Fake trees to fight climate change – really?

Photo by Deep Root, flickr

Photo by Deep Root, flickr

Trees are a really good defense against climate change. They sequester a large amount of CO2 and add oxygen to the air. They also help prevent erosion and add nutrients to the soil, along with providing habitat to a variety of birds and other creatures.

And adding trees to an urban landscape also helps provide shade, cool and beauty to an urban jungle. So why promote the idea of adding fake trees to cities as a potential and partial solution to climate change?

A recent report in the Guardian says that a group in Boston hired two designers to create artificial city trees. They created mock-ups but that’s as far as it went. But the thinking is this:

One example of an artificial tree, photo credit: Stonehaven Productions Inc.

One example of an artificial tree, photo credit: Stonehaven Productions Inc.

These tree-like devices would act as carbon sucking machines, potentially taking in take in nearly 1,000 times the amount of carbon that a real tree could. And they’d be placed in areas where real trees would have difficulty growing – in deserts or urban areas where good soil isn’t deep enough for trees to grow (though this last could obviously be addressed).

The “good” news is that the cost of this kind of technology is ridiculously expensive – around  $350,000 per tree!  Much too hefty an investment for any city to consider. But scientists expect the price of the emerging technology to drop over the next few years. So it’s up to investors to decide whether this is worth the risk.

Artificial tree concept by Klaus Lackner

Artificial tree concept by Klaus Lackner

There are indeed a number of teams working on bringing the concept of artificial trees that suck carbon from the air into reality, notably a team led by Klaus Lackner, director of Columbia University’s Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy. But again funding and practicality are big stumbling blocks.

Seems more feasible to figure out how to have trees adapt to conditions. And there are those who are working on this. After all, real trees do a lot more than provide a carbon sink. And it would be a crime for our grandchildren to grow up without having enjoyed the wonders of or any knowledge of living around real trees. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

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