Offsets Fall Short -- By Two-Thirds

Only about a third of the climate-damaging carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere in North America is offset by carbon-removing activities, a government report said.

According to the new U.S. study, North America released 1,856 million metric tons of carbon into the air in 2003 – 85 percent from the United States, 9 percent from Canada and 6 percent from Mexico.At the same time, growing vegetation and other sources took in about 500 million metric tons of carbon.


In the article itself it says “The amount of carbon taken up by North America had not been closely studied, and some reports even suggested that enough was being absorbed to balance emissions, King said.”

Other than nutjobs like Peter Huber (“America, the beautiful carbon sink” & “Given the choice, the wilderness will also take an SUV over a bicycle…”), I was not really aware of reports suggesting that N.A. was in balanced emissions… pointers?

When I read the article I come across the point that this hadn’t been well-studied before (“This is the first net carbon report for the region, said Tony King”). So, where did those other “reports” get information that things were balanced? I suspect it was wishful thinking – I can kind of remember it being discussed with respect to sinks being included in the Kyoto calculus. Those lobbying efforts failed and natural sinks weren’t included, so there hasn’t been much focus on it. My other reading on the issue suggests that estimates of CO2 production, minus the amount in the air and amount in the sea, leaves a difference that can be concluded as terestrial up-take.

Lots of work has been done on this recently and I expect we’ll see better answers in the near future. I think it’s important, however, to recognize that the recent work is much, much better than what we had before.