Reforest The Tropics is proud this month to offer an essay by our friend and fellow tree advocate, Richard Higgins. Mr. Higgins is a writer, editor, and public speaker on Thoreau’s lifelong passion for trees. His book, Thoreau and the Language of Trees is due out next year. He is the editor of five books and the co-author of Portfolio Life. – Greg Powell, RTT Director
The discovery of the biochemistry and dynamics of the carbon cycle has made the work of Reforest the Tropics possible. Scientists know how much CO2 new trees absorb from the atmosphere, down to the quantities that different types of trees store in their roots, stems and leaves. While that science is impressive, it is helpful to remember that, long before the facts were in, wise people throughout history intuited the necessity, beneficence and saving qualities of trees.
One was Henry David Thoreau. The decimation of the New England landscape, which peaked about 1850, during his lifetime, angered him. Even the woods around his beloved Walden Pond were ravaged for fire wood during the unusually cold 1850s. “Thank God, they cannot cut down the clouds!” he fumed. Thoreau hated losing woods that he knew, but his anger was the greater because he knew that without trees, nature would wither, and human life would as well. What we now know about trees makes Thoreau look clairvoyant. They were “rivers of sap and woody fiber” flowing “from the atmosphere and emptying into the earth,” he wrote. A century before nurse logs became a concept in forestry, Thoreau called pine trees “nurses” to the oak saplings that take root beneath them. He described trees as “fountains of water” and knew that their decomposition enriched the soil. He knew also knew, from the German botanist Kurt Sprengel, about the transpiration of leaves. “A thin column of smoke curls up from some invisible farmhouse,” Thoreau wrote “as silently and naturally as the vapor exhales from the leaves.” Before the term ecology was coined, Thoreau saw forests as whole landscapes that transcend any public or private boundaries. He urged that they be preserved as such. And despite the deforestation he witnessed, Thoreau had the foresight and faith in nature, to write that “one day they will be planted and nature reinstated to some extent.”
Thoreau also knew that trees were essential to the human spirit. “From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind,” he wrote in “Walking.” A town is saved, he said, “not more by the righteous men in it, than by the woods and swamps that surround it.” Every tree “sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild,” and in such wildness “is the preservation of the world.” Thoreau was not only the wise person to see these things. “Forests precede civilizations and deserts follow them,” the French diplomat Chateaubriand wrote in 1820. “What we are doing to the forests of the world,” wrote Mahatma Gandhi, “is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.” And a biblical author didn’t need to know about stomatal pores and chloroplasts to write, in Revelations 22.2, “The leaves of the trees are for the healing of nations.” Looked at this way, scientists should see it as an honor to provide the empirical evidence that these people were right. It’s even a greater honor to turn their words into action, which is just what Reforest the Tropics is doing.
Richard may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reforest The Tropics’ forests are the most powerful carbon absorbing forest models ever developed. This came as a result of over 50 years of tropical forest research experience and refined under the development of a United Nations carbon sequestration program, the only one of its kind known to us in the Americas.
One of the biggest advantages to our program is that it is NOT a typical forestry offset project. Unlike other offset programs, RTT generates NEW CARBON CAPTURES with newly planted forests, not preservation of existing forests and not the sale of carbon that has already been captured. Only with newly planted tropical forests do we have a chance of absorbing pre -existing atmospheric CO2 that will continue to heat up the Earth even if today we stopped emitting all CO2 from all current sources.
These forests not only absorb 10 times more carbon dioxide than the temperate zone forests, but actually 4 times more than the average rainforest itself…even after thinning the forest to provide income for the farmer.
The enhanced productivity of these forest plantations has resulted in a financial model that makes this land use competitive with other land uses. Our models are demonstrating that a farmer can make as much money, or more, planting trees as he can raising cattle on the same land. This can ensure the sustainability of tropical forests. Increasingly, scientists are pointing to replanting our tropical lands as the most important aspect of our survival as a human population.
One the most important developments at Reforest The Tropics recently was a collaboration with the City of Gloucester, MA, to offset the carbon emissions of the entire school system using trees planted in Costa Rican forests. That’s six schools with 3000 students representing 44.2% of the municipality’s CO2 emissions.
The program really gained traction when RTT offered to provide guidance to implement a revolutionary educational initiative to use the school’s forest as a teaching platform for a climate change curriculum in grades K thru 12.
The classroom will be interactively connected to RTT foresters and the supporting community eco-culture in Costa Rica. So in three years, there will be enough trees planted to offset the entire school system’s carbon emissions. An advisory panel to the City came to the conclusion that using the RTT forest model was the most cost effective way to supplement it’s long term carbon neutrality goals. RTT has installed at least 14 pilot programs in southern Connecticut schools in the past 15 years, but the City of Gloucester is the first school system in the United States to bring this dual planting/teaching initiative to scale in a community’s goal to become carbon neutral.
The ultimate objective of the program is to instill emissions ownership responsibility in the children by having the schools teach by example. Psychologists tell us that our children almost certainly will follow our example, rather than us telling them what to do and how to behave.
So we can’t expect our children to be carbon balanced in their lives if we don’t set the example ourselves. That’s why the schools setting a goal to be 100% carbon balanced is so critical to the way our children will look at their own responsibility to address the huge sustainability decisions that will face them when they join the workplace as adults.
This combined rainforest offset/teaching program has the power to be the most influential movement on this planet to create a sea-change in the way our youth will feel and act to benefit global sustainability.
RTT Board Chair
Climate change will be the defining issue faced by the next generation of leaders. Having failed to adequately address centuries of accelerating CO2 emissions, we now share the collective responsibility to equip the next generation with the tools they will need to confront this massive challenge.
For many years, Reforest The Tropics has been delivering environmental education programs to students of all ages both in the United States and Costa Rica. Programs and lectures have included primary schools, middle schools, high schools, universities, and technical schools. In Costa Rica, RTT’s mixed species forests serve as living classrooms in which students, teachers and professionals of forestry and other earth sciences have learned about RTTs’ unique reforestation model. Due to the generosity of our partnering farmers, thousands of visitors from a number of different countries have benefited from these programs.
In the United States, education programs are typically based in the classroom, focusing on issues surrounding climate change and the science of forestry. Lessons are enriched with many photos and videos of RTT forests. RTT is now developing an even more interactive program in which students will have the opportunity to virtually tour their own forests via a web-link. Students will be able to ask questions directly to RTT foresters in Costa Rica in real time!
To date, RTT has planted carbon balancing forests for thirteen schools. These forests serve as a source of pride to schools, offer a unique learning opportunity, and foster a sense of responsibility and ownership of carbon emissions among the student body.
Moving forward, RTT intends to plant enough new forests to fully balance the emissions of participating schools and even entire school districts. RTT will work with administrators to calculate the emissions for the schools. Schools will then sign a vision statement which voices their commitment to eventually achieve 100% carbon neutrality. We will begin planting forests that will capture enough carbon dioxide each year to completely offset their emissions.
Photo Above: FUNDED BY A WAL-MART EDUCATIONAL GRANT, MS. DESIREE DERIX, A SCIENCE TEACHER FROM WESTERLY MIDDLE SCHOOL MEASURES A TREE IN A CARBON-OFFSET FOREST IN COSTA RICA.
Ms. Derix is the Head of the Science Department in the Westerly, RI Middle School. In order to expand the school’s capacity to teach about climate change, Reforest The Tropics and a major donor, The Superior Nut Co., have teamed together with the local Wal-Mart store and the Westerly Rotary Club to develop a school program that involves teacher training in the field. Ms. Derix spent a week in Costa Rica, training in forests, meeting farmers and understanding the importance and opportunity offered by reforesting farm pastures in the tropics. This environmental education program lasts for an initial 3 years and includes not only teacher training, but also sessions of student teaching by RTT staff, an annual CO2-emissions inventory of their school done by students, and the establishment of a 2 ½- acre carbon-offset forest for the school. Also in this photo, left, is Lauren Hintlian, RTT co-director and director of sustainability for The Superior Nut Co. In the blue hat is an independent forest consultant from Interforest who periodically reviews the RTT program and its measurements. Photo: March 21, 2013 in the Las Delicias Farm in Costa Rica. This is a UNFCCC-AIJ sanctioned program approved by the US and Costa Rican governments in 1995.
RTT believes that through active participation in a realworld solution, students will be left with a sense of empowerment and hopefulness in order to effectively confront this issue throughout their lives. Indeed, the world is counting on them to do so.
One of the research goals of Reforest the Tropics is to develop forests with a 100+ year capacity for CO2 capture and storage. Research began in the 1960s by our staff who tested 99 tree species for farm forests. One of the more interesting species was Araucaria hunsteinii, or the “Klinkii Pine” from Papua New Guinea. This species has proven to be an ideal candidate for inclusion in mixed-species plantations. It is noninvasive, grows to tremendous sizes, produces high quality timber, shows promise as a shade tolerant species that can be planted beneath existing canopies, and it coexists well with other species in RTT mixtures. The tallest Klinkii ever formally measured was 273 feet in height and over 6 feet in diameter. This gives the tree a special potential, namely of being able to store CO2 in the form of wood in a live forest stand for a very long time.
Klinkii is now included in virtually all of RTT’s mixed-species designs. RTT’s approach is to develop and test mixed-species models, which reduce the risks of disease and pest attacks associated with traditional monocultures. They also enhance biodiversity, create habitat for a variety of fauna, and have been shown to be more productive than monocultures in their ability to fix CO2.
– Dr. Herster Barres, RTT Director of Research
A historical challenge with reforestation has been convincing
local landowners to participate. Since most degraded land is
held in private hands, programs must incentivize the owners of
that land to reforest. RTT has generated landowner interest by
working towards making forestry economically competitive
with other land-use options. RTT mixtures are configured to
capture large quantities of CO2, however, more importantly,
the forests are also designed to keep that CO2 stored away
for the long term by paying attention to local needs.
RTT has experimented with the inclusion of mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) in its mixtures
for decades. Although mahogany does not grow as fast as some other species in the RTT
matrix, it offers a unique advantage by adding to the overall sustainability of the program. The
presence of mahogany, a coveted species after centuries of exploitation, inherently increases
the value of the program to landowners. The increased value of the program is translated into
more attention and management by the landowners, which leads to a more sustainable program.
Mahogany is rarely incorporated into forest plantations due to its susceptibility to attack from
the shootborer (Hypsipyla grandella), a pest that damages the growth and form of the species.
Through trial and error, RTT developed a treatment protocol that protects the trees from attack
and allows for their inclusion as a complementary species to the other trees that excel at carbon
capture and storage. Our research continues…
Herster Barres, Director of Research
So what makes the RTT program really UNIQUE?
One of the biggest advantages to our program is that RTT is NOT a
typical forestry carbon offset project. Unlike other offset programs,
RTT generates NEW CARBON CAPTURES with newly planted forests,
not preservation of existing forests and not the sale of carbon
that has already been captured. Only with newly planted tropical
forests do we have a chance of absorbing pre-existing atmospheric
CO2 gas that will continue to heat up the Earth even if today we
stopped emitting all CO2 from all current sources.
RTT forests also offer a unique level of engagement for a participant.
RTT does not issue tradable carbon offsets that simply appear on a
donor’s balance sheet, rather they are born from individualized forests
and are directly accountable to a donor’s emissions. Unlike
some market offsets with questionable origins, the CO2 captured by
RTT forests is tangible and identifiable.
We will need to use all the tools in the toolbox…including wind, solar
and other green energy sources plus the elimination of fossil fuels by
late this century to enable us to live in a habitable planet. But in order
to avoid the most dreadful effects of climate change, we’ll need massive
reforestation of our tropical zones. This single initiative has
now become perhaps the most important instrument for our
On a scientific level, we are continually provided evidence to
the importance of our tropical forests for our very existence as
a human population on Earth.
So in the end, tropical reforestation is not just a bridge to mitigate
climate change until we eliminate fossil fuels….it’s also the
most powerful tool we have on Earth to help us survive in a
vast matrix of counterproductive human activity. Indeed, it’s a
powerful social mission in its own right.
Harry Hintlian, Board Chair,
Reforest The Tropics is a 501(c)(3)
non-profit organization. Donations
are tax deductible to the full extent
of the law.
Reforest The Tropics is pleased to announce a new partnership with the Woods Hole Research Center. The Woods Hole Research Center is one of the world’s preeminent climate change research organizations. The Center supports tropical reforestation as an essential climate change mitigation strategy and is collaborating with Reforest The Tropics to advance the RTT reforestation model as a policy prescription for corporations that are looking to engage in responsible sustainability initiatives. RTT is proud to partner with the Woods Hole Research Center and is excited about the possibilities for building on one another’s important work through this relationship.
THE HOTCHKISS SCHOOL CARBON-OFFSET FOREST, THE PASTURE WE PLANTED IN JULY, 2007. In this RTT UNFCCC program, pastures are reforested to capture CO2 for its US sponsors and to earn income for participating farmers. Each project is a research forest to develop economically sustainable farm forests that meet the needs of emitters and farmers. This 2½-acre site above was planted in July, 2007 for the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT. The site is shown below after reforestation when the forest was 6.49 years old with 106 MT of CO2e already captured. The chart also shows the participation of the different trees species used in the mixture. Because Hotchkiss was the sponsor of this forest, it has the rights to the CO2 captured in the forest for 25 years to balance its school emissions in the U. S. We estimate that the forest will capture 20 metric tonnes of CO2 annually on the average during the 25-year agreement RTT signs with the farmer on behalf of the US sponsor. Another goal in this applied research program is to develop economically sustainable forests that are partially harvested or thinned every 5 years for farmer income and that can store CO2 for over 100 years. Reforest the Tropics (RTT) is a U. S. non-profit organization that manages this UN environmental education and research & demonstration program. Photo below, Sept. 17, 2012.
In this photo, the forest is 6 years and 2 months old and is presently capturing CO2 at the annual rate of above 28 metric tonnes/year for the account of Hotchkiss.
HOW MUCH CO2 HAS THIS 12-YEAR OLD FOREST CAPTURED?
Measuring trees in RTT School projects provides data on how much CO2 the forest has accumulated for the school’s CO2 emission account. Here, Fausto measures a Pilon tree. Below, Dr. Barres lectures to an AP Science class last April in Hotchkiss. There are 4 elements in RTT School projects: an annual CO2 emissions inventory done with students, teaching sessions, teacher training in the forests in Costa Rica and a 2 1/2 –acre school forest to capture CO2 for the school account and to produce logs for the farmer to sell. For more information, contact Dr. Herster Barres, cell 860-912-7706 in Mystic, CT.
RTT CASE STUDY # 13: HOME DEPOT’S 6.64-YEAR OLD CARBON-OFFSET & PRODUCTION FOREST IN COSTA RICA, March 25, 2009
In 2002 The Home Depot Foundation in Atlanta, GA sponsored a demonstration forest in Costa Rica to explore the possibilities of balancing US greenhouse gas emissions while producing wood on farms in the tropics. This was done in cooperation with Reforest The Tropics, a CT-based, non-profit organization. RTT manages a UNFCCC-AIJ program to develop and demonstrate an advanced model of tropical farm forests for those purposes.
RTT works with a limited number of farms in Costa Rica in 33 joint venture forests sponsored by US donors. The Home Depot forest is on the Las Delicias Farm owned by the Rojas Family. Donations to RTT from The HD Foundation provided a grant to the farm and a contribution towards the costs of establishment and management of this pilot project.
This graph shows the total (upper lines) and current annual (last 12 months, lower lines) sequestration in tonnes of CO2 and m3 of wood production. The current annual sequestration was 29.4 tonnes of CO2, down from the past year. The total amount of CO2 stored in the forest in the past 6.64 years is 170.9 tonnes of CO2. The current and total production in cubic meters of wood is 33 & 188 m3, respectively. The average annual sequestration and production since planted are 25.7 tonnes and 28.3 m3, respectively.
Long-term management and profitability for the farmer are the keys to sustainability and long-term carbon storage in farm forests. This project is managed by RTT under a 25-year agreement between RTT and the farm owners. The forest belongs to the farmer while the rights to the CO2 sequestered belong to Home Depot, the forest sponsor, during the agreement.
The goal of the specialized management plan is a sustainable forest that produces a significant cash flow for the farmer while sequestering CO2 efficiently and indefinitely in the forest stand for the US sponsor. The income will come from the sale of frequent and light thinnings to keep the forest healthy and growing well. The forest is designed using a mixture of tree species selected for biodiversity, biological stability, fast-growth for early farmer income, wood value and reliability of long-term carbon sequestration. The Rojas family farm hosts 19 projects.
After the first 25-year contract, the farmer may continue selling additional verified offsets, either to the same sponsor or on the world market. By then, carbon offsets from new tropical forests could be established as a viable farm product.
Millions of acres of tropical farm pastures are available for carbon storage and wood production. With advances in bio-fuel chemistry, these sustainable forests may eventually both store CO2, produce wood to be converted to bio-fuels and feed local populations. Additionally, newer RTT forest models are being designed to sequester even more CO2/$ invested and to be wildlife friendly.
- CO2 sequestration graph
- The sign reads “A Forest to Sequester Atmospheric Carbon”
RTT CASE STUDY #10: DR. WOLF’S 6.64-YEAR OLD CARBON-OFFSET FOREST IN COSTA RICA, August 17, 2009
In 2002 Dr. Eric Wolf, dermatologist in Groton, CT, sponsored a research carbon-offset forest in Costa Rica to balance the greenhouse gas emissions from his office operations. Reforest The Tropics, a CT-based non-profit organization, offers this opportunity.
An inventory of the operation of Dr. Wolf’s office and vehicle showed annual emissions of 22.6 metric tonnes (MT) of CO2 in 2008. The sources are emissions from the generation and use of electricity in Connecticut, 11.1 tonnes, and emissions from commuting to and from work (9 persons) of 11.5 tonnes.
To balance these emissions, 2 ½ acre forest was established on July, 2002 on a pasture in the Las Delicias Farm in cooperation with the owners, the Rojas Family. A donation to RTT from Dr. Wolf provided a grant to the farm to cover some of the costs of establishment and the management of this long-term research project by RTT.
This graph shows the amount of current annual sequestration and total CO2 storage in this forest through the first 6.64 years. The current sequestration, the amount sequestered in the last 12 months in the forest, was 52.1 tonnes of CO2. The total amount stored in the forest in the past 6.64 years is 183 tonnes of CO2, balancing the emissions of Dr. Wolf’s office operations since the project began. The average capture per year is 27.6 tonnes compared to 22 tonnes of emissions.
Long-term management and profitability for the farmer are the keys to long-term carbon storage in sustainable forests. This project is managed by RTT under an initial 25-year contract between RTT and the farm owners. The forest belongs to the farm while the rights to the CO2 sequestered belong to Dr. Wolf through the RTT agreement with the farmer.
The goal of the specialized management plan is to produce significant income for the farm even while sequestering CO2 indefinitely in the forest stand for the US sponsor. The income is expected to come from the sale of frequent and light thinnings to keep the forest healthy and growing well. This forest has not yet been thinned. The forest is designed using a mixture of tree species selected for biodiversity, biological stability, for fast-growth for early farmer income and for longevity for long-term carbon sequestration. The Rojas family farm hosts 20 projects, each with a different design for creating sustainable forests for long-term income and CO2storage.
In the RTT model, after the first 25-year contract, the farmer may be able to continue selling additional verified offsets to the same sponsor or sell them on the world market. By then, we trust that carbon offsets will be established as a new, valuable product from tropical farms.
This is a UNFCCC-AIJ applied research program to develop and demonstrate an advanced carbon capture and storage forest model and its management for the tropics. For more information, contact email@example.com or call Dr. Herster Barres at 860-572-8199. Our web site is reforestthetropics.org.