Can Planting a Million Trees Help in Reducing Global Warming?
Published at - February 24, 2022
6 min read
For the better part of the 21st century, the impending doom that is hanging above mankind is not a recession like 2008’s, neither a pandemic nor a starnet like AI superintelligence ,it is of our very own making which is - global warming. If you zoom in a little more and try to find the source code of this you’ll find a pattern that plagues nature from the start of human history - Deforestation. As we stand on the finishing line of a global pandemic amidst melting glaciers and toxic air of Dhaka, we cannot but wonder about the scale of the calamity and to what extent trees actually play the role of a guardian angel for mankind.
Trees are natural carbon sinks (carbon sinks are entities that absorb more carbon than they emit) since they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating.Trees convert carbon to sugar and that sugar is used to create woods, roots and branches where carbon is stored for centuries. The entire process is so efficient that no man-made technology has yet come close to this. Not to mention, scalability of synthetic carbon sinks will always be costly. On average, a tree absorbs around .025 tonnes of carbon. On the other hand, humans emit a mind boggling amount of carbon each year - approx. 4 tonnes according to the global average. Fortunately, trees are still the cheapest and most efficient carbon sink to exist to date and - they are easy to grow. It is likely due to the shift towards electric vehicles and renewable energy, global carbon emission will go down within 2050. Renewable energy is a game changer regarding the shift towards carbon neutral development. Germany, the highest carbon emitter in EU produces 42% of total energy using renewables, highest ratio in the world. This just shows no matter how efficient the means of production are, carbon sinks like trees will be most important against the fight with global warming. Now that we know the scale of global warming and how trees are important, we need to know what 1 “million” trees actually means.
1 million trees collectively would absorb 25000 tonnes of carbon from the environment each year. On a human scale, that’s equivalent to nearly 6000 people’s annual emission and oxygen for 2 million people. It is equivalent to taking 6000 cars off the road each year! Apart from the carbon perspective , collectively 1 million trees can house more than 80 species of birds and multi millions of avian and mammal species, which are devastatingly impacted by global carbon emission. It is worth mentioning that it will take around 20 thousand acres of land to house 1 million trees. 20 thousand acres which is roughly 8100 hectares of land might be off putting to some people, although it only takes 1 dollar per 3 trees in a monocultural restoration of forest land.But researchers from ETH Zurich have presented fascinating facts for us regarding arable land in the world.
Prof. Thomas Crowther’s team has figured out how many trees there are in the world, and how many we can plant today without upsetting our industrial and agricultural production and urban systems. The numbers are astonishing. Currently, more than half of the total land area – 8.7 billion hectares – could sustain forest, and of that, 5.5 billion are presently covered with trees. In regions that were previously degraded or sparsely vegetated, 1.5 billion ha of the 3.2 billion hectares of treeless land are utilized for food production. That essentially means nearly 1.7 billion hectares can be covered by trees. That’s enough for not 1 million, but for almost 210,000 times more than that ! This research just shows that there is more than enough land for us in the world to plant trees. Globally, there are tree covers in nearly 5.5 billion hectares of land, and in total 3 trillion trees are in existence. Thanks to professor Crowther’s research we know that this is half the trees that were in existence before humans came. We still lose about 10 billion trees a year due to deforestation. At this speed , it would still take 300 years before we cut down our last tree, but that future is unlikely.
Globally, philanthropists and celebrities are coming forward with tree planting campaigns. Mr. Beast, one of biggest youtubers in the world is running a campaign of planting 20 million trees worldwide. Radhika Anand, using her own resources, planted 1 million trees in India last year alone. Jadav Payeng literally created a 1300 hectare forest from scratch where Royal Bengal Tigers roam now. China and India both planted more than 2 billion trees each last year. India has actually increased it’s forest cover last decade - an astounding feat for a country of 1 billion people. 2020 was a year full of devastating climate related incidents that put a dent on natural forests in the world - such as the Amazon wildfire that burned 19 million acres of lush tropical forest and the Australian wildfire that destroyed 8.4 million hectares, displacing billions of wild animals. It is assumed that global warming will only worsen the situation in the world's forest, as this January is recorded as the warmest month in history in many parts of the southern hemisphere. Human deforestation is also at an alltime high around the world's forests and currently, every 1.2 second a football field worth of forest is gone due to human activity.
Given the enormity of destruction that we will face due rising sea levels and melting glaciers, it should be clear that 1 million trees in fact will help fight global warming. If we are to achieve the target of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees as stated in the Paris agreement, mankind will have to take immediate reversive action like planting trees, maybe 1 million at a time. Because in a race against time facing natural annihilation , no angels are coming to save us.
Goymer, P. A trillion trees. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 208–209 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-018-0464-z
Carrington, Damian. “Tree planting 'has mind-blowing potential' to tackle climate crisis.” The Guardian, 4 July 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/04/planting-billions-trees-best-tackle-climate-crisis-scientists-canopy-emissions. Accessed 24 February 2022.
“Deforestation in Brazilian Amazon hits January record.” Phys.org, 2 February 2022, https://phys.org/news/2022-02-deforestation-brazilian-amazon-january.html. Accessed 24 February 2022.