(Attempt at) estimating environmental impact of planting trees

Planting trees is a simple and effective way to combat climate change, but it’s important to understand the environmental benefits of doing so. Let’s try to explore how to calculate the amount of CO2 compensated and the amount of water required to grow a tree over a 30-year period. How hard could it be?

Measuring, huh?

I want to give a big shoutout to @AlcocerJerry for having the patience to expalin me all of this in an approachable language.

When asked: What are one of the most effective ways to combat climate change? We know that trees are the first thing to come to mind. Trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) form the atmosphere and produce oxygen (O2) through photosynthesis. They also provide habitat for wildlife, improve air quality, and reduce soil erosion. However, calculating the amount of CO2 compensated and the amount of H2O required to grow a tree in the next 30 years can be challenging.

How challenging, exactly?

First, you will need to determine the type of tree you want to plant. Different tree species have different growth rates, sizes, and lifespans. For the purpose of this calculation, we will use the red maple tree (Acer rubrum) as an example. The red maple is a fast-growing deciduous tree that can reach a height of 40-60 feet and a spread of 25-45 feet. It has a lifespan of 100-150 years.

Next, you will need to estimate the amount of CO2 that the red maple tree will absorb during its lifetime. According to the US Forest Service, a mature tree can absorb 48 pounds of CO2 per year. Therefore, over a 30-year period, a red maple tree can absorb approximately 1,440 pounds (or 0.72 tons) of CO2.

To compensate for the CO2 emitted during the production and transportation of the tree, you can add an additional 20% to the total amount of CO2 absorbed. This means that the total amount of CO2 compensated by planting a red maple tree over a 30-year period is approximately 1,728 pounds (or 0.86 tons).

Next, you will need to estimate the amount of H2O required to grow a red maple tree over a 30-year period. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, a mature tree can transpire up to 100 gallons of water per day during the growing season. Therefore, over a 30-year period, a red maple tree can transpire approximately 1,095,000 gallons (or 4,142,325 liters) of water.

This is not perfect, to say the least.

It is important to note that the amount of water required to grow a tree can vary depending on the climate, soil type, and other environmental factors. Therefore, this estimate should be used as a rough guideline only.

A calculator!

As a bonus task for the semester I wrote a simple calculator website that showcased how making this knowledge accessible in an interactive way can make people make better informed decisions.

The idea is to select a plant species and then we’ll show you our estimations. However, we cannot assume everyone knows the species of their plants and, in order to get a realistic model of the water requirements, we should ask the user to measure the diameter of the top of the plant which, in most cases, would be enough struggle to make more than one abandon the process.

The first problem is solved by asking the user to visit https://identify.plantnet.org which will help even the trained eye.

The second one is solved by start speculating. Let’s assume a couple of things:

  1. The average measure for the top of trees is impossible, but if we limit our calculations to forest species, now we got a reduced set of options. If we pick only a particular tree: Punica Granatum, Pomegranate, Granada, we can visit it’s wikipedia page and get the average measurement.
  2. The amount of water that evaporates and permeates from the plant itself is a calculation derived from many variables that, again, most users won’t care to: a) correct or b) understand.
  3. The studies regarding the soil itself and terrain conditions are also not
    considered, the usability concerns are far bigger than precisement is needed.

Remember, this is just a prototype.

It’s in spanish and has an awful design. Unfortunately, I won’t mantain nor improve and/or translate the site, but feel free to write a better version of it (probably a fun weekend project!).

The website: https://humbertowoody.github.io/estimador-co2-agua

Thank you for reading!