(TMU) — Researchers have long warned of the dangers of climate change, which has seen ecological conditions degrade as weather patterns grow more unpredictable. And now, scientists are urging the world to plant billions of trees wherever possible as the cheapest and most effective way to handle the climate crisis.
According to the new study published in the journal Science, planting about a billion trees across the globe could remove two-thirds of all carbon dioxide emissions worldwide—approximately 25 percent of the CO2 in the atmosphere—creating a vast natural means to trap and store the emissions in an affordable and politically non-controversial manner.
The researchers say the Earth has room for over 1 trillion additional trees that can be planted in abandoned lots, woodlands and parks across the globe as part of a new worldwide planting initiative that would remove a large portion of heat-trapping emissions from the atmosphere.
Professor Thomas Crowther, a climate change ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich who led the research, told the Associated Press:
“This is by far—by thousands of times—the cheapest climate change solution.”
Crowther also stressed the urgency of taking action, given the devastating effects and rapid progress of climate change, noting that tree planting would have a near-immediate impact, since trees remove carbon at an early age.
The ecologist said:
“It’s certainly a monumental challenge, which is exactly the scale of the problem of climate change.”
Crowther’s laboratory used Google Earth mapping and 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.
Today we launch a new platform for anyone to use to identify potential areas for #restoration around the world.
— Crowther Lab (@CrowtherLab) July 5, 2019
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.
According to the study, an area of trees roughly the size of the United States could scrub 205 billion metric tons of carbon emissions—out of the roughly 300 billion metric tons of carbon pollution spewed into the atmosphere over the past 25 years.
The countries with the most available room for reforestation include Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Russia, and the United States. According to the study’s lead author, Jean-Francois Bastin, there is space for at least 1 trillion more trees, and potentially 1.5 trillion on top of the 3 trillion trees on the planet.
“Governments must now factor [tree restoration] into their national strategies.”
Unfortunately, not all governments appear willing to grow their forests. For example, Christian Poirier, Amazon Watch’s Program Director, told MintPress News that Brazil’s “Bolsonaro has overseen the most significant rollback of, and full-on assault on, human rights and environmental protection in Brazil since the fall of the country’s military dictatorship and the reinstallation of democracy in 1985.” The country has seen a sharp escalation in illegal logging and land theft since Bolsonaro came into power.
“Bolsonaro has overseen the most significant rollback, and full-on assault, on human rights and environmental protection in Brazil since the fall of the country’s military dictatorship.”
— MintPress News (@MintPressNews) July 2, 2019
Tropical areas could enjoy total tree cover, while others would have sparser coverage—effectively meaning that on average, around half the globe would be under tree canopy.
Researchers report in Science that Earth could support enough additional trees to cut #carbon levels in the atmosphere by nearly 25%, suggesting that forest restoration could be “the best #ClimateChange solution available.” ($) https://t.co/ecwMmuCyi2 pic.twitter.com/WeNdVXB40k
— Science Magazine (@sciencemagazine) July 4, 2019
Crowther told the Guardian:
“This new quantitative evaluation shows [forest] restoration isn’t just one of our climate change solutions, it is overwhelmingly the top one.
What blows my mind is the scale. I thought restoration would be in the top 10, but it is overwhelmingly more powerful than all of the other climate change solutions proposed.”
The professor also stressed that it still remains crucial to halt deforestation and reverse greenhouse gas and carbon emissions to zero, if possible, while we still have the time. Crowther added:
“[Tree planting is] a climate change solution that doesn’t require President Trump to immediately start believing in climate change, or scientists to come up with technological solutions to draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
It is available now, it is the cheapest one possible and every one of us can get involved.”
But not all scientists are convinced by Crowther’s study. Martin Lukac, a professor from the University of Reading, remains skeptical, noting:
“Planting trees to soak up two-thirds of the entire anthropogenic [human-caused] carbon burden to date sounds too good to be true. Probably because it is.”
While Myles Allen, a professor of Geosystem Science at the University of Oxford, said:
“Yes, heroic reforestation can help, but it is time to stop suggesting there is a ‘nature-based solution’ to ongoing fossil fuel use. There isn’t. Sorry.”
Some groups have taken matters into their own hands, with or without supporting research. For example, as the Mind Unleashed previously reported, a Sikh initiative called The Million Tree Project aims to plant one million new trees throughout the world, with tens of thousands already having been planted.