Could Scotland’s Carbon Offsetting Measures Actually Be Hurting the Environment?

By Andy MacKay

11th May 2022

Planting trees has become the newest environmental craze among big businesses that want to do their bit for the planet – or at least to be seen to be doing their bit – but are such fads in danger of causing more problems than they solve?

Many businesses around the world are committing to tree-planting activities as part of their PR-consulted, eco-friendly push to ‘offset’ the carbon that they as a business are using. We at Rising Clyde even talked of such a measure during our publication launch, it seems like the right thing to do, right?

Yet wildfires around the globe are causing, not only untold damage to the landscape, but releasing extraordinary levels of carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere and creating a never-ending cycle of cause and effect when it comes to the climate emergency.

(An Interactive Story Map highlighting some of the world’s extremely dangerous wildfire regions. Created by Andy MacKay.)

It is clear to see that forest regeneration takes time to yield the kind of benefits required to even bring us back to square one, let alone start contributing to the sort of major emissions reduction needed to keep the 1.5C target agreed at COP26.

Embed from Getty Images

These extreme wildfires utterly destroyed major parts of Australia and the Pacific Northwest of North America last year – the small, rural community of Lytton, British Columbia in Canada even saw what has to be a record temperature shift in 2021 from 49.6C in the summer to -25.4C recorded in the winter.

We’ve even seen a lengthy battle against the blazes across Scotland recently. Scotland is among a number of nations with vast green areas who are facing an uphill battle to keep wildfires in check as hotter and drier conditions threaten countless numbers of wildlife species.

When, on top of all of this fire and brimstone, you then get some of the most torrential rains that these provinces and states have seen in 30 years in the following autumn, it creates a near-perfect storm of an absolute saturation of water and nothing but scorched earth with which to absorb it.

This has yielded some truly terrifying results. When British Columbia experienced its own record high temperatures in the summer – where the mercury hit a whopping 49.6C and brought with it its fair share of wildfires, then experienced record-breaking rainfall shortly thereafter, it literally washed the roads away. Part of the No. 1 Highway that connects Canadian drivers from coast to coast, around 3000 miles, was washed away, cutting off Vancouver by road from the rest of Canada.

If you’ve ever had the (dis)pleasure of driving on a Scottish country road, you’ll know it won’t take an awful lot for it to be washed away. Think back to the marvellous scene in Channel 4’s iconic comedy Father Ted, where Mrs Doyle tells Ted that their Craggy Island Local Authority have taken the roads in due to the inclement weather and you’ll get an idea of what we’re dealing with.

So, thanks for cheering us up chief, but how can we do better?

The main question, moving forward, is how can we make more of a positive impact on proceedings? Planting trees has been a noble way of attempting to restore rainforest habitats that have been decimated by overlogging and other such menaces to the environment. If we also turn our attentions to our seas and oceans, we can start to make a meaningful difference right now, whilst also helping to face the oceanic microplastics deluge that we’re facing.

The UK Seagrass Restoration Project, run by a partnership including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and Sky Ocean Rescue among others, is actively seeking to repair some of the damage done to this, once plentiful, natural resource that can absorb carbon up to 35 times faster than rainforests. You may even have seen the recent Carlsberg advertising with the CGI seals to highlight the issue.

To date, they have “collected and planted approximately 1.2 million seagrass seeds across 20,000m2 in Pembrokeshire, Wales”, while their next steps will provisionally see them aim to have “2,500 hectares of this amazing habitat restored  around the UK by 2050. In the short term we are working with multiple donors and partners to plant 20 hectares of seagrass by 2026 and develop a mechanised restoration approach that will enable us to dramatically upscale future plantings.”

This could act as a real game-changer. Seagrass takes a lot less time to re-grow than forests do and we’re far less likely to lose all of our hard work to a biblical wildfire (although oil companies throughout history have been more than willing to give setting the ocean on fire the old college try).

Seagrass also has the double-pronged benefit of being able to fight microplastics that are clogging up our oceans and doing untold damage to marine wildlife. According to this article, published in the World Economic Forum, “bundles of seagrass fibre known as ‘Neptune balls’ trap and remove plastic particles from the sea” – something that we can all get behind.

So in summary, seagrass can be planted easily, doesn’t get lost to wildfires, absorbs carbon faster than rainforests and helps remove microplastics from our oceans? I think I’ll leave it to Philip J. Fry from Futurama to sum up my feelings on seagrass.

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