Restor & Correcting The Trillion Tree Mess

Crowther says Restor is his ‘life’s vision’, mapping the latest data and thousands of conservation projects. Photograph: Courtesy of Restor

I have been on a tree-planting spree in the last couple years. So I am constantly on the lookout for resources that help me see this work in a larger context. Here is a great one I have just learned about. Restor’s macro-level organizing of conservation through geographic information systems requires skills and ambitions that few have in such capacity as the scientist featured in the following story. Maps like the one shown above are less inspirational, but more powerful in other ways, than scenes of effective restoration like the one below.

The former A3 London to Portsmouth road at Hindhead, after being restored back to heathland. Photograph: Tony Watson/Alamy

T. W. Crowther has featured in our pages for years, starting with our link to his work on how many trees are on our planet and what this implies with regard to climate. We lunged forward to share the idea that planting a trillion trees was the key implication, and also lurched back a bit when it seemed worthy of more consideration. This article does much to clear up “the mess” that Mr. Crowther acknowledges resulted from the trillion tree findings, and which I was captivated by:

‘I’ve never said we should plant a trillion trees’: what ecopreneur Thomas Crowther did next

Thomas Crowther understands more than most the danger of simple, optimistic messages about combating the climate crisis. In July 2019, the British ecologist co-authored a study estimating that Earth had space for an extra trillion trees on land not used for agriculture or settlement. Its implications were intoxicatingly hopeful. By restoring forests in an area roughly the size of China, the press release accompanying the paper suggested two-thirds of all emissions from human activities still present in the atmosphere could be removed.

The study, led by Jean-François Bastin, a postdoctoral researcher at Crowther’s lab in ETH Zürich, Switzerland, was the second most featured climate paper in the media in 2019, according to one analysis. It inspired the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) One Trillion Trees Initiative, launched last year after Salesforce billionaire Marc Benioff read the paper on the recommendation of Al Gore, the former US vice-president. The Time magazine owner told everyone he could about the research: chief executives, friends and world leaders, even convincing climate sceptic Donald Trump to back the WEF initiative with a multibillion tree commitment.

But since the study was published, it has faced intense scientific criticism. Several ecologists were outraged that forest restoration was framed as the “most effective climate change solution to date”, arguing that it was a dangerously misleading distraction from the urgency of cutting fossil fuel emissions.

Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist and director at California’s Breakthrough Institute, pointed out problems with the paper when it came out. “Reforestation might buy us up to a decade of time – maybe six or seven years of current emissions,” he says. “It’s not nothing, but it doesn’t really fundamentally change the story: we still need some pretty massive reductions in our emissions.

“The brutal maths of climate change is that, as long as emissions are above zero, the world will continue to warm. You’re going to max out pretty soon if you only try to use forests. Tree planting is not an alternative to mitigation.”…

Read the entire article here.

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