- Planting more trees — to the tune of 1.2 trillion — could be the answer to saving the Earth, with the trees capable of storing so much carbon dioxide (CO2) that they would cancel out a decades’ worth of human-made (CO2) emission
- Currently, the Earth is home to 3 trillion trees, which is seven times more than previously believed
- More than 13.6 billion trees have already been planted as part of the United Nations’ Trillion Tree Campaign
- The Trillion Tree Campaign states that there is actually space for up to 600 billion mature trees on the planet, without taking space away from agricultural land; however, since some planted trees won’t survive, the target is to plant at least 1 trillion trees to reach the 600 billion mature tree goal
- Everyone should set a target to plant 150 to 1,000 trees during their lifetime
Planting more trees — to the tune of 1.2 trillion — could be the answer to saving the Earth, with the trees capable of storing so much carbon dioxide (CO2) that they would cancel out a decades’ worth of human-made (CO2) emissions.1 Further, thanks to the work of ecologist Thomas Crowther and colleagues at Swiss university ETH Zurich, it’s now known that there’s room for an additional 1.2 trillion trees on the planet.
The team global forest inventory data from the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative (GFBI) combined with satellite data to gain an understanding of the global forest system. They also studied data from the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative (GSBI), which revealed a first glimpse of global patterns in biomass and diversity of the global soil microbiome.
“Using this combination of above ground and below ground data we can identify regions of high priority for biodiversity conservation,” Crowther said in research presented at the 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington, D.C. “Additionally, we can finally start to understand the feedbacks that determine atmospheric carbon concentrations over the rest of the century.”2
Planting Trees the ‘Most Powerful Weapon’
Crowther stated that planting trees was our “most powerful weapon” in protecting the planet, with their research suggesting an additional 1.2 trillion trees could be planted across the globe to capture massive amounts of carbon from the environment. Currently, the Earth is home to 3 trillion trees, which is seven times more than previously believed.
“There’s 400 gigatons [of carbon] now, in the 3 trillion trees, and if you were to scale that up by another trillion trees that’s in the order of hundreds of gigatons captured from the atmosphere — at least 10 years of anthropogenic emissions completely wiped out,” Crowther told The Independent.3
The United Nations already responded to the findings, changing their Billion Tree Campaign to the Trillion Tree Campaign, which states, “Global reforestation could capture 25 percent of global annual carbon emissions and create wealth in the global south.”
More than 13.6 billion trees have already been planted as part of the campaign,4 which tracks not only where trees have been planted but also where forests currently exist and where forests could be restored. The Trillion Tree Campaign states that there is actually space for up to 600 billion mature trees on the planet, without taking space away from agricultural land.
However, since some planted trees won’t survive, the target is to plant at least 1 trillion trees to reach the 600 billion mature tree goal. “Additionally, we must protect the 170 billion trees in imminent risk of destruction. They are crucial carbon storages and essential ecosystems to protect biodiversity,” they state.5
Planting Trees Protects Biodiversity
Loss of biodiversity is another major environmental hurdle that planting trees could help remedy. Deforestation, forest degradation and other factors are currently threatening about half of tree species worldwide, which could have dire consequences on the productivity of ecosystems therein.
Using more than three-quarters of a million sample plots in 44 countries containing more than 30 million trees, researchers revealed that continued loss of biodiversity would result in accelerating decline in worldwide forest productivity.6 The work, a product of GFBI, Crowther and colleagues, found that, on average, a 10 percent loss in biodiversity leads to a 3 percent loss in productivity.
“The value of biodiversity in maintaining commercial forest productivity alone — $166 to $490 billion per year according to our estimation — is by itself over two to six times the total estimated cost that would be necessary for effective global conservation. This highlights the need for a worldwide reassessment of biodiversity values, forest management strategies and conservation priorities,” GFBI explained.7
Crowther added to The Independent, “We are not targeting urban or agricultural area, just degraded or abandoned lands, and it has the potential to tackle the two greatest challenges of our time — climate change and biodiversity loss.”8
Australia Aims to Plant 1 Billion Trees by 2050
Australia, as the seventh-largest forested area in the world, is well suited to contribute to the 1 trillion trees goal, and they’ve pledged to plant 1 billion trees by 2050 as part of a forestry plan to meet Paris Agreement targets, including reducing carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2030. If the tree-planting target is met, it’s estimated that 18 million tons of greenhouse gas would be removed per year by 2030.9
The fact is, forest represents one of five carbon sinks on Earth (the others are nonindustrial regenerative farmland, atmosphere, ocean and fossil deposits), and removing the renewable grasslands and forests that not only can sustain, but also regenerate our soils and solidify this fragile carbon balance, is a major part of the problem.
If you’re wondering what a carbon sink is, the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science explains it this way:10
“The carbon cycle involves the flux, or flow, of carbon between different earth systems. An object or process that absorbs and stores carbon is called a sink, while one that releases carbon faster than it is absorbed is termed a source. For example, a healthy plant is a carbon sink because it is taking in CO2 from the air and storing it in new leaves and roots and a larger stem.”
In the U.S., although forests make up 90 percent of the carbon sink, they sequester only about 10 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.11 Further, it's estimated that one-third of the surplus carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stems from poor land-management processes, including clearing forests, overgrazing and tilling the soil that contribute to the loss of carbon, as carbon dioxide, from farmlands.12
Planting trees is considered to be an invaluable part of carbon sequestration, which is the process via which trees and other plants take up carbon dioxide and store it as carbon in their trunks, branches, foliage and roots. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service:13
“The sink of carbon sequestration in forests and wood products helps to offset sources of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, such as deforestation, forest fires and fossil fuel emissions.
Sustainable forestry practices can increase the ability of forests to sequester atmospheric carbon while enhancing other ecosystem services, such as improved soil and water quality. Planting new trees and improving forest health … are some of the ways to increase forest carbon in the long run.”
Mercola.com Has Planted Over 200,000 Trees
Mercola.com, in partnership with Trees for the Future, has planted over 200,000 trees.14 This organization is working to end hunger and poverty for small farmers by revitalizing degraded lands, using their Forest Garden program. They work in six sub-Saharan countries, actively planting trees in Senegal, Cameroon, Kenya, Tanzania, Guinea and Uganda. According to Trees for the Future:15
“The Forest Garden Program is a simple, replicable and scalable approach with proven success. By planting specific types of fast-growing trees, fruit trees, hardwoods and food crops in a systematic manner over a four-year period, families can positively change their lives forever.
Forest Gardens consist of thousands of trees that provide families with sustainable food sources, livestock feed, products to sell, fuel wood and a 400 percent increase in their annual income in four years.”
Their initial goal aims to work with 125,000 impoverished families to plant 500 million trees. In the last five years alone, Trees for the Future has planted more than 155 million trees, restored nearly 8,000 acres and sequestered nearly 200,000 tons of carbon.16 Further, on an individual level, 86 percent of the families they’ve worked with are food secure after one year.
The Many Health and Environmental Benefits of Trees
Beyond acting as valuable carbon sinks, trees offer invaluable benefits to human health and the environment. For example, trees and forests in the U.S. removed 17.4 million tons of air pollution in 2010, a benefit to human health valued at $6.8 billion.17
By improving air quality, forest and trees eliminated more than 850 deaths and 670,000 cases of acute respiratory symptoms, according to a study published in Environmental Pollution.18
What’s more, living around an extra 11 trees per street lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity and “decreases cardiometabolic conditions in ways comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $20,000 and moving to a neighborhood with $20,000 higher median income or being 1.4 years younger.”19
In urban environments, green spaces including trees, are linked to better mental health, lower blood pressure and stress levels and increased physical activity. Access to natural settings like forests, or even views of them, may also reduce crime and aggression and improve outcomes after surgery.20
What’s more, when comparing the benefits of trees and grass in New York City, there was a higher reporting of “very good” or “excellent” health for those living near the most trees, but the same could not be said for grass.
The researchers concluded, “Findings imply that higher exposure to vegetation, particularly trees outside of parks, may be associated with better health. If replicated, this may suggest that urban street tree planting may improve population health.”21
Everyone Should Plant Trees
What’s great about trees being a primary solution to environmental crises is that everyone can take part in planting trees. The Trillion Tree Campaign suggests that everybody should plant at least 150 trees, although it recommends those in wealthy countries set a higher target of 1,000.
This may sound like a lot, but it’s a target for an entire lifetime, and the Trillion Tree Campaign website has a tool for you to set and keep track of your target.22
They’re officially counting all trees that have been planted since November 2006, when the campaign started, and you can invite your friends to join in too. Even if you live in a region where you can’t plant trees, or in an apartment with no backyard, you can donate or gift trees to be planted.
As Crowther told The Independent, “It’s a beautiful thing because everyone can get involved. Trees literally just make people happier in urban environments they improve air quality, water quality, food quality, ecosystem service, it’s such an easy, tangible thing.”23
Fall is a great time to plant trees due to moderate temperatures and rainfall allowing them to acclimatize and grow strong roots before the heat and dryness of summer, but springtime planting works well too, depending on your region. So, choose a tree that’s well-suited to your region and get started planting today.
- 1, 3, 8, 23 The Independent February 16, 2019
- 2 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science conference February 16, 2019
- 4 The Trillion Tree Campaign
- 5 The Trillion Tree Campaign, What is Trillion Tree Campaign?
- 6 Science October 14, 2016
- 7 GFBI Research
- 9 Bloomberg February 16, 2019
- 10, 11 USDA Forest Service, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science
- 12 Marin Carbon Project
- 13 USDA Forest Service, Carbon Sequestration
- 14 Trees for the Future
- 15 Trees for the Future, Approach
- 16 Trees for the Future, Triple Bottom Line
- 17, 18 Environ Pollut. 2014 Oct;193:119-129.
- 19, 20 Nature July 9, 2015
- 21 Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017 Nov 18;14(11).
- 22 Trillion Tree Campaign Login