World Rainforest Movement

The exponential absurdity of the carbon sink approach to climate change

The imagination of technocrats seems to have no limits. On the other hand, their common sense appears to be extremely and increasingly impaired. Their bright ideas surprise us –backward people– constantly and at times we even doubt –unscientifically– about their mental sanity.

Such is the case of a Dr Klaus Lackner, a Columbia University physicist, who has invented an artificial tree which according to him is much better than the obviously limited real one.

His thinking can be perhaps perceived as somewhat simplistic, but undoubtedly adapted to the prevailing monocultural thinking of many of his colleagues as well as to that of the climate negotiators who invented the so-called “Clean Development Mechanism”, which includes “carbon sink” tree plantations as a solution to climate change.

From that reductionist approach, a tree is simply a mechanism which absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It has nothing to do with beauty or biodiversity, or culture or environment. A tree is photosynthesis and carbon sequestration. However, trees don’t do the job properly. They don’t absorb that much carbon and after some time they tend to die and to release the carbon they stored. A very imperfect mechanism from a technocratic point of view.

But science and Dr Lackner are here to improve trees! He has invented an artificial tree to do the job in a much more efficient manner. Although the artificial tree is not particularly appealing –its inventor describes it as looking “like a goal post with Venetian blinds”– he proudly says that it “would do the job of a real tree. It would draw carbon dioxide out of the air, as plants do during photosynthesis, but retain the carbon and not release oxygen.” That’s perfect. Who cares anyway about those ancient and imperfect leafy organisms?

The good news is therefore that people would be able to increase the use of cars, whose carbon dioxide emissions would be sequestered by the artificial tree. A synthetic tree could be planted anywhere. A small one could sit like a TV on the lawn to balance out the CO2 emitted by one person or family. No-one would feel guilty of polluting the atmosphere or of contributing to climate change. Big companies could plant entire forests. More importantly, the oil business could continue doing business –and related warfare– as usual. This clearly deserves the recognition of humankind.

Additionally, Dr Lackner would also create rocks as a by-product –and rocks is something the world really needs! This has to do with the storage of the carbon sequestered by the “trees”. While working at the US Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, his team worked on a storage method based on a natural chemical process known as rock weathering. When CO2 binds with magnesium, it creates carbonate rocks which, according to Dr Lackner, retain carbon permanently and safely.

Imagine! A world covered with artificial trees “growing” in the middle of “rock” gardens! One certainly hopes that Dr Lackner’s inventive capacity will move on to other areas. For instance, he might create artificial butterflies and birds that could also absorb CO2 sitting on top of the trees. The possibilities are limitless. Absurdity grows exponentially.

Article based on information from: “Synthetic trees could purify air”, by Molly Bentley, BBC News 21 February 2003 (, sent by Daily Grist Magazine,

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