We’ve come to expect that reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the U.N.’s panel of climate experts from around the world — will not lead with good news, and the report released last week was no exception.
The New York Times’ headline on its story about the IPCC report was “Climate Change Threatens the World’s Food Supply, United Nations Warns.” The report discussed how loss of productive soil threatens food production in many countries, and that climate change — with the higher temperatures it’s causing and extreme weather to which it’s contributing — will make matters worse.
The report was not all doom and gloom, however. It offered several suggestions, most of which will require system-wide changes, such as more efficient agricultural practices and less food waste. But one of the suggestions is very straightforward: plant more trees. Lots of them.
In fact, the IPCC said that most of the modeled pathways that limit warming below disastrous levels “require different combinations of reforestation, afforestation, reduced deforestation, and bioenergy (high confidence)."
We’ve always known that trees are good at sequestering carbon, because they absorb lots of carbon dioxide and can live for decades. What is becoming increasingly clear is that massive tree-planting around the world can help fend off climate disaster. A new study found that planting one trillion trees would cut carbon in the atmosphere by 25%, an immense reduction.
Now, planting one trillion trees is a huge undertaking. We know that planting that many trees will not happen anytime soon.
But the people of Ethiopia planted 350 million sapling trees in a single day last month. The Ethiopian Prime Minister’s Green Legacy Initiative aims to plant 4 billion trees by the end of 2019.
In the United States, it’s been a long time since we had such a major tree-planting initiative. The Civilian Conservation Corps planted more than 3 billion trees in the 1930s and 1940s. The CCC is responsible for over half of the reforestation, both public and private, done in the country’s history.
Using the CCC as a model, youth conservation programs in the western U.S. have become very proficient at planting trees, especially in state and national parks. I’ve estimated that $10 million could fund the planting of 40 million trees in a single year. The trees planted in three years would sequester carbon equal to the emissions of more than one million cars.
Trees are not a silver bullet for the climate crisis. Significant emissions reductions are the most important part of a strategy to avoid a climate crisis.
But planting trees can help. Most of all, it’s something we all can do now, without government action — at our own homes and in our communities. As Live Science said recently, if we want to save the world from climate change, we should “grab some seeds, or some seedlings, and start planting trees like there’s no tomorrow.”
Del. Dana Stein, Baltimore
The writer, a Democrat, represents District 11 in Baltimore County.
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