Offsetting the Upsetting: Students Plant Trees to Lessen Carbon Footprint

En route to UGA Costa Rica, students, professors, researchers, and guests alike all have to take a (minimum of one) flight to arrive in country. Taxis, buses and shuttles then make the trip to campus – all modes of transportation which emit carbon dioxide, CO2. This greenhouse gas (GHG), along with methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, and ozone, absorb and emit energy in the thermal infrared range. AKA, the gases trap incoming sunlight and emit it as heat, similar to the effects of a greenhouse. That’s all fine and dandy because naturally, they keep us earthlings warm.

But things have literally been heating up. The concentration of GHGs has been increasing at alarming rates due to anthropological activity dating back to 1760, the start of the Industrial Revolution. The rising GHGs are affecting the temperature of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, and harming established ecosystems.

You can argue that it’s unrealistic to stop emitting GHGs altogether, but that doesn’t mean something isn’t being done to offset them!

What is offset, you ask?

It’s the process by which any individual, company, country, etc. pays to neutralize their own emissions of greenhouse gases either via conserving existing forests, reforesting, or investing into green energy.

In order to offset the carbon emitted while Costa Rica-bound, the campus has chosen the reforestation route.

With the help of Lucas Ramirez, campus harvester of seeds and guardian of the woods, guests and students are able to participate in UGA Costa Rica’s carbon offset program. Lucas gathers seeds from the surrounding forest, germinates them, and leads workshops in which participants pack soil bags and plant seedlings.

The project has not only been nudging UGA Costa Rica closer to carbon neutrality, but has also been helping to reforest the Bellbird Biological Corridor, an area in Costa Rica designated for conservation and reforestation.

Here’s how it works. On average, one flight and ground travel equates to approximately 0.66 tons of CO2. The number was rounded up to one ton to allow for a margin of error. It was then calculated that four trees (accounting that one might not make it) will sequester one ton of carbon in just about eight-and-one-third years. Sequestration means the trees take CO2 out of the atmosphere and change it into an organic form that would otherwise contribute to warming the world.

BONUS: the trees will likely live longer than eight-and-one-third years, which means more carbon sequestration! Yay!

The planted seedlings camp out in the UGA Costa Rica nursery for about a year before being adopted by a farmer. The saplings are given to local farmers who have expressed interest in caring for and maintaining the trees for a three-year period and participating in the project. The young trees are only planted during the rainy season!

Take a look at this UGA Maymester crew working hard to prepare next year’s saplings!

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

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