The Power of the Humble Tree in Our Fight Against Climate Change
4 min read
You’ve probably realised by now that here at Selva we’re kinda big into trees. Sure, there are a bunch of other ways that can help protect the climate and remove CO2 from the atmosphere but, for us, its trees, the whole trees and nothing but the trees. Let us tell you why we're all in on reforestation for carbon offsetting.
There’s no better way to fight climate change
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll be aware that we humans have a teeny-weeny problem called climate change to deal with (get our full take on that here). You’ll probably also know that this predicament is the result of too much carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. And, if you listened in biology class, you’ll remember that trees absorb CO2 , all day, every day. These carbon suckers literally consume and store the very stuff that threatens to make our planet a bit crappy. Today, they are our best bet for rolling back climate change.
It’s not just hippies that understand the huge power of trees. Plenty of scientific research is being conducted by people far smarter than us. This report published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimates that natural solutions like tree planting have the potential to achieve 37% of the CO2 reductions we need by 2030, and this one by the Crowther Lab in Zurich that concludes reforestation is “overwhelmingly more powerful than all of the other climate change solutions proposed”.
What blows my mind is the scale. I thought [forest] restoration would be in the top 10, but it is overwhelmingly more powerful than all of the other climate change solutions proposed.
Natural climate solutions (NCS) are key in reaching our carbon reduction goals:
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Trees are dirt cheap
But isn’t climate protection super expensive? Not with trees it isn't. Trees are amongst the most affordable large-scale solutions we have for tackling climate change. It generally costs around $5, and often far less than that, to reduce one tonne of CO2 from the atmosphere using trees. With renewables such as wind and solar, it costs at least many times that amount. Aaaand, there is no shortage of space to put trees: 9 million km2 of non-agricultural land around the world, an area roughly the size of the USA, could be reforested to capture two thirds of all CO2 emitted by humans since the industrial revolution.
All natural, baby
Mother nature gave us the gift of trees. So it figures that they’re pretty well suited to protecting nature. Unlike other climate change solutions, trees don’t need to be connected to a grid, they don’t require years of technical training to build and operate, and they have no dirty supply chains. Trees generate no waste, they enhance rather than wreck natural landscapes, and they create homes for 80% of the world’s terrestrial plants and animals. They regulate natural water cycles to prevent floods, droughts and soil erosion. They filter nasty pollutants and particles from the air we breathe. It's not a bad list of credentials.
Their natural occurrence means they are one of the most simple climate change solutions. Tree planting is just not complicated compared to other carbon removal initiatives like direct air capture or biochar. In an era defined by super speedy technological advancement, it’s easy to overlook the humble, natural tree. But, from food to fire to shelter, our species has always needed trees for its survival. The same is still true today. Our old friends will help fix the greatest problem we have ever faced, but neglecting them will spell big trouble for us all.
Nature isn’t a place to visit. It is home.
The gift that keeps on giving
Throughout their long lives (some trees, like the giant sequoias in California, live for thousands of years) trees also provide a stream of non-climate benefits for those who live around them. The awesome projects that we support, for example, empower some of the world’s poorest people to plant trees, enabling them to earn a living and a better future. Forests provide food that can be sold or consumed, and wood that can be used to build houses. In fact, a whopping 1.6 billion people around the world are estimated to rely on forests for their livelihoods.
And that’s not all. Research even suggests that trees release chemicals that are good for our mental well-being by reducing stress levels and anxiety. Being among trees literally makes us happier.
There's plenty of land
We often get asked, is there enough land on earth for all these trees and how many trees would fix climate change? Well, research has suggested that there is 0.9 billion hectares of available, non-agricultural land that isn't used by humans and would be suitable for tree planting. That's an area roughly the size of the US and, if reforested, could eventually absorb 2/3rds of all the CO2 emitted by humankind since the industrial revolution.
If we get to the stage where we have run out of space to plant trees, then we should be very happy indeed because it mean's we've planted billions of the things.
Hang on, it can't be all good, what’s the catch?
Like many good things in life (cooking, singing, romance...), tree planting can do more harm than good if done badly. Planting monoculture, non-native forests is certainly problematic. They can damage local biodiversity, deplete the soil and attract parasites that may kill the trees and release all that CO2 back into the atmosphere. The other obvious problem with trees is that they can burn down or be illegally logged, undoing all the hard carbon-absorbing work they have done in the past.
The best tree planting organisations in the business, like those we partner with, take these issues very seriously and work extremely hard to minimise the risk of such problems occurring. For instance, they will always plant native species using sustainable forestry best practices to ensure maximum positive environmental impact.
When it comes to ensuring the longevity of the trees, they implement a multitude of techniques including tree spacing and thinning to reduce fire risk, hiring staff to monitor and protect the forests, and, most importantly, creating the right financial and social incentives for locals to protect and enhance the forests (e.g. trees can provide locals with long term income and food security).
What we’re trying to say is…
Big brains and deep pockets are working hard to come up with ways to tackle climate change. But the reality is that they have yet to produce anything that measures up to the beautiful simplicity and effectiveness of a tree. Trees are affordable, they are easily available at scale now, and they bring a whole load of other environmental and social benefits.
Can trees save the world? Not alone they can't, but we certainly can't do it without them. Let’s get planting.