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Saving rainforest is hugely cost effective to mitigate climate change: prevent 1000 tons of CO2 emissions for cost of coffee

An acre of rainforest contains about 200 tons of carbon. If deforested, at least half of that carbon is converted to CO2, say 100 tons of C which translates to 366 tons of CO2. Direct conservation can save an acre of Amazon rainforest for about $100 to $200 per acre via land purchase and as little at about $1 per acre via other methods, including titling of indigenous lands and formation of government preserves and parks. At $1 per acre of rainforest saved from deforestation, 1000 tons of CO2 emissions thus can be avoided for the cost of a cup of coffee.

Of course, to combat climate change effectively, we must reduce or eliminate use of fossil fuels. But saving rainforest is the low-hanging fruit in the effort to combat climate change, given the cost-effectiveness described above. If you compare the cost effectiveness of putting solar panels on the roof of your home, or buying an electric car (rather than a lower priced gas car), saving rainforest for $1 per acre is about 1000x more cost effective than putting solar panels on your home or buying an electric car. Each of these options (solar panels, or electric car) cost over $10,000 (versus the alternatives) but do less to reduce CO2 emissions than saving a single acre of rainforest, perhaps 4 tons of avoided CO2 emissions for each of 20 years.

Here is an example of a project that costs only 50 cents to save an acre of rainforest, and is already underway (and in which anyone can participate):

Full disclosure: I am a board member of the Rainforest Trust and a major donor to this charity. I also contribute substantial amounts to other charities focused on saving rainforest. I have funded projects in the last year that will save over 1,000,000 acres of rainforest.


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    Feb 6 2014: I think any inniative to get down our carbon emissions is a good idea - and planting rainforests has the benefit of increased levels of biodiversity and protection of endangered species - but I wonder whether actually reducing our footprints in the first place would also be as effective?
    • Feb 6 2014: Thanks for your positive thoughts on rainforest preservation and replanting!

      In terms of carbon footprint reduction, I suggest that we all do what we can as fast as we can. As the effects of global warming become more evident, the pressure will build for more action, and much more intensive efforts should result. While the issue of climate change has been known for about 50 years, and widely known for about 10 years, the grass roots efforts are just now reaching very significant levels. PowerShift, 350.org and Citizens Climate Lobby are evidence of this. I am particularly impressed by the efforts of the Citizens Cliimate Lobby ( http://citizensclimatelobby.org ) via which ordinary folks all over the country are driving an effort to educate politicians and the public. Also, while still a bit small scale, solutions like solar power, hybrid and electric autos, e-bikes, and LED lighting, are growing in usage. We must be optimistic and work hard and fast to address climate change, given the threat to humanity and all other life on our planet.
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        Feb 7 2014: There have been huge numbers of initiatives and as you say, some are particularly effect, especially LEDs and e-bikes (or Borris Bikes as we call them in London). I think greener citites and better urban planning - not just in terms of CO2 emmission reduction, but also for urban heat island, pollution, etc - would be a great next step.

        With regards to foot prints though, I found an article that discusses the issue well and argues for life to be like ‘the Palaeolithic plus good dental care’ - it's an interesting angle http://iainews.iai.tv/articles/utopia-crunching-the-numbers-auid-307 The author argues that we should see steps towards a greener future as scafolding - build it up bit by bit for the next generation but if you jump for heaven immediately, you'll come crashing down.

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