There are many claims in the media that trees remove more carbon dioxide form the atmosphere than they release back into the atmosphere. By what chemical pathway can this occur? The law that matter is neither created nor destroyed surely applies as shown by the chemical pathway in the photosynthesis and respiration process.

6CO2 + 6H2O + sunlight energy. -----> C6H12O6 + 6O2 C6H12O6 + 6O2. -----> 6H2O + ATP (energy) + 6CO2

Thus the SAME amount of 6CO2 taken in is released, in order for the plant to have formation of the ATP usable energy for plant tissue creation, so photosynthesis cannot happen at a more rapid rate than respiration. If that happened, then yes, more CO2 is removed then released, but that would leave an unbalanced equation. I am not arguing the story further down the road of tree tissue and carbon sequestration/storage.

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    $\begingroup$ The road to hell is paved with chemical equations. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Commented Apr 11, 2020 at 10:21
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    $\begingroup$ Alan, check if there is some scientific research which proves that coal actually exists and comes from plants. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 11, 2020 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ Doesn't an oak tree have more mass than an acorn? Where did that mass come from? $\endgroup$
    – mgkrebbs
    Commented Apr 11, 2020 at 19:13

2 Answers 2


You've made one faulty assumption: that the second reaction is occuring at the same rate as the first. In fact, plants only burn enough glucose to fuel their activities. Much of the formed glucose is converted into storage forms like cellulose and starch. In fact, the vast majority of a plant's carbon mass comes ultimately from CO2 which has been converted photosynthetically into carbohydrate forms. (Further reading)

Ultimately, when plants die, those carbon molecules are used as food for other species, such as animal and bacteria. Ultimately, whether in composted plant material or fecal mater, the carbon is deposited on the ground. So ultimately it is correct that trees & plants are removing CO2 permanently from the atmosphere. Although some is being released to the atmosphere catabolically, more is re-absorbed for anabolic processes, and ultimately, that CO2 gets deposited on the ground in more complex carbon forms.


The amount of carbon stored in plants can be measured by carbon mass in it's dry weight. Trees are known for carbon sequestration ability, because they're long-lived, improve local microclimate and water retention and provide a habitat for many species. There are many positive consequences of having more trees, but soil is a much more efficient biological vehicle for carbon sequestration (still trees required).


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