Since carbon dioxide (CO2) is the biggest contributor to global warming, I decided to take a look at how I can minimize my own impact. I came up with two strategies:

  1. Take a look at the things I do that create CO2 and make modification to reduce the CO2 I create.
  2. Plant trees, which are good at sequestering CO2.

Reducing the carbon dioxide I create

CO2 is generally created through burning, combustion, and respiration.

Respiration is a biochemical process most of us refer to as breathing.

𝐶6𝐻12𝑂6 (glucose)+6𝑂2 (oxygen)→6CO2 (carbon dioxide) +6𝐻2𝑂 (water) + ATP (energy).

Breathing general produces very little CO2, but when you multiply it times billions of people and animals, it nickels and dimes the atmosphere. I really like breathing and am not willing to give that up, so I will have to focus my efforts elsewhere.

Heating – We do not burn coal, wood, or do any burning at our house, but we did have a backup Beckett oil burner for the colder winter months. My husband and I compared geothermal vs modern heat pumps and elected to update the HVAC system to a more energy efficient heat pump system. We went with a heat pump that can keep working even in colder conditions, and an electric coil backup for those super cold periods of winter. This completely eliminated the oil burner. That said, the power plants that supply electricity in our area run on coal and natural gas, so reducing the amount of house hold energy we use all year round is important. Things like hanging laundry up to dry and making sure there is good insulation in the house help. 

We can also update our house to harvest solar power. As it turns out, solar setups connected to the grid send the power made to the grid not directly to your house for use. This means we’d still be using coal/natural gas, but we are offsetting it by pushing solar energy to the grid. I’ll get into the solar project in another article.

The other primary place my husband and I create CO2 is with the cars we drive. Step one is driving less. Step two is buying less, so fewer things are being driven around or delivered to our house. An electric car may also be helpful; however that is going to be a research project of its own, as there are a lot of non-environmental friendly topics around the making of electric cars that I need to know more about before committing to one. (Batteries and landfills, mining of cobalt, etc …)

Then there is grilling. Grilling is a nice way to save on electricity in the summer, but whether you are burning charcoal, wood, or using propane or gas, burning equals CO2.  Atlantic Magazine has a great article, “The Greenest Way to Grill.” This one may cause an argument in our household, so I’ll have to get back to you on our decision here.

Plant trees, which are good at sequester CO2

One thing there is no arguing about in our household is my penchant for gardening and planting things, EVERYwhere.  This is where step two comes in.

Plants sequester (capture) CO2 during photosynthesis. When plants process the carbon dioxide they turn the carbon into a sugar compound used for growing and release oxygen in the form of O2, which I like to use for breathing. This utilization of carbon is referred to as “carbon fixation” or “carbon assimilation” and some plants and trees do it more than others.

As I researched which trees and plants sequester CO2 best, I found some interesting information.

As it turns out there is one thing more important than the amount of CO2 the plant can sequester. It is important to choose trees and plants that are native or adaptable for the climate and soil conditions in which you plan to plant them. If you plant a zone 9 tree in zone 5, you get a dead tree and CO2 sequestering is severely limited. Happy trees sequester CO2 and provide rich environments for a variety of wild life. Dead trees break down into soil and provide living areas for bugs, which is great, but if I’m looking to reduce CO2, dead trees are far less helpful.

I also realized there are no scientific apparatus that measure how much carbon dioxide a tree or plant sequesters. Several factors go into estimating which plants sequester CO2 and assimilate carbon better than others. These include:

  • How fast it grows
  • How long it lives
  • The width of the tree crown
  • The size of the leaves

Essentially, if there is more photosynthesis and growing going on, it is estimated that there is more carbon dioxide sequestering and carbon assimilation going on.

There is also a lot of math involved. You know, the kind of math where every variable has additional math of its own. My eyes glazed over, but if you are interested the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a guide.

Since I only have one acre of property, I am going to go with planting happy trees, any happy trees. In case you are curious, so far I’ve planted a peach, a tart cherry, four apples, two native dogwoods, a crab apple with edible fruit, a magnolia, three blue spruces, and seven arborvitae. I also considered a red bud, but did not have to plant it, as it showed up all on its own and only a few feet from where I planned to put it!

What steps are you considering or have you already taken to reduce your carbon dioxide output?