American Forests has posted three holiday scenarios on its website and calculated the number of trees necessary to offset the CO2 generated by these trips.

The group calculates that a 2,000 mile (3220 km) drive in a vehicle that gets 20 miles per gallon produces 2,000 pounds (908 kg) of carbon dioxide, about the same amount that American Forests estimates one of its trees will remove from the atmosphere over 40 years. The average 1,600 mile (2575 km) flight by commercial airliner also generates about the same amount of CO2 per passenger.

According to the group, a family of four on a two week vacation that includes 1,200 miles of driving, can offset their climate impact by planting nine trees, less than the cost of one-half tank of gasoline.

The tree number increases to 14 for a couple on a fortnight’s first class vacation to a destination 2,500 miles away. A camping and canoe trip for four for the same number of days can be offset for just five trees.

Last week the US Government published a report on the effects global warming (see related story).

American Rivers, whose corporate sponsors include oil giant ExxonMobil, claims that in addition to directly removing CO2 from the atmosphere, strategically planted trees help counteract many of the negative impacts predicted by the report.

However, the extent to which planting trees can be used to offset a country’s carbon dioxide one is one of the most contentious issues in ongoing international climate change negotiations (see related story in this week’s World section). Environmentalists argue that over-reliance on the use of ‘carbon sinks’ reduces the likelihood of a genuine reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

“Vacations are important for personal and family well-being and for other reasons,” said Deborah Gangloff, American Forests’ executive director. “We’re simply pointing out that a lot of greenhouse gases are produced from our daily activities including vacations. As people become more aware of these impacts, many will realise that offsetting their carbon dioxide emissions is good for environment and only takes a click of the mouse.”

“We’re not necessarily saying planting trees is the answer. We are saying it can help,” Steve Westcott, Director of Communications at American Forests told edie. “We’re not saying ’emit all the CO2 that you want and just plant trees.’ We’re not saying that at all. We want people to go to the website and calculate how many trees are needed to offset their annual CO2 emissions. Hopefully people will then make adjustments on their own. Hopefully they’ll plant trees, but also reduce their CO2 emissions.”

The American Forests website has an online ‘Climate Change Calculator’ which is designed calculate, and then offset, the CO2 production of a household for an entire year. Users input information including the type and amount of energy used in their home and the number of miles they drive in a year. The Calculator then determines how many new trees are needed to offset these emissions.

American Forests also say a number of businesses and corporations are using the Calculator to determine the number of trees to plant to offset environmental impacts ranging from business travel to those of their entire operations.

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