Axios ran a story on January 20 by Amy Harder based on her exclusive interview with House Republican leaders planning a package of legislation to address climate change. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), ranking minority member on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, and Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) talked with Harder after making presentations to a private House Republican caucus event on 16th January.
According to the Axios story, the package will include specific proposals grouped into three main areas: “1. capturing carbon dioxide emissions, with a focus on trees; 2. clean-energy innovation and funding; [and] 3. conservation, focusing on plastic.” The good news is that the package reportedly does not include taxes on carbon dioxide emissions or mandates to reduce emissions.
Westerman, a professional forester and member of the House Natural Resources Committee, has apparently sold McCarthy and Graves on the idea that forests sequester a lot of carbon and therefore Congress should support international efforts to plant one trillion trees. There are at least two branches of this effort. Trillion Trees was started by three major international conservation organizations—the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Bird Life International. The other was launched by the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland on January 22. The press release noted that President Donald J. Trump in his Davos speech the day before announced that the United States would join One Trillion Trees.
I haven’t researched either effort yet, but I wonder whether the organizers have considered the ecological consequences of planting 1 trillion trees. Scientific American in 2015 published results of a new study that estimated there are roughly 3 trillion trees on Earth, which interestingly is seven times more than the previous estimate of 400 million. Where are one trillion more trees going to be planted? There are major areas of deforestation globally, but quite a bit of that land is now used for farming. Cities occupy other deforested areas. In this country, the problem in our National Forests is far too many thickets of small trees. Scientists have also questioned how much carbon the world’s forests can actually sequester and for how long, but I’ll leave that issue to another day.
The second basket of Republican proposals includes more taxpayer dollars for research and handouts to special interests. As for the third basket, it’s not clear what plastic has to do with global warming. I’ll only say that pollution of the oceans with plastic refuse is a real environmental problem that, as my colleague Angela Logomasini has pointed out, can largely by solved by ending the practice in China and other Asian countries of dumping huge amounts of garbage into rivers.
Harder’s story concludes with subtle (and appropriate) ridicule from an amusing source. Harder notes: “The Bipartisan Policy Center, a centrist D.C.-based think tank, has been working with Republicans on some of these ideas. ‘I think once you become engaged with the solution, then math starts to matter,’ said Jason Grumet, the group’s president. ‘Sure, you can start with aggressive gardening, but that’s not a complete solution and serious people then recognize that more has to happen.’”