Why Planting Trees Won’t Solve the Climate Crisis

The fight against climate change seems pretty straightforward. If we produce more carbon, then we should plant more trees. That would allow us to create a net-zero approach to emissions so that we can maintain healthy ecosystems.

Unfortunately, a solution to our climate crisis isn’t that simple. The act of planting trees isn’t good enough to support our environment. We need our ancient forests and their complexities to create healthy habitats that support all forms of life.

When we plant trees, it is usually through a monoculture approach. Instead of helping to restore homeostasis to our environment, we end up creating even more problems. So, for example, simply going to India and planting millions of trees isn’t going to help the air quality.

Some Countries Have Increased Forest Cover by 20%

Spain, Thailand, Turkey, Greece, and several other countries have managed to increase their forest cover by over 20% in the past 25 years.

What the data suggests is that our forests are getting cut down faster than we can plant trees to replace them.

Cameroon is home to the essential Congo basin rainforest. The government offered to create 12 million hectares of tree cover by 2030. The only problem with that promise is that over 20% of the country’s forests have disappeared to make way for subsistence farming.

The rainforest got replaced with palm oil and banana plantations.

Nigeria pledged to plant a million hectares of trees, but it has lost over 10 million hectares over the past 25 years.

Tree cover is not the same as a forest.

How Much Carbon Does a Forest Remove?

Commercial plantations harvest trees about once per decade. That makes them less efficient at taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

If we are to keep global warming in check, then 199 petagrams of carbon must get taken out of our atmosphere by 2100. Creating 350 million hectares of natural forest reforestation would handle about 20% of that goal by itself.

The storage potential for commercialized tree cover is only 16 petagrams with the same acreage. If we don’t change our behavior, then that figure drops to only 3 petagrams.

That’s why we need to move away from the idea of monoculture. Mixed farms might be challenging to run, but it is the approach that supports are ecosystems.

It takes time for trees to grow and store carbon. We must start moving now if we’re going to protect our planet. If we fail to act, then future generations may find themselves struggling for their very survival.