An article from the Union of Concerned Scientists explains how we measure the amount of CO2 from deforestation in our atmosphere. The study concludes that deforestation contributes to around 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere per year; that is, about 10% of all CO2 emissions.
Simplifying these numbers and their units to a more easily understandable human term is extremely helpful in cases such as this. Explaining that 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide is different from 3 billion tons of bricks is essential in this understanding. So just how big (or small) is 3 billion tons of CO2, and how would we find out?
We can start by using the unit factor method to compute this number into human terms. For instance, we could express 3 billion tons of CO2 as the equivalent of 13 million railroad cars, stretching around 125,000 miles or half way to the moon. By using a familiar term such as the size of a piece of land or animal, we get to see a big number from a different perspective. That being said, the total amount of CO2 from deforestation is equivalent to the total emissions from all of Western Europe combined.
Finally, the article takes into consideration the approximation and estimations that we read about in the textbook this week. The author described two approaches that one might take to compute these numbers. In one approach they explain using the most certain and comparable numbers, focusing on specific dates and measuring only one thing (CO2). The next approach brings in other aspects with complete and up-to-date information, calculating all possible variables creating a more substantial result.
There are many different ways and units to measure numbers with. In this specific case, all calculations came out to around the same conclusion: 10% of all CO2 emissions are from deforestation itself, or the equivalent of 600 million cars (twice as many than there are in the entire US).