The past decade has seen the birth of many tree-planting projects. Countries, companies, and cohorts have committed to planting millions, billions, and even one trillion trees by certain short-term dates. These efforts are growing in popularity and may succeed in achieving multiple objectives, including combatting the effects of deforestation, contributing to biodiversity, aesthetic beautification, and cleaning the atmosphere of greenhouse gases.
The idea of planting trees is popular for obvious reasons, but what does it really look like? With such a large target, are these numbers realistic or hyperbolic with the intention of energizing others to plant as many trees as they can? To answer these, we survey a few of the most interesting efforts and explore the innovative and technological ways they’re achieving their goals.
An estimated 20 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emission comes from tropical deforestation. The Earth’s tree population is believed to have declined by nearly 46 percent in the last 12,000 years. Today, there are just over three trillion trees on the earth, and we lose about 15 billion every year. It is estimated that five billion new trees grow each year, leading to a net loss of as many as 10 billion trees each year. If this rate were to continue unabated, it would theoretically take 300 years to reduce the planet to treelessness.
These statistics are daunting and create the sense of urgency felt by all of the organizations who have set forth massive goals for tree planting by a certain date. Many of these organizations are using new business strategies or even new technologies to meet these goals.
One company, TenTree clothing company, leverages their merchandise toward their tree-planting efforts. Under their business model, every single item purchased plants 10 trees. Having already planted over 58 million trees in the last decade, TenTree’s goal is planting one billion trees by 2030. TenTree meets its goal by working hand in hand with other tree planting organizations like Eden Reforestation Projects, Trees for the Future, One Tree Planted, and Parks Canada.
Beyond simply donating money or bolstering traditional tree-planting efforts, innovative strategies have arisen to hasten global afforestation and reforrestation. Some of those innovations are as basic as seed balls formed to avoid animal grazing and weather impacts. In Kenya, one such program encapsulates seeds in charcoal dust and has dispersed over 15 million in the last five years. Distant Imagery uses drones to disperse germinated seeds to promote mangrove forests. Flash Forest and Dendra Systems are innovators stepping seedpods up a notch by also utilizing advanced aerial hardware and software – allowing them to map the geography and topography, optimize plans for planting, survey existing biodiversity, and more. These organizations then use drone technology to reforest at a rapid rate. According to their website, Flash Forrest can reforest areas at 10 times the speed of a human planter by transferring that labor to drones. They project the ability to fire up to 100,000 seed pods into the ground per day at full capacity. Focusing not only on quantity, but on the quality of biodiversity, Dendra boasts that each drone can contain seeds for up to 50 species of tree.
On a larger scale, entire countries are also setting goals to plant trees, restore ecosystems, and clean the air.
In India, a single-day project in 2016 allegedly achieved a record 50 million trees planted. Ethiopia, determined to surpass this record, allegedly managed an incredible 350 million in a 12-hour period, with plans to plant 20 billion by the end of 2022.
Pakistan is perhaps one of the most well-known of the tree-focused countries. Pakistan currently ranks fifth on countries most affected by extreme weather from 1999-2018. They face weather patterns such as unpredictable rain and extreme heat. These impacts will likely create food and water shortages, affecting a population in which half work in the agricultural industry.
In 2018, Pakistan embarked on the 10 Billion Tree campaign. This goal comes off the momentum set by their previous One Billion Tree campaign, beginning in 2014 and met in 2017. Pakistan’s main objective in this pursuit is to restore their landscape, provide much-needed jobs, and combat the effects that climate change is having on their country.
Pakistan is also the host country for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a United Nations effort to combat the degradation of ecosystems around the world, contribute to biodiversity, and counteract climate change by 2030.
This goal of 2030 is based off of research and predictions that claim this timeline is our nearest window to prevent certain catastrophic effects of climate change, thus instilling even more of a sense of urgency.
There is more to trees than simply absorbing carbon emissions and producing oxygen, they can also contribute to biodiversity, restore ecosystems, and generate economic growth. The mission set forth by countries, companies, and coalitions generally set with varying goals in mind, but all based on the same necessity to plant more trees in the world.
Around the world, individuals, teams, organizations, and even nations are pledging to plant trees. From a small neighborhood park and to a Great Green Wall, these projects will combine to expand the number of trees on the planet at rates far higher than trees are being cut down or utilized. While the full benefits of carbon sequestration may take time as trees mature, the effort to plant so many today will surely accrue benefits for the entire planet within the decade.
Written by John Cassibry, Media Coordinator
PSA: If you would like to plant a tree in your yard, neighborhood, park, or field, make sure to call 811 before you dig to make sure you do not accidentally hit a pipeline, electrical line, internet cable, or other underground utility!
The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.