A charity has warned that tree-planting to offset carbon – a popular choice for those not wishing to change their ways and wanting to buy their way out – is like drinking water to stop rising sea levels.

This is the view of botanist Dr Oliver Rackham and Ray Harrington-Vail of the Footprint Trust, a charity set up in 2002 to reduce the ecological footprint of the Isle of Wight. Both point out that any vegetation absorbs carbon during its life but that this is released when the plant dies, is eaten or is burnt. And that most of the trees planted will succumb to disease or predation rather than growing to a majestic old age.

Doubts on the value of tree-planting for conscience off-setting have also been cast by Kevin Anderson, a scientist at the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research who has claimed that the process is a “dangerous delaying technique” that helps us “sleep well at night when we shouldn’t sleep well at night”.

Better for the environment, it is argued, is to turn off appliances overnight, save water, buy truly local produce, home-work, drive slower and use less paper.

Harrington-Vail also argues for people doing more good by giving money directly to environmental charities rather than planting trees. Apparently £60 million worth of trees were bought in 2007 and the 2010 figure is expected to reach £300 million.

Other ways to help the environment without planting tress are to reduce meat consumption, avoid over-packaged goods, join a car-pool, cut down on junk mail (and free subscriptions to glossy magazines, and free newspapers) re-use plastic bags, holiday in the UK, be green in hotels and buy second-hand.

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