In Defense of Tree-Planting Programs

We are now in a state of emergency over climate change due to excessive CO2 in the atmosphere. Trees absorb CO2 and have countless ecological benefits for humans and for biodiversity, so we should plant more. Planting trees leads to substantial carbon sequestration, support of biodiversity, soil preservation, and tree product production.

However, there seems to be mass confusion over this assertion, with headlines like:

Everybody take a deep breath.

Some of the “confusion” articles are using semantics in an attention-seeking and irritating way to reach a positive conclusion: that planting trees is beneficial if properly planned and implemented.

Native tree species should be selected because they have higher survival rates and are less ecologically destructive. Also, site and species selection should take into account local populations and seek to benefit them—or the trees could be cut down for use and the projects resisted.

Arid sites should also be avoided because they have lower survival rates and afforesting them could result in less sequestration for a higher cost, with more ecological problems.

However, some articles go even further and claim that planting trees does not have the potential to significantly mitigate climate change. This is not true.

A recent study in Nature showed that natural forest regrowth alone would sequester between 16 and 24% of annual GHG emissions. This is very significant because it shows that leaving forests to regrow alone would significantly mitigate emissions—without additional tree-planting—which in the right regions would accelerate this mitigation.

Few leaders working to implement tree-planting programs in their respective communities or states are boasting that their efforts alone will solve the climate crisis. However, keyboard environmentalists feel the urge to constantly sling their arrows at real activists, and badger on breathlessly about how it will not be enough.

Of course it won’t be enough, especially when many environmentalists are comfortable criticizing from their Lay-Z Boy chairs. However, it can and will be a significant part of solving the challenge of climate change, and changing our ecosystems for the better.

I take this debate somewhat personally, because tree-planting is an aspect of environmentalism and climate activism that ignited my early passions and allowed me to get where I am today. At Virginia Tech, I organized the Big Plant, an event where students and local residents come together to plant trees and spread climate awareness. At the first annual event, 300 volunteers came out and we planted 6,000 native trees in two hours.

At that event, I saw the B-side benefits of tree-planting: the enthusiasm, hope and awareness that comes with discussing the climate and local environment, and then doing something about it. I saw the degree to which people know exactly what’s going on and want to do something about it.

I also went on to organize tree-plantings at a series of schools in Sudan with similar enthusiasm and awareness amongst the young students.

So please, take it from me, tree-planting programs are highly beneficial for both sequestering carbon and familiarizing people with taking environmental action and getting their hands dirty.

Consider planting a tree in your own yard, organizing a local event, or donating to one of the following charities:

  • The Coalition for Rainforest Nations is an intergovernmental organization of over 50 rainforest nations seeking to conserve their rainforests. The Coalition is extremely cost-effective, and a donation of just 12 cents will avert approximately a metric ton of CO2. This means that for $2, one can avert approximately a year’s worth of emissions. This is the link to donate.
  • Rainforest Foundation US partners with frontline activists and indigenous peoples to protect rainforests in South and Central America. This is the link to donate to them.

Also, Ecosia is an award-winning web browser that uses revenue from your searches to plant trees. I have been using it since 2018 and have been able to plant thousands of trees.

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