Richfield Lake Park trees

Map Monday: Trees & Urban Carbon Emissions in the Twin Cities

As you may be aware, trees mitigate carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. As such, tree planting has gained popularity as a form of carbon offset, with some cities and states providing incentives to plant trees as an offset activity.

This 2015 study of the Twin Cities suggests that trees can help, but that they also offset a minor amount of carbon emissions. In other words: Trees help, but as a policy tree planting must be accompanied by aggressive tactics to reduce the emissions to be offset.

Carbon offset supply and demand

An 2015 University of Iowa study identified “hotspots” in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, where carbon emissions far outpace trees’ ability to store the pollution. The analysis may help city planners determine the best locations to focus tree-planting efforts.

Researchers calculated the amount of carbon generated in Ramsey County and Dakota County, and then calculated the amount of carbon absorbed by all trees in those counties. They found that trees offset just 1% of these counties’ carbon emissions. They also noted hotspots – shown in red on the map – where the amount of carbon generated was high and the number of trees was low. The land area represented in the study is roughly 331 square miles, with a population (in 2015) of more than 350,000 people. Researchers calculated carbon emissions per census block — land areas with populations of at least 2,500 people that are used by the US Census.

While researchers found that trees were inadequate to the emissions produced, they do emphasize that trees are still beneficial as part of an overall climate approach, as well as lovely, scenic, shade-giving and positive for the environment.

About Julie Kosbab

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005, and is no longer lonely in that calling. A past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association, she has 2 children and a garage full of bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations, or read her (seldom updated) blog at Ride Boldly!

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