conservation program critical to real success.
Do you want to go even deeper? Of course, all trees planted anywhere are wonderful and generous. But when you start calculating the real carbon sequestration of any given tree, those growing within 10 degrees of the Equator out perform all others because they grow 365 days a year with no real dormant cold season. Here is a basic outline of how the calculation works. First, we determine the total (green) weight of the tree by determining “W” = Above-ground weight of the tree in pounds, “D” = Diameter of the trunk in inches and H = Height of the tree in feet. Fn3
Then we determine the dry weight of the tree. This is based on extensive publications with tables for average weights for one cord of wood for different temperate and tropical tree species. Taking all species in the table into account, the average tree is 72.5% dry matter and 27.5% moisture.Therefore, to determine the dry weight of the tree, multiply the weight of the tree by 72.5%.
Next, we determine the weight of carbon in the tree. The average carbon content is generally 50% of the tree’s total volume. Therefore, to determine the weight of carbon in the tree, multiply the dry weight of the tree by 50%.
Determine the weight of carbon dioxide sequestered in the tree. CO2 is composed of one molecule of Carbon and 2 molecules of Oxygen.
The atomic weight of Carbon is 12.001115.
The atomic weight of Oxygen is 15.9994.
The weight of CO2 is C+2*O=43.999915.
The ratio of CO2 to C is 43.999915/12.001115=3.6663.
Therefore, to determine the weight of carbon dioxide sequestered in the tree, multiply the weight of carbon in the tree by 3.6663.6
Finally, determine the weight of CO2 sequestered in the tree per year. To do this, we divide the weight of carbon dioxide sequestered in the tree by the age of the tree.
Estimated growth rates and sizes of agroforestry trees were taken from the World Agroforestry Centre’s “Agroforestree Database”:
Let’s see how much a Calliandra calothyrsus ( small leguminous tree native to Central America) might sequester in a year. A 10-year-old Calliandra would probably grow about 15 feet tall with a trunk about 8 inches in diameter. Therefore:
W = 0.25D2H = 0.25(82)(15) = 240 lbs. green weight above ground.
382.8 lbs / 10 years = 38.3 lbs. CO2 sequestered per year
If nothing else, it becomes very clear that it is not enough to just plant the tree. Every single tree must be lovingly tended, especially the first four years if it is to grow up over the cattle grasses and form a biodiverse forest canopy to give us maximum environmental benefits. Each one of these diverse trees contributes over 200 pounds of biomass each year to rebuild soils on deforested cattle farms participating in our programs. Based on the number of trees Envision has sponsored to date, just picture more than 74,600 pounds of fresh new topsoil added from falling branches, leaves and animal droppings where it used to be just hot mess of cattle grass and erosion! But wait. There’s more! Each tree transpires or recycles over 200 gallons of rainwater each year. By the time the trees reach 20 years old, they have formed a canopy which transpires over 20,000 gallons of water per acre per year. That is a big deal with the ongoing drought and flood conditions plaguing our planet due to deforestation and unusually higher temperatures year after year.
Local Costa Ricans participating with us, both workers and host farm family members, all paid labor, chop cattle grasses and choking vegetation away from the base of each and every tree and its perimeter 3 to 4 times per year the first two years, 2 times during the 3rd year and 2 times the 4th year. This means the majority of the money from each ACCT sponsorship is going out to the community to make sure each and every tree grows to maturity which is at least 25 years for the carbon sequestration numbers to be real.
ACCT distinguishes itself from most other tree planting groups by allocating money and management to the follow up care of every single tree. We even replace any trees that die the first 4 years. What’s more, we plant a huge diversity of trees. And we do not buy the land either, but rather empower local farmers to work on their own land which means less deforestation. Through local job creation, ACCT cultivates greater chances of long term rainforest regeneration and conservation. Social justice has a huge role to play in keeping rainforest standing for future generations.
My, how we have all grown! As of planting season 2015, just 5 years after our birth, 16 different family farms are participating in our ACCT forestry programs. Over the past 5 years, Envision Festival has grown as well. They have sponsored 373 trees for Future Generations with a projected measurable carbon offset of at least 373 tons of CO2 over a 25 year period. We could break down these numbers to yearly calculations, but given the long term nature of our work and commitment and dedication to forest management, the 25 year cycle is a more fair analysis based on a per tree basis.
So if you are traveling to Envision Festival this coming year 2016, or still want to offset your CO2 from previous years, or even other festivals or events, you can safely calculate that 1 tropical tree will absorb approximately 1 ton of CO2 plus give us all of the other benefits mentioned. We really do hold a powerful, socially just solution in the palm of our hands. And ACCT loves to do the dirty work with our community of men and women! Every single tree does makes a difference. You have an important role to play. If not you, then who? Envision the forest we are planting. It is real and we need your help!
ACCT thru the carbon offset button on the Envision website EnvisionFestival.com. You can also post your pic and testimonial and receive a Carbon Certificate through our interactive website www.CommunityCarbonTrees-CostaRica.com. We are the change we seek. ACCT now!
2 The National Computational Science Leadership Program http://www.ncsec.org/cadre2/team18_2/students/purpose.html and The Shodor Education Foundation
3 “Total-Tree Weight, Stem Weight, and Volume Tables for Hardwood Species in the Southeast,” Alexander Clark III, Joseph R. Saucier, and W. Henry McNab, Research Division, Georgia Forestry Commission, January 1986.
Chave J, Muller-Landau H, Baker TR, EasdaleTA, ter Steege H and Webb CO. 2006. Regional and phylogenetic variation of wood density across 2456 neotropical tree species. Ecological Applications 16:2356-2367.
Vallejo A, Hernadez PC. 2006. Database of observations of Central American species and generic models of growth. Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenaza, CATIE, COsta Rica.
4 “Heating With Wood: Producing, Harvesting and Processing Firewood,” Scott DeWald, Scott Josiah, and Becky Erdkamp, University of Nebraska – Lincoln Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, March 2005.
Chave J, Muller-Landau H, Baker TR, EasdaleTA, ter Steege H and Webb CO. 2006. Regional and phylogenetic variation of wood density across 2456 neotropical tree species. Ecological Applications 16:2356-2367.
5. “Carbon Storage and Accumulation in United States Forest Ecosystems, General Technical Report W0- 59,” Richard A. Birdsey, United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station, Radnor, PA, August 1992.