# Is my family's carbon footprint negative?

“One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. This is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.”—U.S. Department of Agriculture

I have 14 acres, 9 deciduous forest, 3 pasture, 2 lawn/garden/road. I burn wood from the property for heat (4 cord/yr). Our woodstove is the most efficient non-catalytic one I could find. The land was clearcut 27 years ago, so I figure what I’m cutting would be turned to CO2 by microbes anyway as the forest thins itself naturally.

I drive ~20 miles/day at 28mpg. My wife is a stay at home mom + takes care of our 18 month old daughter, so she drives rarely.

We’re pretty average for everything else.

Is there any way to put a number on our carbon footprint? If so, what’s average? Are there any online calculators to determine this?

It really depends on the forest… that one acre of forest figure is a rough average, and conceals a huge amount of variation. However, if anything, I would guess that your forest absorbs more than the average amount, since it’s fairly young and still growing, so it’s a significant net carbon sink. Deciduous forests tend to absorb the most carbon in early/mid succession. So, in further calculations, I would go ahead and use that six tons per acre figure. To err on the conservative side, I would subtract the mass of carbon you burn from that figure, since that wood would take a long time to decompose.

Aren’t forests carbon-neutral in the long run? They don’t accumulate and sequester carbon.

Once they are in a state where the same mass of carbon is being released by decomposition as is being sequestered by growth, I believe you’re correct. As I stated in the OP, this land was clearcut 27 years ago, so doesn’t that mean it is accumulating and sequestering more carbon than is being released?

Or should I consider it neutral because it’s just replacing the carbon removed when it was clearcut?

I guess that depends on what happened to the wood when it was cleared out. How much became timber, mulch, or otherwise remains a store of carbon? How much became firewood, or has otherwise decomposed?

Besides, just because you own a forest doesn’t really make you carbon neutral. Unfortunately there are a lot of people who do not own forests and need to use yours.

I would assume that most of it was used for furniture + timber, as it’s mostly maple + black cherry, and the pattern of re-growth indicates it was pretty good sized. I didn’t own the land at the time, so there’s no way to be sure.

Not sure what you mean by that, as the only other people who use my land are snowmobilers who cross one corner of my land, and the occasional hunter.

If you mean use it as in consume the oxygen produced, and depend on it for carbon sequestration, that’s kind of the point of my question. I can put the land into a land use program that would prevent it from ever being logged commercially or clearcut for pasture. As I understand it, maintaining a forest would act as a carbon offset. Is this incorrect?

I’ve finally found an online calculatorthat takes into account that some people are still heating with wood. I come out at 8 tonnes/yr (Does a UK tonne = a US ton?)

The word tonne is generally used for the metric ton which is 1000 Kg or 2205 pounds. If it’s the UK, it’s possible (though unlikely) they are referring to the long ton, which is slightly more at 2240 pounds. The US ton, of course, is 2000 pounds.