The rate and magnitude of predicted climate change require that we urgently mitigate emissions or sequester carbon on a substantial scale in order to avoid runaway climate change. Geo- and bioengineering solutions are increasingly proposed as viable and practical strategies for tackling global warming. Biotechnology companies are already developing transgenic “super carbon-absorbing” trees, which are sold as a cost-effective and relatively low-risk means of sequestering carbon. The question posed in this article is, Do super carbon trees provide real benefits or are they merely a fanciful illusion? It remains unclear whether growing these trees makes sense in terms of the carbon cost of production and the actual storage of carbon. In particular, it is widely acknowledged that “carbon-eating” trees fail to sequester as much carbon as they oxidize and return to the atmosphere; moreover, there are concerns about the biodiversity impacts of large-scale monoculture plantations. The potential social and ecological risks and opportunities presented by such controversial solutions warrant a societal dialogue.
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Vol. 60 • No. 9