How many trees does it take to fuel your SUV for one year?

Consider this statistic from Tree Canada:

Over the course of their lives, 12 trees absorb 1.9 tonnes of carbon — the same amount produced by one SUV that has been driven 20,000 kilometres.

Let’s put that figure in some perspective, based on Canadian data:

  • Natural Resources Canada derives its yearly vehicle fuel consumption costs from an annual driving distance of 20,000 kilometres.  Therefore, we can assume that the average SUV produces 1.9 tonnes of carbon per year, and that the lifetimes of 12 trees are required to absorb one year’s worth of SUV carbon emissions.
  • According to the web site GoodCarBadCar, Canadian car dealerships sold 1,587,434 new passenger vehicles in 2011, 463,184 of which were SUVs.  Therefore, 29 per cent — or just under one third — of vehicles sold in Canada in 2011 were SUVs.  From this, we can infer that SUVs account for roughly one third of vehicles owned in Canada.
  • In 2009, Statistics Canada counted a total of 19,876,990 vehicle registrations for road motor vehicles weighing less than 4,500 kilograms.  Most SUVs fit into this category; the Hummer H2 — one of the largest SUVs on the road — has a gross vehicle weight of just under 4,000 kilograms.  Assuming that one third of Canadian passenger vehicles are SUVs (see the previous calculation), we get an estimated total of 6,625,663 registered SUVs eligible to drive Canadian roads in 2009.

From these data, we can draw the following conclusions:

  • 6,625,500 Canadian SUVs, each driving an annual average of 20,000 kilometres, together pump 12,588,450 tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere each year.  
  • It takes 79.5 million trees a lifetime of work to absorb the carbon produced by Canadian SUVs in just one year.  The next year, those same SUVs will require another 79.5 million trees to do the same work.  After ten years of driving, those SUVs will have engaged the carbon-absorbing lives of almost 800 million trees.
  • Since beginning operations in 1992, Tree Canada has planted over 77 million trees.  That’s not quite enough to absorb the combined carbon emissions from all SUVs driven in Canada in 2009.  
  • According to the Ecology Global Networksome 11.4 billion trees are harvested each year worldwide.  Left standing, those trees would have the capacity to absorb 143 times the amount of carbon produced by Canadian SUVs in 2009.  

Now consider all the other types of vehicles motoring around on Canadian roads, and on roads in countries all over the world.  Consider that not all vehicles are up to North American emission standards.  And consider the carbon emissions from other sources — industry, utilities, waste burning, etc. — that we assume trees will also absorb and cleanse from the air we breathe, even as we continue to harvest those trees at an unsustainable rate.  What conclusions do you draw?

Get planting.  Cut driving.  Reduce your footprint.

Now is the time.

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