Tom Evslin, the very active Vermont technology guru, has a brilliant idea for climate action. It’s quite simple, not unlike abdominal surgery with a broadsword.
Here it is: Buy up all the dairy farms, close ’em down, and plant trees on the land.
In an op-ed posted by VTDigger, Evslin says that move alone will more than meet the Global Warming Solutions Act’s 2025 emission reduction targets. So we don’t have to do anything else.
Well, we’d have to carry out his complicated, politically fraught plan within a mere three years, but.
Let’s pause for a moment and remind ourselves that this is the Tom Evslin who was a founder of NG Advantage, a natural gas distribution company. Yep, fossil fuels.
This is also the Tom Evslin who’s a big fan of Elon Musk as the answer to our broadband problems. He’s repeatedly advocated for Musk’s StarLink as the best and fastest way to deliver high-speed broadband, and implied that we should use public dollars to cover the cost for low-income rural Vermonters. Yeah, that’s all the Rapidly Aging Boy Genius needs is another pot of public funds to dip into.
Not to mention that there are a lot of concerns about the reliability of StarLink, which depends on clear lines of sight unobstructed by, say, the odd mountain. Or tree. Of which we have a lot. And we’d have a lot more if we adopted Evslin’s climate braingasm.
Also not to mention the havoc StarLink’s satellite network is wreaking on space science, specifically astronomy. Let’s just say it’s a good thing that the pandemic has brought a flood of federal dollars that has put StarLink firmly on the back burner in favor of locally owned universal broadband.
Let’s get back to Evslin’s climate proposal. He does have the math to back up his idea, if you ignore any number of real-world problems it would create. For starters, we’d have to suddenly develop the political courage necessary to effectively kill the dairy industry.
I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the idea. Vermont’s dairy industry is in decline anyway, and it is a major contributor to the state’s pollution problems. But wiping it out in one fell swoop? Ain’t gonna happen. It’s too much of a, pardon the pun, sacred cow.
I’ll also point out that meeting the 2025 GWSA target is only the beginning. The 2030 targets are even tougher, and we need a long-term plan that not only meets all the targets, but does so in a way that’s not too disruptive. Like, say, wiping out an entire economic sector all at once.
But the big problem is that the science behind reforestation is a lot more complicated than Evslin would have us believe. I’ll point you to an overview of the issue posted by the BBC that’s really good, comprehensive, readable, and fair to all sides.
It’s entitled “Planting trees doesn’t always help with climate change.” The article acknowledges that widespread tree-planting would help reduce greenhouse gases because trees are a “carbon sink” that traps carbon as long as the trees are alive. But for many reasons, the effect of reforestation wouldn’t be as significant as it first appears — and isn’t nearly enough to stop climate change by itself. It would help, but the heart of the issue is greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve got to reduce them. We can’t possibly plant enough trees to replace a broad conversion to sustainable energy.
Beyond all of that, there’s this.
The real uncertainties are not scientific, but socio-political. Put simply, where will people and nations allow the large-scale planting of trees? “As soon as you get down onto the land, there’s people living there and they have aspirations for how they want to live their lives that maybe don’t involve tree-planting,” says [Dominic] Spracklen [of the University of Leeds]. “There’s virtually nowhere where land’s just lying idle and you can just come along and do that.”
As I noted above, we have a particularly thorny example of that right here. Farmers “have aspirations” that don’t necessarily involve completely uprooting their lives. And most Vermonters “have aspirations” for their state that includes a sizeable dairy industry.
So it’s not going to work and even if it did, it’s not nearly enough. But other than that, hey, go right ahead and try to kill all the cows and plant all the trees. I’ll just stand over here and watch the fun.