Forests, woodlands, jungles. Ecologist Thomas Crowther of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology estimates there are three trillion trees on Earth. He and other scientists want to fight pollution by planting a trillion more. Sounds like a lush, green plan. What could go wrong?
(Hint: A lot.)
God created trees to take carbon dioxide from the air and store it in their leaves, branches, trunks, and roots. In return, trees release oxygen—a necessity for life on Earth. God’s plan is perfect.
Some scientists worry that people, auto and airplane traffic, and factories are destroying air quality. They reason that more trees should equal more oxygen and less carbon dioxide. That’s good science—at least on the surface. So Crowther and a group of other Swiss researchers used Google Earth images to locate places around the globe that could hold lots more trees.
The results were published in the journal Science in July. The study suggests that six nations offer the most room for new trees: Russia, the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and China. Together, the new trees would cover an area roughly the size of the United States. Whoa!
The study calculates that a trillion (with a t) new trees could absorb 830 billion (with a b) tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over several decades. Most of that improvement would come early in the life of the project. That’s because young trees capture more carbon dioxide than older, slow-growing trees.
However, environmental scientist Chris Field questions “whether it is actually feasible to restore this much forest.” To maximize the benefit, the majority of new trees should be planted in the tropics, where some varieties grow fastest. But that preference would take the vast expanse of land available in Russia, Canada, and the United States off the top tier.
At this point, no scientist has recommended the types of trees to plant in any area either. Humans have a history of transplanting biological species around God’s well-planned world—only to find they’ve created more problems. Invasive species can devastate carefully balanced ecosystems and generate new problems. A massive planting movement like the one suggested could result in massive complications.
Crowther proposed the trillion tree solution to offset what he believes is a harmful use of fossil fuels. Long term, he still says that his tree solution won’t work “without emissions cuts”—even if he was confident the world would go on a tree-planting binge. (For perspective, a trillion trees is about 150 new trees for every single person living on Earth today.) He supports weaning the world off the use of gas, coal, and oil. He also recommends vegetarian lifestyles globally.