By FRANCES LAMBERTS
In a timely article in Scientific American on December 5, the author, Han de Groot, states that “The best technology for fighting climate change isn’t a technology.” It is the natural systems and among these, especially, forests and their trees.
The recent dramatic report from the UN climate panel on the state of the planet found so much carbon pollution in the atmosphere that “negative emissions technologies” are now also needed. At that – removing carbon dioxide from the air – trees have been expert agents for millenia.
Remember the “Keeling Curve” which shows the atmosphere’s rising carbon concentration, as measured daily by the U.S. Weather Service in Hawaii since 1958? The curve’s steep decline from April to October annually, as the trees absorb CO2 during photosynthesis to build their foliage, trunks, stems, roots? In their tissue, in surrounding soil and in homes where their wood might end up, the carbon can be bound for hundreds of years.
A single tree can store an average of 48 pounds of CO2 in a year, the author affirms, and recent research shows “intact forests [can sequester] the equivalent of the emissions of entire countries such as Peru and Colombia.”
In a lecture at ETSU, Vandana Shiva, recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, spoke about the efforts by women in Uttar Pradesh, India, as they sought to preserve the array of benefits which forests provide. When the Green Belt Movement, lead by Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai planted over 50 million trees in Kenya, the principal aim was to restore and maintain the means of subsistence in rural communities, their water supply and other, economic and social benefits.
Now, trees also embody nations’ hopes for climate mitigation. China is building a “Great Green Wall” of trees and grassland across Inner Mongolia, were desert had been expanding, creating health hazards in Beijing and drowning farms and villages in the countryside under sand and dust. Like Franklin Roosevelt’s “Tree Army,” a Chinese army of over 60,000 soldiers, relieved from military duties, is engaged country-wide to create 88 million acres of new forest by 2050.
Nicaragua, battered repeatedly in recent years by devastating drought and flooding, is undertaking a “Million Trees by 2020” project. In Louisiana, said to lose a football field of land every hundred minutes to sea level rise and naturally occurring land subsidence, volunteers are planting mangrove forests in the coastal wetlands, seeking resilience and land protection for communities.
In India last year, 1.5 million volunteers planted 66 million trees, of twenty different species, in a single day – part of that country’s pledge in the Paris climate agreement to substantially increase tree cover. If it reaches its goal, says former New York city mayor Michael Bloomberg, it will eventually store more carbon in its forests than it emits every year.
The many dimensions of this new development in tree planting – ecological and social, economic and political – have one thing in common: beyond their many benefits we have always known about we now look to trees, through “negative emissions,” to also help heal the climate.
Another good reason to be “tree huggers.”