How planting trees can serve as one branch of a climate action plan
In the face of climate change, all scales of society, from government to corporations to individuals, are looking for ways to emit less and sink more carbon. The internet latched onto the tree-planting solution, but it’s important the right trees are planted in the right place at the right time.
The climate crisis is the dominant issue of this decade. According to Robert H. Socolow and Stephen W. Pacala, who wrote the article “A Plan to Keep Carbon in Check” in 2006, the world must avoid emitting about 200 billion tons of carbon over the next 50 years.
To make the problem manageable, Socolow and Pacala turned the required reduction into one-billion-ton “wedges.” The paper contained strategies that could be scaled up by 2050 to reduce carbon emissions by one million tons per year. For example, a wedge would be achieved if the number of miles traveled by the world’s cars was cut in half or if global deforestation was halted within 50 years.
A consistent goal in climate science is net zero emissions. In other words, the volume of greenhouse gasses going into the atmosphere needs to equal the volume coming out. With a record 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted in 2018, that’s a daunting task. To achieve this goal, society needs to emit less carbon and increase nature’s carbon sinking, or the natural process of turning carbon dioxide gas into solid matter.
Top minds of the world are putting their heads together to come up with solutions, ranging from modernized public transportation to alternative energy technology to lifestyle changes toward less consumption. Beyond that, policy makers and scientists are working closely with everyday people to educate, inspire and solve the crisis.
Locally, Humboldt State University, the City of Arcata and Humboldt County have prepared climate action plans. In the spring of 2019, five public workshops were hosted by the county to get ideas from community members on an action plan. The primary goal of these plans is to reduce emissions to pre-1990 levels by 2030.
2030 is the nearest milestone in climate policy. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming, global emissions will need to fall 45% from 2010 levels by then to be on track for the net zero emissions goal for 2050. This ideal timeline would limit global warming to the best-case 1.5 degree Celsius increase in average temperature, a goal which still brings with it real climate change.
Tree planting has become one of the most popular solutions in popular culture. Ecosia and Team Trees are two internet campaigns working to plant millions of trees. A number of science-based YouTubers have published videos explaining the project, including SmarterEveryDay, Mr.Beast and Aspect Science.
Trees are a valuable ally in the battle against climate change because they sequester carbon. A tree’s bark is made out of carbon. During photosynthesis, plants turn sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into glucose. The glucose molecule, along with other essential nutrients, turns into plant matter like leaves, branches and roots, effectively storing carbon in a solid state.
For this ordeal to be successful, it’s essential the people planting trees understand the silvics of those trees. Silvics is the study of the life history and characteristics of forest trees, and without understanding it, the newly-planted trees are more likely to die.
With the Earth at a critical time in its life history, the top minds of the world are opting for some deep breaths, planning and deliberate, well-informed environmental action.