So, there’s some good climate news for a change. A new study shows that planting trees and reforesting the planet could remove two-thirds of the carbon we’ve added to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution began: more than 200 billion metric tons of it.
Reforestation “is so much more vastly powerful than anyone ever expected,” said Thomas Crowther, a co-author of a paper published last week in Science and a professor of environmental systems science at ETH Zurich. “By far, it’s the top climate change solution in terms of carbon storage potential.”
Crowther and his team studied the globe hectare by hectare (about 2.5 acres) using satellite images and compared them to databases of soil and climate conditions, then calculated how many hectares of trees could be planted and survive to maturity. The final tally is .9 billion hectares, or 2.2 billion acres, that are currently unforested but could support new woods. Those trees would be expected to last 40 to 100 years and capture 205 billion metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere. As old trees die, new trees would replace them.
It’s as close to a silver bullet to resolving climate change as humans will find, though some climate scientists have taken issue with the simplicity of the messaging. Planting and nurturing 2.2 billion acres of trees could cost $300 billion and require massive amounts of re-use of land. It won’t be easy or simple. But, said Crowther, “If we act now, we could cut carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by up to 25 percent, to levels last seen almost a century ago.” And it would rely on a natural mechanism, unlike the myriad of geoengineering schemes that have been proposed, like fertilizing the ocean to grow algae that would capture carbon. The clock is ticking, however, because as the planet warms the zones of forest viability are shrinking or moving north.
This news comes just a few weeks after we announced that Adventure Journal is planting a tree for every magazine we sell and every purchase made. Over the last few years, I have struggled personally and professionally to figure out solutions to a warming planet: how much to cover climate change on an adventure site, where to put our limited resources, whether to emphasize personal political action or professional communication. My fear has been that no matter what we do, it isn’t enough, and I eventually I concluded, or realized, that AJ is too powerful a vehicle not to use it for good. Nobody wants a steady diet of climate change discussion, least of all when what we really want is more stoke, but climate changes is the biggest issue of our time. It looms over all of us and our children and it affects the public lands and waters where we play, rejuvenate, and find ourselves. We know that you’re wrestling with these concerns yourselves, and I know that the collective power of our voices and our wallets, whether filtered through the lens of Adventure Journal or elsewhere, can have an impact. (Your feedback on the importance of sustainable gear was heard loud and clear by brands, I heard.)
So, yeah. Trees. We were psyched about trees before, but after this news I feel an even greater imperative to do whatever we can to plant more. We have a new icon that we’re adding to the AJ branding—it’s a redwood—which you’ll see as we start to incorporate it over the next few weeks. We have a new product that we’ll be revealing by the end of summer that will plant a lot more trees than it uses, and we’ll soon have a Patreon program that will including planting trees in your name as one of the rewards.
One thing that has become glaringly clear is that we can no longer rely on our elected leaders to get us out of this mess (as if we ever could). They’re either living in crazytown or they’re lost in the policy weeds or their proposals are unrealistic or they’re simply greedy and calculating on being gone before the worst of it hits. But I recently saw a photo of a young woman holding a sign that said, “You’ll die of old age. I’ll die of climate change,” and I can’t get that idea out of my head. While we bicker and argue and stamp our feet, the planet gets hotter every day. On Sunday, the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii measured 413 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere, 5 ppm over the same day last year. How quaint, and sad, the name of 350.org sounds today. We blew past 350 ppm like it was standing still, and 450 is coming up fast.
But I remain hopeful. I was hopeful when we announced our tree program and I’m even more hopeful after this study. But change isn’t going to happen unless we do it ourselves. That means taking personal action to reduce our carbon (and methane) footprint, finding lower-impact alternatives to existing practices, supporting programs that will make a difference (planting trees, etc.), pressuring businesses and our representatives, and being unafraid to address this with our friends. And it means planting trees. Lots and lots of trees.
I hope you will support AJ in our efforts by subscribing to our printed journal (that plants four trees!), but whether you do or not, I encourage you to learn more about the impact of forestation. Crowther has a resources site with a ton of info and links. Start there, then check out this Guardian piece.
Photo by Sergei Akulich on Unsplash