Will Reforestation Help The Environment
We learned about photosynthesis, plants pull in carbon dioxide and water, then use the energy of the sun to produce sugars and oxygen. So, having more trees will help reduce carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But how much carbon dioxide can be sequestered by planting trees is not simple as [the number of trees] x [4 to 40 tons of CO2]. The right types of trees need to be planted in the right place in the right way. Rather than completely criticize tree planting project for carbon offsetting or blindly donate your money to any project, know what makes a good project and support it.
Causes of Deforestation
You might think of tropical rainforests when you hear about the deforestation problem. 95% of global deforestation occurs in the tropics, and Brazil and Indonesia are the largest. This may sound like the problem is in these countries, but the problem starts with the consumer demands for the products which need resources extracted from the area. For example, palm oil is used in more than 50% of items we use, from food to chemicals. Oil palm is 10 times more efficient than any other plant to produce vegetable oil, and it is a very good plant. However, it grows only in tropical regions. The deforestation problem was created by other countries consuming palm oil, or manufacturers making products with palm oil oversea.
Just an additional piece of information about palm oil – About 65% of palm oil production is used for food, particularly junk food such as frozen pizza, cookies, chocolate, chips, and cakes. You could avoid buying cosmetics and other products containing palm oil, but the best way to reduce palm oil consumption is to stop eating junk food.
Today, 1.5 acres of forests are cut down every second around the world. The biggest causes of deforestation are cattle and soya production that feeds farmed animals followed by illegal logging, mining, and urbanization. You may think of deforestation is a modern issue, but it is not entirely true. Humans have been cutting down trees for centuries and we have lost about 50% of forests compared to 5,000 years ago. You may also think building cities to accommodate growing populations causes deforestation, but urban land accounts for just 1% of global habitable land. Our biggest footprint is due to what we eat, not where we live.
Deforestation and Climate Change
Forests and trees store carbon but when trees are burned, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Deforestation contributes up to 10% of the carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activity. Existing forests are also degrading. The total area of forest does not change, but the biological wealth is diminishing. There are fewer trees and fewer species of plants and animals. According to satellite data, tropical forests now emit more carbon than they capture due to deforestation and degradation. So, they are no longer a carbon sink. There are many causes of forest degradation such as mining activity nearby, air pollution, soil pollution, and acid rain.
Forest takes centuries to develop the ability to sequester carbon. Natural forests have complex structures and accumulation of carbon belowground in the forest floor. Mature natural forests store significantly more carbon and provide additional benefits than recently regenerated forests.
Can Tree Planting Solve Climate Change
Growing forests can capture CO2 in their biomass and soils and provide a habitat for many animals. It is still important to restore forests for many reasons, not only to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. But we need to be careful about planting trees. There are a few reasons why tree plantation can go wrong.
Where to plant trees: Open space like a grassland seems perfect. But there is already an established ecosystem there storing tons of carbon. An acre of native grassland can store as much as 80 tons of carbon, and at least two-thirds of the carbon an acre of forest can store. Planting trees in native grassland, especially non-native ones will kill the grasses, disrupt the ecosystem, and un-store basically all its stored carbon. The same thing happens when we plant trees in other places like moors and peat bogs. Even if the trees grow, they can take CO2 back out of the air only decades later. We should focus on where forests used to exist before we cut them for timber or farmland.
What trees to plant: Many tree plantation projects grow fast-growing trees to be harvested in 10 years. These trees will be cut down for sale. They store some carbon, but they will not provide any benefits such as biodiversity. Planting only one or two species, monoculture plantations can deplete soil quality and erosion. We need to grow forests, not just trees. This means we need to plant a variety of native species and let nature recover itself.
If a forest planted by humans successfully grows, it takes at least 100 years to mature. If a piece of land is left without human intervention, a forest will naturally build itself in 600 to 1,000 years. Usually, it starts with some short grass. Once some flowers in shrubs attract insects, birds and small animals will come with seeds. In a mature forest, there are large birds and primate species on the tallest trees, many insects and animals live in the canopy, and fungi and insects decompose organic matter on the floor. When you donate to reforestation or afforestation project, pay attention to how they do.
The fastest way to grow a real forest starts with the soil. Researchers need to investigate the quality of soil and climate to decide what trees to plant. Then add some nutrients such as compost and chicken manure. The planting area must cover at least 100 square meters. There should be 50 to 100 different tree species to be planted. The project should be for growing a forest, not just trees. The planted area should be looked after for the first 2-3 years. But do not replace the trees die. Once trees become self-sustaining, it is best to leave themselves.
Protecting our planet from environmental damage isn’t only about storing carbon. It’s also about conserving native plants and animals, keeping the water clean, and ensuring everyone has the food they need. But it turns out that planting trees in a way that maximizes how well ecosystems function rather than maximizing the sheer number of trees, accomplishes all these goals. In other words, when it comes to planting for our planet, we need to make sure we see the forests for the trees.
Epic projects for Inspiration
Chimanimani Zimbabwe – Springs were drying up in the lands of the Chimanimani tribe in southeastern Zimbabwe. The hillside forest had been cleared and the land was dehydrated depleting the water supply for the village of Titicati. A small group got together to try and figure out how to revitalize their springs. In 1991, was introduced the idea of permaculture as a system for the land design and water management. The villagers got to work and built water harvesting structures and planted trees above the spring. The spring flow started again after the rains and so they kept going and restored more land around the village with great success. Before you knew it the project had spread to other 6 villages, encompassing over 7000 people. They terraced the hillsides, dug water harvesting swales, built water tanks and ponds, planted forests for fuel and building materials, fenced sensitive areas from grazing animals, planted vegetables and fruits, and brought their community from a place of food and water insecurity to great abundance. Today, 80% of households are food self-reliant.
Loess Plateau China – This is a region that was denuded of plants resulting in serious soil erosion. The land dried up because hills were stripped bare by deforestation, overcropping, and overgrazing. The earth was just washing down into the rivers causing floods of muddy water below. Winds were turning the unstable soils into massive dust storms which were blowing into China’s cities and towns. The government identified this problem and selected 35,000 square kilometers of the plateau to regenerate. They designated the steepest slopes and gullies as protected ecological zones. Farmers were paid not to farm them and to keep their livestock away from sensitive areas. In 15 years, this project brought these landscapes and communities from degradation and poverty to natural wealth and financial abundance.
Forest degradation - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forest_degradation
Forests and Decarbonization - https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/ffgc.2020.00058/full
How Rainforests are Formed, and How They are Being Destroyed - https://www.globalforestwatch.org/blog/data-and-research/tropical-rainforest-ecology-and-threats/