Evslin: Climate crowd should count trees, too

green trees
Photo by Johannes Plenio on

by Tom Evslin

The Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), which was passed by the Legislature in the last session over Gov. Scott’s veto, contains a requirement that the Vermont Climate Council create a Carbon Inventory for Vermont. A draft of that inventory called Carbon Budget from a subcommittee of the Council is now available. If the full Council pays as much attention to its own carbon budget as it should, it will realize that there is a doable path to carbon neutrality which has the twin benefits of being achievable and NOT bankrupting Vermont.

Here are three headline numbers from the carbon budget:

  1. In 2020 it is estimated that burning of fossil fuel for energy will add 8.6 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere (MMT CO2-e).
  2. In 2018 (the last year we have information for), Vermont forests REMOVED 5.2 MMT CO2-e from the atmosphere. (I and others have argued that this number should be much higher but the number in the budget is estimated according to standards and methodologies which are generally accepted nationally and blessed by the UN so let’s go with it). The photosynthesis which uses sunlight to turn atmospheric CO2 into carbon which is stored in the ground, in the trunk and branches of our treesand oxygen which goes back into the air is a form of carbon sequestration.
  3. With other puts-and-takes, the budget estimates that current annual NET emissions – the net amount of CO2-e Vermont adds to the atmosphere – is currently “only” 5.65 MMT CO2-e.

5.65 MMT of reduction is a much easier goal to hit than 8.6. Simply increasing the amount of forested land by converting uneconomic dairy farms to trees and better management of the 75% of Vermont which is already forested would take us within spitting distance even given the conservative carbon accounting in the budget.

But what is our goal?

Section 592 of GWSA says:

The Plan shall include specific initiatives, programs, and strategies that will:
(1) reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation, building, regulated utility, industrial, commercial, and agricultural sectors;
(2) encourage smart growth and related strategies;
(3) achieve long-term sequestration and storage of carbon and promote best management practices to achieve climate mitigation, adaption, and resilience on natural working lands;
(4) achieve net [emphasis mine] zero emissions by 2050 across all sectors…

That seems to be pretty clear and has an appropriate emphasis on how we actually affect the atmosphere. However, Section 578 says:

Vermont shall reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from within the geographical boundaries of the State and those emissions outside the boundaries of the State that are caused by the use of energy in Vermont …  by:
(1) not less than 26 percent from 2005 greenhouse gas emissions by January 1, 2025…
(2) not less than 40 percent from 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by January 1, 2030 pursuant to the State’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan; and
(3) not less than 80 percent from 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by January 1, 2050 pursuant to the State’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan.

Note that there is nothing in Section 578 which talks about “net” reductions. This section isn’t about effect on the atmosphere; it is about justifying huge expenditures for incentives for electric vehicles, heat pumps, solar panels, and wind turbines! If we squander money on the short-term unachievable goals of Section 578, we won’t be able to reach the long-term goals of Section 529 which are the only ones that matter if you’re concerned about the effect on climate of atmospheric CO2.

So what’s going to happen?

The Climate Council will probably make recommendations to the legislature which almost exclusively rely on elimination of fossil fuels to achieve the short-term goals as section 578 seems to require. They will largely ignore the carbon already being sequestered by Vermont forests and the potential for much more of the same.

This year the State will have enormous amounts of federal funds available for “climate change”. Instead of using those funds to make lasting change, they will be frittered away on subsidies for things like electric cars (going to happen anyway and make less difference than you would think) and cold weather heat pumps (haven’t proven effective). The funds that are doled out to favored industries won’t be available for actual long term effective reduction of emissions. Eventually the federal funds will run out and the incentive programs will either die or, worse, be replaced by mandates.

What should happen?

The Climate Council mandate allows it to suggest changes in legislation. It should suggest that the language in Section 578 be dropped since it unwisely constrains the solutions available to us and is not about actual environmental effect. It should insist that mitigation strategies and expenditures be weighed by the net amount of atmospheric CO2-e reduced per dollar spent. The Carbon Budget makes it clear we can get from here to there, that we can become carbon neutral without bankrupting the state.

Categories: Commentary

5 replies »

  1. I agree wholeheartedly that solar panels and wind turbines and the electric cars and heat pumps that rely on them are a scam that needs to be exposed and rejected by policy makers. But instead of planting trees in Vermont, a better plan might be to contribute to the Nature Conservancy’s well established “Plant a Billion Trees” program. Their website shows it costs $1-$3 per tree to plant trees. According to the US Forest Service a healthy forest has about 50 trees per acre. So for $100 to $300 per acre trees can be planted in the most important forests in the world, which would allow Vermont’s farmland to continue to produce food for Vermonters. Trees should be planted where they will sequester the most carbon, which is the tropics, not in Vermont. It took a lot of backbreaking work for Vermont’s early farmers to clear the land, and Vermont’s agricultural landscape is an important part of its heritage and identity. Much of Vermont was cleared and most of it has already grown back. If trees will grow here, so will some kind of food related crops. Local food production is key to removing the enormous waste and energy cost from our food stream. Lets encourage farming, not buy out the remaining farmers and plant trees.

  2. Above, Tom writes: “Section 578…….. isn’t about effect on the atmosphere; it is about justifying huge expenditures for incentives for electric vehicles, heat pumps, solar panels, and wind turbines!”

    In other words, it is the renewable energy industry and its lobbyist that are driving the narrative to justify more electric vehicles, heat pumps, solar panels and wind turbines. It’s all about the money. Money is the sole motivation of the renewable energy industry. Anything else is pure window dressing.

    It is the renewable energy industry and it paid lobbyists that have, by far, the loudest voices in Montpelier, all influencing otherwise minimally informed legislators. Take the renewable energy industry and lobbyist out of the equation and a rational approach to climate change mitigation would be significantly enhanced.

  3. We currently employ fools at the highest levels of “decision making” in our fair state.

    Never once have I gotten ANY information from one of those “experts” that this progressive caucus appeals to , in regards to : How much do we save in energy and water and NOT expelling C02 when we’re all recycling as much as we do?

    Vermont has the LOWEST C02 output of any state in the country. We have the 2nd lowest population in the country. Yet, these folks act like all the “greenhouse” gases we expel STAY in Vermont and that none come from out-of-state. ANY climate legislation like the ones passed by our Progressive cadre in the last couple years will only suffocate our economy and send even MORE companies to other states .

    No thanks.

  4. Vermont has been and continues to be the poster child for every whacky/unaffordable social program, environmental initiative, etc. It starts here and spreads like a cancer.

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