My eyes widened, and my jaw dropped. There, on the TedTalk stage, set in 2015, Bill Gates described the pandemic we have all lived through in detail. Six years ago, he warned us that a viral pandemic was infinitely more dangerous than war. It could affect the entire world quickly and more fatally, and he was right if we had only heeded. It only takes 8 minutes to watch. Google Bill Gates Pandemic TedTalk. 

After a year that uprooted everything we value, we may finally be on the road to recovery. But on the heels feeling relieved, another warning found traction. This was from a documentary about climate change and just as dire, maybe more so. Frankly, from this side of the fence post, I’m glad I’m in the business of growing trees.  

Search Amazon for The Planet of the Humans. It costs $3.99 to rent the documentary written by Jeff Gibbs and produced by Michael Moore. They pack 100 years into 100 minutes that show we are far from reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. You may say, “Renewable energy solutions offer us a path to a carbon neutral world. Aren’t solar panels becoming popular? Aren’t wind turbines supported in Biden’s new infrastructure bill? Won’t burning biomass replace burning coal and natural gas for energy? That’s progress, right?” Some may say yes. Gibbs and Moore paint a different picture. 

You be the judge, but essentially, they point out the renewable energy solutions we think will eventually save us are inefficient and often burn more fossil fuels than they replace. They suggest we may be creating more carbon emissions than if we had never started down the renewable energy path at all.  

Energy officials from Lansing, MI, explain that for solar panels to power that city for a year, an array of 5 miles by 3 miles would be necessary. That’s more than 10 Central Parks, side-by-side. While you are trying to envision that, consider that making the solar panels to fill that space would require burning coal with quartz at high temperatures to make the silicon necessary for each panel. They don’t last forever, either. Those panels must be replaced every ten years. All this creates more carbon emissions in the process of trying to reduce them. Another recent study calculates that the sun’s reflection from an array that large would warm the atmosphere and negate the cooling effect caused by any carbon reduction.  

Solar panels only work when the sun shines. Like solar panels, wind turbines are also an intermittent power source. They only work when the wind blows. So, how do we power our lives when the sun and wind go away? Industry officials admit we must remain tethered to an electric power source burning fossil fuels for those periods. Because they produce more carbon emissions when dialed up/down intermittently, the fossil fuel plants must constantly run to remain efficient. Can’t we store the energy in batteries until we need it? Storage for that purpose is still very inefficient and (like your car battery) must be replaced every couple of years. Consider that each windmill (480+ feet tall and filled with 800 yards of concrete) must be replaced every 20 years. It’s just tough for that technology to pay for itself.

Worst of the renewable energy sources? Biomass … another name for trees. The green energy movement usually gives solar and wind star billing because burning biomass in place of fossil fuels is particularly hard to justify. It takes ten biomass burning plants to replace each coal-fired powerplant. More than 200 biomass-burning powerplants are operating in America, emitting 60% more carbon than the coal plants intended to replace and 3X more than natural gas plants. Burning 30 cords of wood/hour, it would take every tree in America to power the nation for just one year. If it takes decades for the trees to grow back, how renewable is that? We just lost 4 million acres of trees to fires in California and 5 million acres in the Amazon. The idea should be to grow more trees, not burn them. 

No question, trees are the answer. Burning them is not. Take the next 10 minutes for another TedxTalk to watch. Google Van Voorhis TedxTalk: The Currency of Conservation. Compared to the first messages, local Chandler Van Voorhis, a founder of ACRE Investment Management in The Plains, leaves you with a glass half full instead of no glass at all. Van Voorhis takes 10 minutes to explain how today’s market ensures that trees are far more valuable to grow and leave standing than to feed to the unquenchable fires of a powerplant.  

There is a reason why the company Van Voorhis founded with partner Carey Crane has grown to be the leading reforestation program in the world by credit issuance. The model of growing trees for carbon and nutrient credits works. The trees pull in carbon dioxide, breathe out oxygen, and the roots filter runoff from over-fertilized fields … all naturally. Corporate demand for the credits created is outpacing inventory and driving prices higher, and the future is bright. This may be the best answer yet.  Go to www.green-trees.com. Get their newsletter sent to you. 

It’s time we all heed the warnings and become more socially conscious. We’ve all been a part of the problem. Isn’t it time we are part of the solution? Besides, it’s hard to fault growing a tree. Harder still to fault 42 million trees growing on 120,000 acres. That’s what ACRE’s division (called GreenTree’s) manages for its landowner partners. Their last distribution to landowner partners from carbon credit sales totaled more than $2 million. Because prices for carbon credits are rising, the next distribution will be far more significant in a few weeks. For good reason, Van Voorhis is devising how to add more acres to the program. Fact is, the dire outlook requires that goal. The economics makes it attractive. Our survival makes it essential. He is only limited by the number of landowners who are like-minded. If you have land that could grow more trees, link arms with the market leader. The sooner, the better.

Robert Banner is Senior Project Officer at ACRE Investment Management in The Plains, VA. ACRE is a full-service natural capital asset platform for landowners to manage their ecological platform. He can be reached at rob@acre-investment.com.