Planting Trees Could Be a "Mind-Blowing" Solution to Climate Change

Public Domain. Civilian Conservation Corps planting trees/ National Archives

It's an all-natural TreeHugger-approved carbon capture and storage plan.

After recently publishing the most negative "OMG we're stuffed" post about climate change ever, it is a pleasure to write that we really can cure this, with carbon capture and storage – in trees. According to research published in Science,

The restoration of trees remains among the most effective strategies for climate change mitigation. We mapped the global potential tree coverage to show that 4.4 billion hectares of canopy cover could exist under the current climate. Excluding existing trees and agricultural and urban areas, we found that there is room for an extra 0.9 billion hectares of canopy cover, which could store 205 gigatonnes of carbon in areas that would naturally support woodlands and forests....Our results highlight the opportunity of climate change mitigation through global tree restoration but also the urgent need for action.
That's enough carbon dioxide stored to suck up two-thirds of the emissions from human activities. Scientists quoted by Damian Carrington in the Guardian call this "mind-blowing."
“This new quantitative evaluation shows [forest] restoration isn’t just one of our climate change solutions, it is overwhelmingly the top one,” said Prof Tom Crowther at the Swiss university ETH Zürich, who led the research. “What blows my mind is the scale. I thought restoration would be in the top 10, but it is overwhelmingly more powerful than all of the other climate change solutions proposed.”

The calculation of how much land can be afforested (about the area of the USA and China combined) doesn't include land currently used by cities or cropland. But it does include grazing lands, so we will all have to eat less beef.

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Enrollee Crew Planting

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Enrollee Crew Planting/ National Archives/Public Domain

It all seems so simple. Crowther says tree planting is “a climate change solution that doesn’t require President Trump to immediately start believing in climate change, or scientists to come up with technological solutions to draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. It is available now, it is the cheapest one possible and every one of us can get involved.”

Conservation corps planting trees

National Archives/Public Domain

There are also many opportunities that present themselves in a reforested and afforested world, including the transformation of the construction industry to wood (continuing to store the CO2 in buildings as well as trees) and forest farming, which promises "abundance, as well as the kind of resilience a changing climate demands." Governments could create a modern version of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which trained unemployed men during the Depression to plant 2.3 billion trees, half of the trees ever planted in the USA.

There are skeptics quoted in the Guardian who say that these calculations are not accurate, and of course we are actually losing forest to grazing and monoculture farming. But we have seen the effects of massive reforestation before; Oliver Milman writes in the Guardian that after 1492, when 90 percent of the Native American population died,

This “large-scale depopulation” resulted in vast tracts of agricultural land being left untended, researchers say, allowing the land to become overgrown with trees and other new vegetation. The regrowth soaked up enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to actually cool the planet, with the average temperature dropping by 0.15C in the late 1500s and early 1600.

Perhaps we can re-run that experiment, without millions dying. The idea certainly is "mind-blowing."

See more at Crowther Lab.