Towards Landscapes of Carbon Removal: Mapping and Quantifying the Carbon Sink Potential of Abandoned, Contaminated Land in the United States

The Green New Deal House Resolution has proposed a campaign of “cleaning up existing hazardous waste and abandoned sites.” Hundreds of thousands of such sites across the U.S. represent a toxic legacy of environmental injustice, borne disproportionately by low-income communities and communities of color. Their beneficial reuse could spark reinvestment in these communities, jumpstart productive ecological function on sites that are sitting in ecological limbo, and potentially act as a major carbon sink by making use of landscape strategies like afforestation—or tree planting—and other tried and tested natural climate solutions that can be immediately deployed.

PennPraxis seeks to study and demonstrate the contribution that a beneficial reuse of “hazardous waste and abandoned sites” for carbon storage could have, and is a first quantification of their hypothetical scale of impact in terms of carbon sink potential. We break out the various categories of “hazardous waste and abandoned sites,” and propose a suite of potential landscape strategies for each, with a look at how afforestation and the management of these sites could not only contribute to carbon sequestration targets, but could also contribute to social, economic, ecological, recreational, public health, and environmental justice goals.