Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

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December 10, 2012

Do you deserve a lump of carbon under your Christmas tree?

— It's that time of year when even environmentalists committed to saving trees proudly display a massive tree carcass in the living room, bejeweled and topped with a star. American cities are rarely greener than during Christmastime, when every other street corner can seem to be occupied by a tree peddler.

Christmas trees play into a wider debate among environmentalists: Are tree farms better or worse at carbon sequestration than untouched forests?

The pro-tree-farm argument goes like this: When you plant a tree, it goes from seedling to full-grown plant by rapidly extracting carbon from the atmosphere, including carbon that humans have emitted by burning fossil fuels and raising cattle. (When a climatologist looks at a tree, he sees a leafy pillar of solidified greenhouse gases.) Once the tree reaches maturity, though, it slows its consumption of carbon. By way of comparison, think of the appetites of a growing teenager and a senior citizen. When you're done growing, you stop consuming as many calories. The best move, according to some tree-farm advocates, is to replace the mature tree with a new sapling and start the growth process over again.

Tree farmers have been making this claim for more than two decades, but many climate experts think it's bunk. The most obvious objection to the theory is: What becomes of the trees once they're cut? According to research out of Oregon in the 1990s, 58 percent of felled trees are used for paper, mulch, firewood or other short-term purposes. In those cases, the tree's sequestered carbon quickly reenters the atmosphere after decomposing or burning. The remaining 42 percent is used in ways that keep the wood intact more than five years, such as homebuilding and furniture production. Even in those cases, though, the carbon doesn't stay sequestered forever.

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  • Why a see-through mouse is a big deal for scientists

    A group of Caltech researchers announced in Cell Thursday their success in making an entire organism transparent. Unfortunately, this isn't any kind of "Invisible Man" scenario: The organism in question is a mouse, and the mouse in question is quite dead.

    July 31, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 2.12.55 PM.png VIDEO: Five-year-old doesn't want her brother to grow up

    Sadie, an adorable 5-year-old from Phoenix, wants her brother to stay young forever, so much so that her emotional reaction to the thought of him getting older has drawn more than 10 million views on YouTube.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • lockport-police.jpg Police department turns to Facebook for guidance on use of 'negro'

    What seems to be a data entry mistake by a small town police department in western New York has turned into a social media firestorm centered around the word "negro" and whether it's acceptable to use in modern society.

    July 31, 2014 3 Photos

  • The virtues of lying

    Two computational scientists set out recently to simulate the effects of lying in a virtual human population. Their results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, show that lying is essential for the growth of a cohesive social network.

    July 31, 2014

  • Sunburn isn't the only sign of summer that can leave you itchy and blistered

    You've got a rash. You quickly rule out the usual suspects: You haven't been gardening or hiking or even picnicking, so it's probably not a plant irritant such as poison ivy or wild parsnip; likewise, it's probably not chiggers or ticks carrying Lyme disease; and you haven't been swimming in a pond, which can harbor the parasite that causes swimmer's itch.

    July 30, 2014

  • Survey results in legislation to battle sexual assault on campus

    Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill joined a bipartisan group of senators Wednesday to announce legislation that aims to reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses.

    July 30, 2014

  • An alarming threat to airlines that no one's talking about

    It's been an abysmal year for the flying public. Planes have crashed in bad weather, disappeared over the Indian Ocean and tragically crossed paths with anti-aircraft missiles over Ukraine.

    July 30, 2014

  • Sharknado.jpg Sharknado 2 set to attack viewers tonight

    In the face of another "Sharknado" TV movie (the even-more-inane "Sharknado 2: The Second One," premiering Wednesday night on Syfy), there isn't much for a critic to say except to echo what the characters themselves so frequently scream when confronted by a great white shark spinning toward them in a funnel cloud:
    "LOOK OUT!!"

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    July 29, 2014

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