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Trees are essential to our ecosystem. They’re often referred to as the ‘lungs’ of the Earth because they’re able to store carbon and produce additional oxygen for our planet. Trees also stabilise the soil and can reduce air temperature and humidity, as well as reducing flooding and improving water quality. Without trees, it’s likely that we wouldn’t be able to live on this planet at all.
A typical tree can absorb around 21 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, however this figure is only achieved when the tree is fully grown - saplings will absorb significantly less than this. Over a lifetime of 100 years, one tree could absorb around a tonne of CO2. While this seems like a significant amount, humans are creating about 40 billions tonnes of CO2 each year, meaning that we’d need to plant 40 billion trees annually to offset the emissions created. Even if this were possible, land space would be significantly reduced.
Your gas boiler works by burning a carbon-based fuel with oxygen. This process creates CO2, which is expelled from your home via a flue. The efficiency rating of your boiler, its age and how much you use it will determine how much carbon dioxide is produced.
A gas condensing boiler that is younger than 10 years old and runs at around 85 per cent efficiency will produce 215 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour (kWh) of heat that is delivered. This means that, if your boiler uses an average of 13,500 kWhs of gas each year, it is producing around 2,900 kg of CO2 annually. You would need to plant 138 trees per year in order to cover these emissions.
Planting 138 trees isn’t something that can be done easily or cheaply, so you may want to consider alternative ways of heating your home. You can keep your gas boiler and make use of solar thermal systems to heat your water, reducing the amount of gas that your boiler consumes. You could also look to switch to a heat pump system that doesn’t use any gas, only electricity. If you can use solar photovoltaic panels with this technology, you could heat your home using completely renewable energy and with zero emissions.
Deforestation is becoming a big problem. As large areas of forests and woodland are cut down, habitats are destroyed and our planet’s natural ecosystem is put at risk. So why do people continue to cut trees down?
Unfortunately, we use trees to create many things, including furniture, paper, cardboard, paint, soaps and rubber. They are cut down to keep up with the demand for products such as these, and also to create extra land for farming and other developments.
When a tree is felled, not only does any carbon absorption cease immediately, but the tree also releases the carbon that it’s currently storing. Additional carbon is released if the wood is left to rot or if it is burned. Around 30 million acres of forests are lost every year to deforestation, which results in the release of more than 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2. The Rainforest Alliance states that 10 per cent of worldwide emissions are caused by deforestation.
Once the forest space has been cleared, livestock and crops often replace the trees, causing even more greenhouse gases. Mega crops, such as soy and palm oil, are planted instead. To produce palm oil, the soil must be carbon rich and the way in which it is created only increases carbon emissions. The final product can be found in nearly 50 per cent of the products that we buy from the supermarket, including chocolate, doughnuts, shampoo and toothpaste.
Luckily, there are some simple lifestyle changes that you can make to do your bit for the environment.
How many times do you log onto your computer or use your mobile phone to search for something on the internet? It could easily be a few times a day, or even more. You could switch to the green search engine, Ecosia. For every 45 searches you make, Ecosia plants a tree. So far, the company has planted nearly 90 million trees across areas of the world that need them most, such as Ethiopia, Australia, Uganda and Spain.
Where possible, buy second-hand furniture instead of purchasing new and go paperless where you can. For instance, do you still receive monthly bank statements in the post? You can contact them to ask for a statement online instead.
To reduce the carbon emissions that you’re producing at home, you can hang your washing out on the line on a sunny day instead of using the tumble dryer and make sure that you and your family members turn the lights off when they’re not needed. In the winter, reducing your boiler’s thermostat by one degree could save you around 320 kg of CO2 each year.