PENNSYLVANIA (WHTM) — Scientists are certain they know what is causing an increase in weather extremes, and their warnings about the need for action are dire. Fuel-efficient or no-fuel vehicles make a difference, but there is an easier solution that doesn’t require charging stations: trees.

The last two years have been warm in Pennsylvania and around the globe. In the Midstate, 2020 and 2021 rank as the warmest years on record. Both of these years also rank in the top 10 warmest years globally, but what is more alarming is that all of the top 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2010.

Much of the increase is attributed to fossil fuel burning which increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, making the planet warmer by trapping heat. Researchers have been working on ways to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but experts say one simple solution might be right in our backyards.

“About 14% of the U.S.’s total emissions are offset by America’s forests. Trees are the most efficient, they exist and live in a lot of places, and they are self-reproducing,” said Penn State Forestry and Wildlife Extension Educator Calvin Norman, adding, “and they are pretty to look at.”

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So how does it work? How can a tree remove carbon from the air?

“Trees sequester carbon through photosynthesis. So they take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, they take up water and nutrients from the ground, and then in the leaf, they photosynthesize, they turn carbon dioxide and water into sugar. Sugar is what is doing the sequestration,” explained Norman. “Then it goes into the tree and the tree uses it to build wood, make leaves, roots, all that kind of stuff.”

There are several locations around the world that measure carbon dioxide. Mauna Loa in Hawaii is one of them. Scientists started measuring carbon dioxide in the ’60s when they found an atmospheric carbon dioxide level of 320 parts per million. That measurement is now around 420 parts per million.

“That increase in carbon dioxide has really caused the climate crisis and climate change that we are seeing today. So reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is really key to slowing some of those effects and stopping future impacts,” Norman said.

All forests and woodlots sequester (or capture) carbon, but some can be managed to maximize their sequestering potential. That additional activity, known as “additionality,” would increase the amount of sequestration that would normally occur.

This is where carbon markets come into play. Landowners can be paid for doing additional carbon sequestration activity.

“So they are going to pay the forest landowner to do some kind of management for maximum benefit. Sometimes that’s harvesting, sometimes it’s managing invasive species, and sometimes it’s just letting the forest grow. And that’s what a carbon program is and what they are paying you for: additional carbon sequestration,” Norman explained.

There are several carbon programs available now, and more are expected to be created in the future. Those who are interested can start by talking to a forester. Penn State Extension also has resources available for interested landowners.