Amazing Low-tech Carbon Sequestration Process

07/02/2013 11:49 am ET | Updated Sep 01, 2013

Last week President Obama revealed a vision and plan to combat carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. It's about time and it's a great approach. The plan is not to introduce new legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The chances of that ever passing are near zero with all the oil money lubricating the special interest political machinery. Rather, the president utilized the mechanism created by the Supreme Court ruling of 2007 in Massachusetts vs US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In that landmark case the court ruled that the EPA can regulate greenhouse gas emissions if they represent a threat to our health and welfare under the provisions of the existing Clean Air Act (1970) and in 2009 the courts ruled that they do represent a threat.

In his speech the president talked about a 3 billion ton reduction by 2030. I know an easy, fast and cheap way to help get there.

I recently witnessed an amazing carbon sequestration technology. A government work project initiated by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and lasting until 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) employed young men from cities and put them to work throughout the U.S. in rural areas, clearing land and laying the foundations for nearly 800 state parks.

Recently, while doing some clearing work on Ruggles Pond, the park supervisor pulled some cut logs out of the bottom of the pond and noticed a CCC stamp branded into the lumber. There were enough pieces of milled wood stored in the bottom of the pond to build an entire pavilion. Eighty years after these logs were first milled and placed in the pond for preservation, the lumber was still in great shape. The carbon that had been sequestered into the wood prior to 1935 was still in a solid form, not contributing to climate change. Three million young men worked for the CCC for up to two years each for $30 per month plus food, clothing and shelter. Three billion trees were planted.

The U.S. has about 750 million acres of forestland. With a maximum sustainable yield averaging about 0.5 cords per acre per year, that comes to 375 million cords of annual sustainable production. U.S. lumber requirements are 132 million cords per year, leaving 240 million cords of wood. This comes to 480 million tons of wood, 240 million tons of carbon or 593 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Without cutting back on lumber production, we could offset the equivalent of 593 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to about a fifth of the president's 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide goal for 2030.

To combat the U.S.'s contribution to carbon emissions, we could put millions of unemployed young women and men to work in a youth corps calling it, perhaps, the CCC, and train and manage them to cut down trees in a sustainable manner that does not cause erosion or deforestation. This includes no clear cutting and replanting these logged sites with indigenous, non-invasive species. The cut trees would be milled and then buried in old coal mines, in the deserts or at the bottom of certain lakes and ponds. A hundred years from now, when we have completely switched from fossil fuels to renewable energy, these milled trees could be dug up, cut into lumber and used to make buildings and furniture.

Imagine if we could time shift carbon emissions to a date 100-plus years into the future. Looks like we can. And this isn't "voodoo" accounting as some carbon credit schemes are (like flaring methane gas emitted from manure piles). Every gram of carbon in those trees was sequestered from the air, proportionately reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.