Posted by: Dave Neads | February 9, 2008

Global Warming– Buy Now, Pay Later

Buy now, pay later. This the mantra of our times. It started in the fifties as we moved from the era of pay as you go to the boom times of “have it on credit and live the good life”. This massive shift in cultural consciousness fuelled an unprecedented expansion of consumption which continues to this day.

The ‘never never’ plan has now been extended to the global warming issue, as evidenced by this little item that came my way the other day. ” Last year, the NFL planted 3.5 acres of trees to offset the estimated 260 tons of CO2 that were generated by the Super Bowl in Miami.” The item doesn’t say what species was planted where, but regardless, it will take many, many years for these seedlings to soak up the 260 tons of CO2 released in a few days for the sporting event.

And so it goes, buy seedlings to offset flying, or any number of activities, all based on the buy now repay later plan.

In real terms it would make much more sense to buy now and pay now. By that I mean, have the sporting event or take the flight but buy the equivalent amount of locked-up carbon right now, to offset the CO2 release.

How could you, or an organization, do this? Well, all we need is a change in provincial policy which sells trees for carbon offsets, not as commodities to be logged. That is, buy the carbon where it is, and leave it where it is, unlogged. This must be incremental to existing areas, which means only a reduction in annual allowable cut would apply.

In short, sell Annual Allowable Cut reductions for carbon credits.

Buying carbon now, as opposed to theoretical future amounts, can easily be done. If carbon emissions were taxed at $50 per ton, (as current proposals suggest) then a value of $2,500 could be assigned to the carbon locked up a hectare of old growth pine.

Using these figures, to offset the 260 tons of carbon released in the Super Bowl, all you would have to do is spend $13,000.00 to buy the carbon locked up in a little over 5 hectares of old growth pine forest.

For comparison, the average size of clearcut in the interior is 100 to 500 hectares. In other words, from a  twentieth to a hundredth of  a cut block is all that would be needed to offset a Super Bowl extravaganza. Not only that, $13,000.00 is probably a lot less than it cost to plant those 3.5 acres of trees.

Similarly, a return flight from London to New York uses 830 pounds of carbon, the amount locked up in 1/33rd of a hectare. For $20 you could buy this carbon as an offset and stop the trees from being logged. 1/33rd of a hectare is .003 of a 100 hectare cut block.

Suppose the money generated by this carbon purchase were paid to the provincial government for reductions in annual allowable cuts equal to amount purchased, then substantial revenues would accrue and all would benefit.

Pine is not a particularly large or productive species. If you apply this thinking to spruce, fir, Ponderosa pine, or to the hugely productive coastal ecosystems, then the benefits are much higher and the monetary returns increase accordingly.

Shifts in focus and understanding like these will lead to the new cultural norm of a post-carbon world: Buy now, Repay now. Cash and Carry , what a novel idea! Does anybody remember that one?


These numbers are based on interior pine forests.

A cubic metre of pine weighs about 1,100 pounds. There are roughly three mature or old growth pine trees to the cubic metre, so each tree weighs 1100/3 or ~about 365 pounds.

Since these trees are about 25 % carbon and since the ratio of locked-up carbon to CO2 pulled out of the air is 3.6: 1, then one mature pine tree stores the equivalent of about 328 pounds of CO2. (365x.25×3.6 =~328 pounds of CO2 equivalent)

At 100 cubic metres per hectare, each hectare has approx. 300 trees. These 300 trees contain locked-up carbon to the equivalent of 98,400 pounds of CO2. (3x100x328)

98,400 pounds /2000 = 49 tons.

As to dollar value, 49 tons at $50 per ton = $2,450.000.

At about 300 trees per hectare, then all you need to do to be carbon neutral for the Super Bowl is to purchase just over 5 hectares of old growth pine.

Round trip flight, London to New York produces 1.5 tons of CO2. At a ratio of 3.6 to one, it takes 833 pounds of carbon to make 3000 pounds of CO2. (833×3.6)

This calculation is based on saw log volume. In fact, counting smaller trees, regrowth, snags, non tree species, soils, the amount of carbon locked up in a hectare of mature/old growth pine forest is much higher, therefore these estimates are very, very conservative.

There is a proposal to have a carbon tax of $240 dollar per ton based on work done by Lester Brown, in his new book “Plan B, Mobilizing to Save Civilization” website :


  1. At, our goal is to hasten the transformation to a clean energy future.

    As a non-profit organization, we support of a variety of third party certified carbon reduction projects including: renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation.

    To learn more about and our projects, please visit us at:

    Thank you,

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