Two years tomorrow ago, a fire broke out in Notre-Dame de Paris causing the spire to collapse and severely damaging the UNESCO world heritage site. At the time, class conflict in France was playing out in violent street demonstrations as the gilets jaunes movement protested Emmanuel Macron’s economic reform policies.

The destruction of Notre-Dame demonstrated how cultural symbols serve as unifying factors. President Macron committed to rebuilding the cathedral in five years, and although the yellow vest movement is still active, protests abated as France joined together in collective mourning.

Restoration is currently underway, and recently I read that selected oak trees are being felled across France for the reconstruction of the roof truss and spire. Around 1,000 trees will be needed.

This raises an interesting question. In the battle again climate change many advocate reforestation. So despite Notre-Dame’s culture importance and unifying symbolic power, should we be felling trees to rebuild it? Let’s look at the math and see how much C02 1,000 mature oak trees can absorb.

A mature hardwood tree binds about 22 kilos of C02/year. So 22 metric tons for 1,000 trees. I entered the data for a manual transmission 1,8 liter VW Golf into a C02 emission calculator and found out that annual emissions for this vehicle at 16,000 kilometers/year are slightly over three metric tons. In other words the trees being felled for Notre Dame are equal to the C02 emissions of seven of this type of vehicle and driver profile. I imagine this is a tradeoff that most people find justified.

It raises another question, however. How many acres of mature oak would we need to offset the emissions of the 312,000 VM golfs sold in Europe in 2020? Using the above data and other reliable sources I calculated 606 square kilometers or an area the size of Seoul South Korea which is home to 9.7 million people.

This tells us something about the tradeoffs between reforestation efforts, living space, and consumer choice. While planting trees to compensate for GHG emissions is certainly admirable, there are scalability issues. Planting trees isn’t enough. We quite simply have to drive less. The calculation becomes even less tenable, if we change the VM Golf to a BMW X5 automatic. We can roughly double the space required for reforestation.

What are your thoughts on binding C02 through reforestation? Leave a comment.

Image by 35069 from Pixabay

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