As the Earth contends with degrading ecological conditions and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, a new study suggests that a massive global effort to replenish forests would be capable of absorbing a decade’s worth of carbon dioxide emissions.
According to new data, the Earth has room for about 1.2 trillion additional trees that can be planted in abandoned lots, woodlands and parks across the globe.
ETH Zurich ecologist Thomas Crowther estimates that such a huge reforestation push would be the most effective form of tackling our climate woes, rather than pinning our hopes on a meatless diet or renewable energy sources such as wind turbines alone.
It's #TreeTuesday 😍🎉 A broadleaf tree can filtrate and purify approximately 35.000l of water every year.
Trees are so important for our water supply 🌳🌳🌳 That's why we should plant a #TrillionTrees! pic.twitter.com/BDPQlCKFAA
— Plant-for-the-Planet (@PftP_int) February 5, 2019
In Crowther’s research, his lab used recent data from the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative to gain an accurate understanding of the current global tree count. The initiative relies on the efforts of ground-level volunteers, 1.2 million monitoring locations across the globe, satellite imagery, as well as tens of thousands of soil samples.
The information, paired with machine learning and artificial intelligence, allowed Crowther’s lab to identify a figure of three trillion trees on Earth – more than seven times the amount estimated by NASA.
It also gave Crowther’s team the ability to predict how many trees could feasibly be planted across the globe.
In a description of his presentation at a recent American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Washington, D.C., Crowther wrote:
“Using this combination of above ground and below ground data we can identify regions of high priority for biodiversity conservation. Additionally, we can finally start to understand the feedbacks that determine atmospheric carbon concentrations over the rest of the century. We now understand that, as the soil warms, carbon emissions from the soil will increase, particularly in the high-latitude arctic and sub-arctic regions.”
Crowther has criticized the scientific community’s undervaluing of trees and forests as an effective weapon in the fight against climate change and global emissions, but his newest data hints at the potential that a massive tree-planting campaign could hold.
“There’s 400 gigatons now, in the 3 trillion trees, and if you were to scale that up by another trillion trees that’s in the order of hundreds of gigatons captured from the atmosphere – at least 10 years of anthropogenic emissions completely wiped out,” Crowther told the Independent.
We are less proud of the fact that as an international lab we end up having more than our share of #airlinetravel, which carries a huge #carbonfootprint. Every time you have to get on a plane, plant a tree. Check out the #TrillionTreesCampaign https://t.co/igLXyxnUry pic.twitter.com/v4NbPCSZKG
— Crowther Lab (@CrowtherLab) July 28, 2018
The United Nations is already taking heed of Crowther’s findings, and has renamed its Billion Trees Campaign the Trillion Trees Campaign. Crowther noted:
“We are not targeting urban or agricultural area, just degraded or abandoned lands, and it has the potential to tackle the two greatest challenges of our time – climate change and biodiversity loss.
It’s a beautiful thing because everyone can get involved. Trees literally just make people happier in urban environments, they improve air quality, water quality, food quality, ecosystem service, it’s such an easy, tangible thing.”