Could the Most Simple Means of Tackling Climate Change be the Most Effective?

As forecasts of climate change’s predicted impact continue to paint a consistently darker portrait of the world's future, Thomas Crowther and his team are stepping in to - quite literally - save the day.

The climate change ecologist and assistant Professor at ETH Zurich is advocating a relatively simple, yet ambitious plan for the world to begin planting trees… a lot of them. The planting of more than one trillion trees - reforestation or aforestation - Crowther’s research suggests, is one of the most simple, accessible, yet impactful means of curbing climate change.

“The amount of carbon that we can restore if we plant 1.2 trillion trees, or at least allow those trees to grow, would be way higher than the next best climate change solution.” Crowther told CNN.

In addition to the benefits of added photosynthesis at work, large swathes of land, particularly in northern China and Africa would be more resilient to the threat of desertification, which transforms previously fertile land into lifeless deserts.

“These are places where farms have been abandoned, or where there’s been deforestation and it’s been left.”

The science would suggest that properly planned reforestation. As Crowther explains, “the models that previously existed about where forest can be restored disregard whether they should.” However, using his team’s latest projections, “we don’t just model the forest, we also model grasslands and shrub-lands and piece them all together to reveal what should be where.”

Graphic courtesy of Thomas Crowther’s team of researchers. Existing forests are represented in green, while potential forests in yellow.

“Climate change is seen as such an immense and complicated issue -- it feels like it’s seen as someone else’s problem, someone else is dealing with it or not dealing with it, and no one has a simple message for how to go about tackling it.”

“I’d like to try and champion this as a solution that everyone can get involved in. If all the millions of people who went on climate marches in recent weeks got involved in tree planting, the impact would be huge,” Crowther said.

Thomas has the support of many world wide, including the United Nation’s Plant for the Planet’s ‘Trillion Tree’, which changed its name from ‘Billion Tree’ in recognition of the latest call.

Plant for the Planet has since planted 15-billion trees since its formation, with the help of governments across the globe. Most notably, China and India planted more than 2-billion trees respectively, with Pakistan and Ethiopia rounding out the top four with 1.7 and 1 billion each.

“I think a million trees is achievable,” Sagar Aryal, chairman of Plant for the Planet said. “It’s not that we don’t have enough money in the world. Maybe governments alone can’t do enough, but if we work together with the private sector, we can do it.”

In 2015, Crowther combined ground-based surveys with satellite imagery, concluding that the number of trees on earth’s surface was seven-times larger than the 400-billion figure NASA had first estimated.

“It’s not like we discovered new trees,” Crowther said. “Rather, we added another layer of information that allowed us to revise much of the previous estimates.”

Crowther warned not to get complacent, however, stating that “the scale of human impact is astonishing.”

“Obviously we expected humans would have a prominent role, but I didn’t expect that it would come out as the strongest control on tree density.”

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