We have committed to planting trees. And we know that getting to a trillion trees planted is not going to be easy. But the effort has obvious and less obvious upsides. Every great idea also has its downside(s) and challenges to surmount, even planting trees:
High-profile programs aimed at planting billions of trees are being launched worldwide. But a growing number of scientists are warning that these massive projects can wreck natural ecosystems, dry up water supplies, damage agriculture, and push people off their land.
In late January, the multibillionaire Elon Musk took to Twitter and abruptly announced, “Am donating $100M towards a prize for best carbon capture technology”. This triggered a deluge of sarcasm across the platform: “You mean, like, trees?” “I planted a tree, do I win?” “Lol just plant some trees dumbass.”
Musk replied, “They are part of the solution, but require lots of fresh water & land. We may need something that’s ultra-large-scale industrial in 10 to 20 years.”
This wasn’t good enough for hundreds of Twitter users, who saturated his timeline with yet more support for trees, reinforcing a powerful narrative that’s taken hold around the world: Trees are the answer to climate breakdown and many other environmental and social ills, so we need to plant more of them — billions or even trillions more.
Recent years have seen massive tree-planting projects announced and rolled out. They’re politically popular, media-friendly, and often have stunning numbers attached: In 2019, Ethiopia claimed to have planted 350 million saplings in less than 12 hours, smashing the world record for trees planted in a day. In 2014, a province of Pakistan launched a “Billion Tree Tsunami” planting project, which was expanded into a nationwide “10-Billon Tree Tsunami” project in 2018. China is on track to plant 35 million hectares (87 million acres) of trees in its northern arid areas by 2050 to make a so-called Great Green Wall the size of Germany. Fossil fuel colossus Shell says that 700 million hectares of forest must be planted this century to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees C — an area just smaller than Brazil.
Last year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) launched its 1t.org project, which aims to mobilize commitments from corporations, governments, and NGOs to “conserve, restore, or grow” one trillion trees by 2030. One of its leading supporters is Marc Benioff, the billionaire CEO of Salesforce, who pledged funds to plant 100 million of them. During the 2020 WEF meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Benioff announced that 300 companies and numerous governments have committed to hitting 1t.org’s target. And their numbers keep growing: A company called tentree recently promised to plant a billion trees by 2030, beating Benioff’s commitment by an order of magnitude. “Nobody’s against trees,” said Benioff, adding, “This is a time of action, not words. We are at that point of urgency with our planet.”…
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