Sea levels are rising. Temperatures are increasing. Seasons are changing. Polluted air fills our lungs. Water shortages. Flooding. Desertification. Sadly, this is our truth. We are the reason climate change is happening at this exact moment. Deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels lead to alterations in the atmospheric composition. CO2 and other greenhouse gases trap the heat, which we receive through the sun. This is where tropical trees play an important role as a natural carbon recycler, but with the continued destruction we find ourselves trapped in this unavoidable cycle. However, we have the power to change this situation for the better. As we help you plan your stay in Costa Rica, let us start with your vacation! Let’s promote sustainable tourism together.
Association Community Carbon Trees
We would like to introduce you to true Tree Ambassadors! Association Community Carbon Trees (ACCT) is a community-based nonprofit organization located in Costa Rica operating since 2009. ACCT has initiated several programs to reduce the impact climate change has on our planet. Their mission is to grow biodiverse habitats, combat climate change and create resilient community economics. With them you are able to give back to the environment on an ecological and social level. But before we take a closer look at the solutions, we have to fully understand the whole problem first.
National Parks next to Palm Oil Plantations and Cattle Farms
Although 28% of Costa Rica’s landmass is protected in National Parks and land reserves, deforestation is still a massive issue. Each year an area about the size of Panama is destructed worldwide for non-forest uses such as cattle operations, mono-crop agriculture, real estate developments and population growth. Big contributors to that problem are pineapple farms, palm oil plantations, and unsustainable coffee farms. Unfortunately, it is more feasible for local farmers to grow these crops than to conserve the rainforest. And the effects are severe. Loss of biodiversity and the extinction of species are only a tiny part to the repercussions. With deforestation comes Climate Change. Together with forest fires, it is causing 25% of total carbon dioxide emissions. The leading consequences are global warming, melting ice caps, rising sea level and expanding ozone holes, to only name a few.
Give back and Plant a Tree
This is where ACCT steps in and offers you the chance to Give Back. Their most popular program is to plant a tree. Planting trees close to the equator helps efficiently to cool our planet down. We are generally talking about the area between 23 degrees South and North of the equator. Tropical trees sequestrate a great amount of CO2. Therefore, they help with air pollution control as they absorb and store carbon to then convert and release oxygen. But how exactly are rainforest trees cooling our planet? They are able to convert solar energy into water vapor. In other words, trees are producing reflective clouds, which act as a natural cover for the earth’s surface. And if you have ever had the chance to stand in a tropical forest you know how cooling and refreshing the tree cover is.
Besides the cooling effect, trees deposit high amounts of biomass. Fallen leaves, branches and seeds benefit soil as a fertilizer. This allows healthy microbes and fungus to grow. Additionally, all this organic material is a protein source for wildlife and the trees offer shelter to various animals as well. To guarantee a balanced habitat the vegetation planted needs to vary. That is why ACCT plants at least 50 different species in each location. Overall they are planting 100 native tree species in the San Juan de Dios valley and the area near Chirripo National Park. Another interesting and beneficial factor is the regulation of the water cycle. Every single tree recycles over 200 gallons (760 liters) of rainwater each year. When water hits soil covered by rainforest trees, it will be absorbed into underground reservoirs steadily. Whereas water which hits hot uncovered tropical soil will just evaporate quickly. Again, the protective tree cover provides the surface with lower temperatures allowing the water to be absorbed properly. This process is called “Evo-transpiration” and prevents extreme drought and flooding.
After you got to know the main benefits tropical trees offer the environment now, it is time to have a look on the social aspects ACCT is improving with their “Plant a tree” program. To avoid farmers from destructing land and planting oil palms and other crops mentioned above, ACCT employs local Costa Ricans from the San Juan de Dios area in order for them to establish a secure income. During recent years the valley had suffered significant deforestation. Especially cattle farming was the leading cause of this event. Consequently, they built up a network of men and women, who are trained to become nursery caretakers, maintenance workers, and tree planters. They are educated in all steps to take care of the trees as each reforestation cycle covers a 25-year period. From transportation to planting and maintenance, they are supervising the trees for four years. As soon as they have outgrown the surrounding vegetation, they are passed over to the participating family. Until the tree reaches full maturity with an established carbon sequestration, the family ensures strong growth rates. These collaborations with the farmers are implemented to empower the local economy and community for the long run. It provides them with a home, food and a stable salary.
The 25-year Cycle
Every sponsored tree runs through several stages. It all starts with the seed collection from local intact rainforests or from existing reforestation projects. They are collected year-round and germinated in the Nursery afterward. In the next step, the seeds of which a few might have already begun to sprout are transplanted into small bags. This allows them to grow without disruption. While the seedlings develop slowly, the chosen land has to be prepared in terms of soil quality, grade of land and existing vegetation. These factors also determine which tree species can be planted in this specific location. In order for the young trees to grow without interruption from sharp vines or brushes, later on, the workers are cutting pathways or circles into the vegetation. When the trees are finally strong enough to be planted, they are transported by truck, trekking, mountain climbing or else to reach their final location. Every tropical tree is hand planted about five to eight meters apart. Throughout their first years, maintenance workers visiting the site up to three times per year to cut back surrounding vegetation. Again, this enables a proper growth until the saplings have overgrown neighboring plants. With 4 years of age, the tree developed strong roots and maintenance visits decreasing. Occasionally vines will be removed and the farmers receive a 21-year guidance plan. Finally, a diverse ecosystem is able to thrive again and through sustainable forest management locals have the chance to grow fruits and medicine, which will yield them up to $2,400 per acre instead of only about $60 per acre through cattle operations. That concludes the 25-year cycle, you are initiating by Donating to ACCT. Giving back to nature and local economies never were so easy!
Offset your Carbon Emissions
Furthermore, ACCT houses a Carbon-Offsetting Program. To understand this program fully, we need to start with the meaning of carbon footprints. The total amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activity is declared as a carbon footprint. Reducing your carbon footprint is crucial to prevent global warming from increasing. You might ask yourself now, how this is possible? Generally, there are four steps to reduce your carbon footprint or even become carbon neutral! First of all, you need to know how much greenhouse gases you are actually producing. There are several carbon footprint calculators on the Internet and even some apps exist to determine your individual footprint. Knowing your data then allows you to take action. Oftentimes it is the small things like turning off lights, buying local products or walking more, which add up and will make a difference. This step is all about reducing unnecessary carbon consumption and it is actually a lot of fun challenging yourself each day to improving your lifestyle. Hand in hand with reduction comes efficiency. Installing double-pane windows or even solar hot water heaters is an amazing way to go, however, it is a long, costly process. But do not forget that smaller actions like upgrading to LED light bulbs are equally important. That leads us to the last step: Offsetting your remaining carbon emissions. This happens by compensating them by using carbon credits. Offset one ton of carbon by planting one tree. Or better said, support ACCT with a $25 donation to contribute becoming a low-carbon economy.
Become a Tree Ambassador Yourself
In a broader sense, there is only one value we truly need to survive. A place in which we are able to settle down, build up a life, work, eat and love. This value is our beautiful, blue planet we call Mother Earth. And as we only got this one place we take for granted every day, we should start now to give back a little. And as we are all caring a little more, we can make a great impact. In the end, humans need nature in order to thrive. Be a part of this positive movement. Reduce your carbon emissions. Become a tree ambassador! Plant a tree with us!