Article - Offsetting carbon emissions

Saturday 13 October may mean many things to many people. No doubt, for some, it is a significant birthday or anniversary, for others the day of a happy wedding or a sad funeral.

But, for Bridport’s Community Orchard, it is ‘Apple Day’ - the 11th of its kind.  

A good apple is a very fine thing, and a very English fruit, the many varieties of which connect us with many strands of our history and with the food and drink that have marked the West Country for centuries. When the Americans refer to motherhood and apple pie as two unquestionable goods, they are definitely on to something. 

But of course, orchards aren’t just about apples. They also consist of trees - and I think that trees are actually a more underrated item than apples. 

The recent IPCC report on the risks of climate change reminds us that it makes sense for us to proceed at full speed with moves towards an all-electric economy and the transformation of batteries and other technologies for the storage of electricity so that we can base that electric economy entirely on nuclear and intermittent renewable sources of power such as offshore wind and solar energy. 

The IPCC report also reminds us, however, that global agriculture is a major contributor to the greenhouse gases which create the risk of excessive climate change. Given that we obviously cannot have an electrification of animal life this has led to a rash of stories about the need for a more vegetarian diet if we are to avoid massive increases in methane emissions as the vast populations of China and India find that they can afford to eat meat. 

I have been surprised to see that, in the course of this debate over the last few weeks, there has been little mention of the obvious means by which human beings can increase carbon sequestration and offset methane emissions in agriculture - namely, by planting trees. 

Huge progress has been made in the last decade on reducing deforestation through the preservation of the rainforests. And there is much more that can be done to follow the lead of places such as Brazil and Gabon. But, here in England, where we have been planting trees, we could plant many more and thereby do much more to offset our own agricultural emissions. 

Unlike efforts to persuade us all the solution to the risk of anthropogenic climate change is to make ourselves miserable by denying ourselves the advantages of modern life, the planting of trees has many other attractions besides its effect on carbon sequestration. 

So often, a serious (rather than token) investment in copse woodland can transform the view from one place to another and hence render acceptable or even beautiful a big housing development which, in the absence of a serious shield of trees can constitute a blot on the landscape. 

Nor is the planting of trees just a shield. Done in the right way, it is an adornment of the landscape, a rich source of habitat for wildlife, a binding of the earth in defence against erosion and flood, an endless source of adventure for children and, of course, the provision of a hugely important material that makes almost any room or building cosier, warmer and more friendly. 

We should, in short, regard 2018 not just as the year of the apple or of the orchard, but as the year of the tree.