A Trillion Trees – How Hard Can It Be?

Data from 2016 pegs it as the hottest year since recording began way back in 1880. Carbon dioxide levels continue to sit at historical highs, and last year the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that humanity has just 12 years to limit warming to 1.5 C.

Reducing emissions is the gold standard, but it’s not the only way to go about solving the problem. There has been much research into the field of carbon sequestration — the practice of capturing atmospheric carbon and locking it away. Often times, this consists of grand plans of pumping old oil wells and aquifers full of captured CO2, but there’s another method of carbon capture that’s as old as nature itself.

As is taught in most primary school science courses, the trees around us are responsible for capturing carbon dioxide, in the process releasing breathable oxygen. The carbon becomes part of the biomass of the tree, no longer out in the atmosphere trapping heat on our precious Earth. It follows that planting more trees could help manage carbon levels and stave off global temperature rises. But just how many trees are we talking? The figure recently floated was 1,000,000,000,000 trees, which boggles the mind and has us wondering what it would take to succeed in such an ambitious program.

Can Trees Really Help?

Research has been done into the possibilities of global reforestation as a tactic to address climate change. Bastin, et al determined that there was capacity for a further 0.9 billion hectares of forest cover on Earth. It would take around 1 trillion trees to do so.

Here’s the real eye-opener: these trees could store 205 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, which would account for 2/3rds of the carbon dioxide humans have added to the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution. There’s plenty of benefits to planting trees on this scale. So just what would it take to plant a trillion trees?

A Trillion Is A Big Number

It’s a number that few of us come up against in day to day life. A trillion is equal to a thousand billion, or 1,000,000,000,000. Planting that many trees promises to require an unholy effort. The idea of getting the job done by hand — it’s about 130 trees per living person — boggles the mind, but there are other approaches that exist.

An artist’s impression on what aerial reforestration might look like.

One of the most promising ideas is that of aerial reforestation. The now seemingly defunct Aerial Forestation Inc. proposed a plan back in the late 1990s aiming to repurpose military aircraft fitted out to drop landmines. They would instead be reconfigured to drop specially designed cones, containing a sapling as well as fertilizer and moisture absorbent materials. The cones would bury themselves in the soil upon impact, biodegrading to allow the root system of the tree to develop.

Estimates suggest that a C-130 aircraft could deliver 125,000 trees per sortie, and up to 900,000 trees in a day. This is huge number of trees to be putting into the soil, but a trillion is still an enormous milestone to reach. Some back of the envelope calculations highlight the hurdles to be overcome to reach that number.

The C-130 Hercules is one of the world’s most popular military transport aircraft.

There are 2500 C-130 transport aircraft in the world. Assuming most of them are busy most of the time doing their existing jobs, a conservative estimate suggests that perhaps 250 aircraft could be dedicated to reforestation duties full time. It’s unlikely that every single day will be suitable for dropping trees, especially in the drier summer months. Making a ballpark estimation for weather and logistical concerns, we can say that perhaps 50% of the days of the year will be available for tree drops. With 250 aircraft working 182 days a year dropping 900,000 trees each day, that adds up to a touch over 40 billion trees a year. At this rate, it would take 25 years to get to 1 trillion trees. Not exactly a quick solution.

Unfortunately, there are more real world factors that get in the way of this becoming a reality. Simply keeping 250 aircraft flying such a rigorous schedule would require an effort nearing the level of the Berlin Airlift. Additionally, producing the saplings for delivery is no small task either, and would require huge swathes of land to be devoted to the production of both the saplings themselves as well as the cone casings for aerial delivery. For all this effort, the job would still take 25 years to complete!

During the Berlin Airlift, a Western supply plane landed in Berlin approximately every 30 seconds. Almost 300,000 flights were undertaken in total.

Throwing more aircraft at the problem would speed delivery, but only further increase the logistical difficulties of producing enough tree-ammo to drop on prospective forest locations. And we haven’t even touched on the fact that it’s far from likely that 100% of dropped trees will successfully grow.

There are further issues with trees as a carbon bank, too. Most of us who have heard of forests have also heard of forest fires — and trees only act as a carbon sink when they’re not burning. In areas where outbreaks of fire are common, grasslands can be a safer choice. This is due to the fact that several plant varieties store the majority of their carbon in their root systems, which don’t tend to burn. Any major project would have to take into account the best plant choice for the given region, balancing what can be grown in the local ecosystem with fire risks and the most efficient species for carbon storage.

It’s likely within the realms of possibility that this could be achieved. However, it would require a level of commitment similar to the total war doctrine seen in World War II, where countries geared their entire economic output towards ensuring their own survival. Of course, with the spectre of catastrophic climate change still looming on the horizon, that may be exactly what needs to happen anyway.

Progress is Made One Step at a Time

Projects like Africa’s Great Green Wall promise to make a dent in worldwide carbon levels.

While it’s demonstrably not easy to plant 1 trillion trees, let alone quickly, that doesn’t mean nobody is trying. The Billion Tree Campaign started back in 2006, and planted a billion trees by 2007. After morphing into the Trillion Tree Campaign, it has planted 13.6 billion trees to date, through a variety of methods involving donations and community involvement. Other efforts are also underway – China has undertaken significant reforestation activity, and the Great Green Wall project aims to significantly change the current state of the African landscape.

While it’s unlikely that we’ll see the trillion tree milestone reached anytime soon, all progress towards this goal is beneficial. In combination with emissions reductions and other environmental measure taken, there’s hope that catastrophic climate events can still be staved off with the right actions taken.

164 thoughts on “A Trillion Trees – How Hard Can It Be?

  1. “what it would take to succeed in such an ambitious program.” Start sooner ?

    Too many areas that once had forests and are now not being used for anything could be replanted. Not with the “oh, we won´t be able to plant 1 trillion trees”, but more with a kind of ” We need to plant trees here, let´s start to do it” attitude.

    How to build a pyramid like those from Egypt ? Well, you put a stone at the corner, then put another beside it, and keep going.

    1. What if the trees get the wrong CO2 and absorb CO2 that was not added to the atmosphere by humans? Trees have been known to make that mistake before. Will the trees receive any sort of training before being deployed?

        1. 100% agree. Restoring this many trees is a virtuous and worthwhile goal even on it’s own merit. There is no harm in pursuing it. As a side effect we may start to understand eco systems better, culturally.

      1. True, but a major problem is that politicians and other government officials do not understand the true concepts of proper fire prevention in California. One of the best methods to reduce the impact of wildfires is by the creation of firebreaks through natural forests. However, environmentalist radicals in CA have termed that “deforestation” and therefore prevent them from existing. It’s a simple fact, to restrict wildfires, you need to create gaps in their fuel.
        Due to more recent catastrophic wildfires in CA, some politicians are fortunately waking up to logical facts from CalFire and the like rather than the narrow mindedness of the radicals.

  2. There’s a very good half hour documentary on YouTube called ‘Fools & Dreamers: Regenerating a Native Forest’

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VZSJKbzyMc

    It’s stated that even if all of the Earth’s dry land was covered in forest it wouldn’t, on its own, be enough to offset all of the CO2 that we dump into the atmosphere. It will help a lot so it’s worth doing all that we possibly can with tree planting, but we also need to change how we use energy.

  3. I have been planting trees. 130 per person is something you do rather quick, in relation to the whole climate change issues. But it’s the watering and rest of the maintenance required to get to a full forest that might pose problems. Plus, getting every person to do it…hard.

    1. I think it’s finding the spar to do it that’s the issue.
      My garden wouldn’t fit more than one tree, and even one would threaten my foundations.
      Unfortunately the council keep mowing down the ones I plant in the park, and the local supermarket didn’t take kindly to me digging up their carpark to plant trees…

    2. I’ve planted a few hundred trees on my land, but have watched thousands pop up, on their own, where I simply stopped mowing and cutting hay. Meadows are simple and easier than manually introducing trees, where the climate permits. Places like Western China and Northern Africa though need careful species selection for drought tolerant and genetically diverse trees to make up a forest. Too many of the same tree invites disease and pests.

      We should also not discount the benefit of letting weeds grow in margin areas. They are highly competitive, fast growers in even poor soil and when they die and decompose add biomass to poor soil making it better soil for the next thing to grow there. Thistle, for example, is prolific, though you don’t want to walk through a stand of it. However, it puts deep roots down into poor soil allowing water air and nutrients to find their way deeper into formerly impenetrable clay deposits.

      If you want to make a difference locally, check out the many bio-intensive planting schemes people employ on their land to make maximum use of natural species and productive cultivars. Permaculture is what many people call it.

    3. Where did you plant the trees?

      Most people live in cities, there’s not much room there for any more trees (depending on the city), although if some car-centric cities moved a bit away from car-centrism, there’d be a lot of car parks that could be partially en-treed.

      And you can’t exactly just plant the trees where you like even in the countryside. People tend to own that land.

      You need areas for this activity to be identified, and perhaps bought, or incentives for tree planting introduced. Which introduces government into the equation. Good luck.

      1. That triggered a thought. Car parking lots are typically an asphalt wasteland. The only “trees” are fence posts and light poles. Runoff from rain is a problem from the non-porous surface.

        But you can park under a tree. It keeps the car cooler, too. Instead of paving the lot, why not plant trees? Leave the ground unpaved, so rain can soak in. To prevent the soil from compacting and damaging the roots, maybe lay some kind of grid instead of pavement. The trees could be natural barriers to delineate parking spots. Lights could even be hung on the trees.

        1. I thought about this a lot too…. and since trees grow up, there is not much surface area they will need.
          But i guess it all comes down to cost, such a thing is more expensive than a uniform lot of asphalt.

    1. I’ve allowed far more than that to grow on my homestead, which originally was grass for cattle. But not everyone has the acres for that. IMO, cities are an unsustainable dystopian disease, but that’s me. At least where I live there’s enough room the the solar panels that provide my power. Apartment buildings, not so much. Even if solar panels become 100% efficient, instead of the 15-17 percent now. There’s only so much improvement possible…

      One thing the article fails to mention is it’t not only burning that puts the CO2 back into the air, it’s rotting. So not only do you have to plant howevermany trees, you have to make them into lumber when it’s harvest time (which you somehow prevent from rotting) – they don’t live forever – and pay attention to a healthy tree farm situation – trees grow, and therefore absorb CO2 at varying rates depending on age, health, size sorts of parameters.

      So, planting a zillilon trees would be nice…but probably not a situation where it can be done and compensate for all the other dumb human tricks. At some point you’d have to fertilize the ground too – wood has more than CO2 in it, and the nutrients have to come from somewhere. As it now sits, fertilizer production is a pretty CO2 intense emitting business itself.

      Most problems can’t be solved by that “one weird trick” no matter how people’s lazy minds want to oversimplify things, or believe that somehow something easy and obvious has been missed all this time – it’s not like our ancestors were all morons and you were just smarter than the entire human population up till now. Vanity much?

      1. I suspect it is far more than just “one weird trick”… however, since trees also support other life, which also means net carbon absorption.

        More trees means more invertebrates, more mosses, more fungi, more birds, more algae, bacteria, mammals etc. In other words, planting trees increases biodiversity, which increases CO2 removal, so the more you plant, the more CO2 you remove, but the relationship is not necessarily entirely linear.

  4. I don’t think trillion is a big number at all in this context. Both my brother and my son were involved in tree planting projects and it was staggering how many trees one person can plant in a few weeks of summer tree planting camps. Dropping trees from airplanes to plant them… I dunno about that. It looks like a way to spend a lot of money on fuel and equipment that could be paid to people just as well.

      1. In BC, Canada, there used to be a program called EBAP (Employment Bridging Assistance Program). Basically, unless you had a condition that prevented you, if you wanted to receive welfare, you had to agree to take part in what were basically ‘make work’ projects. That type of system sounds like a good match for this situation.

          1. Right…because polishing up a resume and/or filling out applications can only be done during the daylight hours these make-work projects would be operated. And an able person with the kind of work ethic to be job hunting full time would have difficulty finding employment that pays better than welfare.

            Pull the other one.

          2. More like…. interviews can only be done during daylight hours. Also, these programs are often very far from where people live, combined with a single bus for all participants means that in addition to 8 hours of work you often have 4 hours of commuting.

          3. It has been proven that having a job increases, self esteem, motivation en in many cases some form of satisfaction caused by being part of the working class instead of sitting at home “searching for a job”. Belonging to the work force and feeling important again is important for the mind. Gaining experience that might help you in finding your next job. The longer you don’t have a job the more you are to be discouraged to look for one, because not getting the job you applied for (over and over again) doesn’t motivate to search harder. So after a certain amount of time not having a job becomes a sort of a stalemate or vicious circle that needs to be broken. Large scale work projects to create work for the unemployed, may not seem perfect but they do offer a solution to many.

            In the end, more people having jobs means more people being able to spend money which is good for the economy and eventually new jobs will rise from that growing economy.

          4. That’s totally a real issue. A friend of mine was out of work for a year, and he never had time to unlock every accomplishment in halo, because he didn’t have free time what with all the job interviews.
            It was hard even slotting in the interviews. Companies would ask him to interview, and he’d be like “sorry, my diary is solid with interviews at the moment. I can do 8:30 on a Saturday next month if you’re free?”

          5. That may be true for some, but a *LOT* of folks on welfare don’t bother looking for work. At least this way they would have meaninful work and something to put on their resume. …and, as most of the jobs were of the ‘less than fun’ kind, it incentivises people to find a better job.

  5. Trees aren’t the only way to sequester carbon. Algae grows much faster, and we can bury it into old mining shafts–essentially putting the carbon back underground, where we got it all in the first place. In a controlled environment, we can choose specific strains that grow quickly with very specific nutrient requirements. Or we can seed the oceans to encourage growth and gather it all up before the collapse of the bloom (which would absorb oxygen in the water and kill all the fish).

    Algae sequestration could absorb carbon in a matter of years rather than decades with trees.

    1. I guess people are suggesting trees because they sort of look after themselves as far as the CO2 sequestration goes. You don’t need to go back and bury them, although that would help.

        1. Obviously. I don’t think this project is supposed to be a long term CO2 sequestration effort though. It’s just to get enough CO2 out of the atmosphere to help us continue a little longer. Basically as long as you don’t chop the forests down it will work, trees will fall and rot, but new trees will replace them.

          1. @Elliot Williams – Why do you have to plant more?

            If you harvest via clear-cutting that is one thing. The ground dries up making it hard for new plants to get started so it takes decades to recover.

            There are cutting methods where a certain amount of tree coverage is purposely spared. This provides enough shade that the ground doesn’t dry up. Many stumps will grow new shoots that become full trees again. Existing trees shed seeds naturally planting their own offspring. It might not be as quick of a recovery as if someone does plant more but if you don’t want to bother with replanting yourself.

        2. Not all the rot from the wood heads into the atmosphere.

          At the University where I work (I’m a technician), there was a lecture about how increasing soil organic matter content could serve as a viable carbon sequestration method that could eliminate large amounts of atmospheric CO2. In short, if during farming we could leave behind more organic matter in the soil (by not tearing it to dust), we could have a viable means of reducing atmospheric CO2 using land we already farm on without losing it as cropland.

    2. I experimented with cultivating algae a couple years ago, very interesting stuff. Would definitely be my first thought for an operation like this rather than trees. But I can see how the relative difficulty of getting it to thrive compared to trees, which have more or less evolved to be self sufficient, would potentially be an issue.

        1. So, let’s just put phosphates back in laundry detergents. That’s why it was removed in the first place. It promoted the growth of algae when it found it’s way into lakes and streams. All our waterways may become a gunky green mess, but, hey, we’ll be savin’ the planet. ;)

    3. Bamboos can grow really fast and can spread on its own very aggressively.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo

      >Bamboos include some of the fastest-growing plants on Earth, with reported growth rates up to 910 mm (36 in) in 24 hours.[5] However, the growth rate is dependent on local soil and climatic conditions, as well as species, and a more typical growth rate for many commonly cultivated bamboos in temperate climates is in the range of 30–100 mm (1.2–3.9 in) per day during the growing period.

      > “Running” bamboos, though, need to be controlled during cultivation because of their potential for aggressive behavior. They spread mainly through their rhizomes, which can spread widely underground and send up new culms to break through the surface. Running bamboo species are highly variable in their tendency to spread; this is related to both the species and the soil and climate conditions. Some can send out runners of several metres a year, while others can stay in the same general area for long periods. If neglected, over time, they can cause problems by moving into adjacent areas.

    4. Why bury the algae? Why not use it to make plastics. This may seem like an odd statement, but the interesting thing about plastic is that it locks up large amounts of carbon. Indeed if we we had turned all our coal and oil reserves into plastics over the last 100 years and perhaps even built huge plastic windmills with the stuff, rather than burning the majority of it, we would arguably have had no net CO2 increase.

      1. Huh… I never thought of that. Is there a type of plastic which biodegrades on a timescale of years/decades, which could be buried as a type of soil amendment the way people want to do with biochar?

        1. Wood and paper products can also last a long time, as long as they’re prevented from rotting or burning, which would be the case if preserved as artifacts. Mycelium-derived material probably could as well, though it’s only been developed fairly recently.

    5. Nice thought, but that is a fish-kill/jellyfish bloom hazard.

      The problem with in ocean/in lake algae blooms is that when they die they rot. The rotting winds up sucking all of the available oxygen out of the water resulting in dead zones that kill fish (like the gulf dead zone that has been forming when the fertilizer runoff from agriculture gets into the mississippi river and runs into the ocean and results in the large algae blooms that result in algae dieoff that results in fish killng dead zones.

      This effect is also responsible for Jellyfish blooms because jellyfish require much less oxygen than fish to stay alive, and with reduced competition for food sources and reduced predation from fish they wind up forming massive blooms of jellyfish.

      Algae sequestration is not a bad idea, but there is a balance that needs to be maintained, and it’s the “out-of-balance” scenario that causes the problem when done in a lake or ocean. It may work in places where you dig out ponds for this specific application (ex: to make biofuels or large scale algae farming for food?)

      I’m not sure about the mineshaft option because
      a) Mines are dark and
      b) algae are photosynthetic and
      c) Mines are not known for their airflow.

  6. The wildcard(s) are the side effects in terms of water consumption and the changes in water movement that would result from adding a trillion trees. It’s not an insignificant consideration….

    1. Water does not get “consumed” it is recycled unless you shoot it into space. The earth has the same amount of water it always has had except for the water used in the space programs that is no longer on the planet.

      1. Water only gets recycled if it’s released. If the water is in the cells of an organism, it probably won’t let it go without a fight. Trees are pretty big organisms and that means a lot of water will be out of circulation for a good long while. Sure it’ll be recycled… Eventually.

          1. Someone forgot the formula for photosynthesis . Here’s a hint, one of the reactants is CO2, what’s the other? the products are carbon chains (cellulose) and O2. So, water is definitely consumed and converted to something else. It’s not released until you burn the wood or it decomposes. But as others have pointed out that also releases the CO2. So. just like Trees sequester carbon, they also sequester water.

    2. It will likely aid rather than hinder.

      Water runoff from bare lands that used to be wooded is a major issue resulting in flash floods, and the land being washed away. Planting trees helps a lot with the situation.

  7. I’ve been around long enough to attest to the weather changes and that these have picked up pace, particularly of recent. When reports of dying corals began to be heard I realized it was advancing rapidly enough that much worse will be seen in my lifetime. Unfortunately, now reports are coming in which give concern that the changes are becoming even more rapid with indications we’ve breached a few different hysteresis points. Not to fear however… as a race we’ll survive, but it would be best to learn how to manipulate flint and use a bow and arrow at this time to help insure your grandchildren know it. Mother Nature, Gaia, may well slap us back into place as hysteresis points tend to do.

    I do not believe we’ve come to the tipping point quite yet… but I do believe we are foolish enough to continue rushing right into it with many denying it the whole way.

    1. Remember that reports of dying corals correlates with increased surveillance underwater with diving gear and access and satellites and all that. Orders of magnitude increase in observation might reveal things you didn’t know before.

  8. Dear children – am disappointed in your judgement and ethics. Previous post was, for whatever reason, deleted. While there some problems with poor assumptions, bad data, and political intrigue, there is something amiss. I have seen some significant changes in my life that younger humans have not been able to observe or directly measure. Still believe that the root cause of whatever problems we have is that there are too many humans on this planet.

    Re-post, 2d attempt:

    1. ‘sapling’ tree mortality is high.
    2. available saplings of species that would enable carbon sequestration are not significant.
    3. air transport, certainly for C130s, has a much higher carbon ‘footprint’ compared to local manual planting of whatever is available (about FIVE orders of magnitude greater).
    4. many tree species have or are now succumbing to current climatic conditions or are in decline due to non-native/invasive species, so some ecosystems can no longer support any significant number of re-planting efforts.
    5. diminishing returns – we are at at least 400ppm CO2, which is approaching optimal for plants.

    1. If warming follows predictions, the vast lands of the Northern Hemisphere will become hospitable for tree species that grow much bigger and faster. The land mass is so large that CO2 will drop to levels that produce cooling, thus pushing the permafrost south again. On the other hand, warming ocean water holds less dissolved gases. Sea life will suffer and CO2 released to the atmosphere will ….. OMG!

  9. Well, I am not a climate activist, but I really get angry sometimes. Why? Take the rain forests for example, no matter if in Brazil or Borneo or somewhere else: it is sacrified for our consumption of more or less useless stuff. We, the ‘western-civilized world’, led by the USA, are most responsible for pretty everything regarding the climate change. Too much consumption, too much meat, too much sugar, too much of whatever just to make you sick and companies richer.

    So we need large areas for agriculture and so on. But here is a city, there is a desert, so where? Ah, look at this rain forest! Just burn it down and plant palm trees or use it for meat production (cows). This is crazy.

    When do we punish companies for crimes they do in other countries? Tell me. It is not even planned.

  10. Forget the trees. Just plant something fast-growing that can be cut with a harvester, like hemp, and store it underground in a way that won’t let it release the CO₂ through rotting. Or make paper out of it, hemp makes excellent paper.

      1. The problem with a monoculture is that if a disease or pest gets into it it all dies or requires constant maintenance! We need more diverse forests, meadows and forest edges for other life to live as well. Bio diversity is needed for a healthy environment! Have you ever been in a monoculture forest, hardly any life except for that tree!

        1. Well, you don’t care, because you cut it down and store it anyways.
          A forest is going to absorb so much CO₂ and stop. With constant harvesting and storing of the biomass you keep absorbing as much CO₂ as you need. But sure, select several species of fast-growing plants, doesn’t have to be one thing.
          Note that you will also need loads of fertilizer, as the plants will destroy the soil fast, but that’s relatively easy to get without producing more CO₂.

  11. Where did this 1 trillion number ‘float’ in from?

    Wouldn’t 1 trillion trees on ~5billion sowable acres be crazy optimistic. Like every bit of soil crammed with trees right up against each other? It’s my understanding that only areas with sufficient water can support forests. Less water means further tree separation.

    Even if they could grow against each other, wouldn’t this also mean that most farm area be given up to forests and thus a MASSIVE reduction in human population?

    Since the vast majority of greenhouse gasses come from the four Eastern continents (https://cdiac.ess-dive.lbl.gov/) and they also own the lion’s share of area where trees could be planted, wouldn’t this concept be utterly silly without thier cooperation?

    500 Million 1st world people: Stop eating, breading and polluting, I’m gonna cover your farms with trees so my kids don’t get too hot.
    6 Billion 3rd world people: Umm… no. Delay the inevitable on your own land while we destroy this place trying to get what you were lucky to have inherited.

    1. Most of the land area of the Earth is completely unused. Agricultural land is a tiny fraction.

      Recent research into accelerating forest regrowth suggests that with proper soil preparation, and planting many seedlings per sq m (“crammed with trees”), an optimal fast growing dense canopy would emerge, shading the ground and enhancing water retention. Sure, some seedlings would die, but these would be the weaklings that couldn’t stand the pressure of competing for sunlight.

      Many “3rd world people” are completely cognizant of the mistakes made by the “1st world people”. They are trying not to repeat those mistakes. But they still want a better life, as they should.

      “MASSIVE reduction in human population” is going to happen eventually, for all sorts of reasons. There should probably only be about 1Bn people on this planet.

    2. Even worse than you think. 40% of sowable land is currently used for farming. Other area used for livestock brings that percentage well over 60%.

      Unlike the ‘trillion tree’ comment, here’s a source: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/12/agriculture-food-crops-land/

      Planting a trillion trees would basically mean killing civilization as we know it.

      Even if we were to only plant on the remaining 40%, and considering trees can’t be planted like corn, a ‘trillion’ is still an order of magnitude unrealistic.

      If we couldn’t get the cooperation of places like South America, China and India, then we’d be limited to planting MILLIONS of trees. So does it make sense to pursue this idea?

      1. Can’t fault your logic, but the answer is still “yes, it makes sense to pursue this idea” … with the emphasis on ‘pursue’ and the clue is in the title of the article .. the challenge of making a large tree planting effort work smoothly is trivial compared with other engineering problems we’ve solved as a species.

        The activity should be correctly labelled ‘reversing ecological damage’. The current pace of environmental destruction (including deforestation) may kill our civilization anyway, so not being willing to start fixing things is the root problem.

        and .. we might get 1% of the way through the initiative and discover issues, but having a surplus of 10 billion additional trees at that point cannot surely be considered a problem.

        1. Think you missed the point. He’s saying the act of planting trees is not required in ANY scenario.

          Two ends of the spectrum:
          1. You spend decades replacing all farms with trees. Humanity largely dies off as the trees replace food. Decades later some of the first forests emerge.
          2. Today you cut off human food supplies. Plants take over farms immediately and decades later forests grow anywhere it’s possible, because nature.

          Also, trees aren’t necessarily better at producing CO2 than dense brush. Most dense brush grows faster and requires less water and it’s already there. This is where it’s best to take a step back and consider what you’re trying to accomplish.

          So the answer is no, it doesn’t make sense to pursue this idea. If the goal is to ‘fix’ global warming, reducing humanity is the only core concept.

          1. “planting trees = killing humans” is definitely an argument that NO ONE is making. Someone’s comprehension skills are declining or deceptive debate skills improving.

            Massively replacing farms with trees will, by any standard, equate to less food.

            Massively reducing the global food supply will, by any standard, reduce the human population.

            Massively reducing the human population will, by any standard, increase the number of trees…. without the need to plant a single one.

            Trees have this habit of growing anywhere they can.

          2. I’m still appalled by your argument which amounts to ‘don’t bother planting trees (because farms, because nature)’. You are ignoring the fact there are massive tracts of land NOT already used for farming, which could benefit from the activity – for example, planting mangroves can help preserve coastlines.

            I will stand by my assertion that planting trees is a worthwhile effort which should be included in the many things we need to do to reverse ecological damage (and yes, which should include population reduction efforts). I hope anyone who reads this thread might agree that environmental *inaction* will only increase net human suffering and misery.

  12. “Drop specially designed cones, containing a sapling as well as fertilizer and moisture absorbent materials. The cones would bury themselves in the soil upon impact, biodegrading to allow the root system of the tree to develop.”

    My first thought on seeing that proposal was that there are plenty of off the shelf air-droppable, low terminal velocity tree planting packages available.

    Not sure there’s a need to re-invent the wheel here…

      1. The software blocked the HTML IMG tags that had contained an image of a winged maple seed. There are a lot of other seeds that also have paper-thin membranes that would let them float out of an airplane and scatter themselves over a wide area, such as elm, redbud, or mimosa (although the last is considered an invasive weed where I live), or are just plain tiny with a low terminal velocity.

    1. Looks like my image tag got erased. I had intended to post a picture of a winged maple seed. There are a lot of other seeds that would scatter in a similar fashion if air dropped and would easily survive a fall from anything short of an attempt at teraforming from orbit.

  13. Looking at aircraft as a delivery system, calculations should *begin* with how much carbon you’re dumping through burning aircraft fuel. Seems like it isn’t worth considering. (No, I’m not going to do the math… even without that, the author did a pretty good job of killing that idea :) ).

    1. That was my first thought too “what about the carbon in the fuel for the planes?”

      Then I realised it was utterly trivial compared with the carbon captured and this is as they say “a no-brainer”.

      It’s worth asking questions though as sometimes someone will think of something others haven’t. (It’s not common but can happen)

  14. I think eco-friendly peat fired steam land-ships are a better choice. They can plow wide tree rows across the tundra that is soon to be a verdant temperate forest. They can pull a land train of greenhouses with them to supply the saplings. Problem solved!

  15. To those wondering about mystery deletions, the current comment system only allows deletion of entire threads, not individual comments. If one comment in a thread must be deleted then the entire thread goes.

  16. Three thoughts: (1) Most lumber companies now include replanting trees as old trees are cut. I read somewhere that the growth rate of those trees has turned out to be 400% greater than planned. Maybe the trees sniffed the new CO2
    (2) CO2 is soluble in water. That’s how limestone caves get made. If (as some have suggested) the weather is getting more stormy, that leaves more water droplets to dissolve more CO2.
    (3) There’s already a HUGE band of trees — surely way more than a trillion — wrapped around the earth. These are the trees in the near-arctic forests. The problem is that, during the winter, they’re covered with snow, so don’t absorb any CO2.

    But as the earth warms, the snow melts earlier, so those trees also can absorb more CO2.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a big believer in the Gaia theory. Not that “earth mother” mumbo-jumbo, but the simple fact that the life on Earth has feedback loops that tend to make the environment most conducive to life on Earth.

    Today I saw that Greenland lost 12.5 billion tons of ice, melting in a single day. Sounds awful, until you read that it’s raised the sea level by a whopping 0.5 mm. Wow! Where’s Al Gore when we need him?

  17. How about as a start, plant the land around Mt Kilimanjaro? The glaciers on top of that mountain have been gone and come back in the past. There are photographs to prove it. The glaciers up there increase when dry air blows across the land below and picks up moisture. The moist air that blows up the sides of the mountain produces snow when it reaches the altitude where the temperature drops below freezing.

    In years with more rainfall around the mountain, the snowfall atop the mountain increases. In dry years there’s less to no snow atop the mountain.

    In that *local area* human activity has reduced plant life to where the low altitude air has been dryer than normal for long enough that the glaciers atop Kilimanjaro have almost completely sublimated away.

    The glaciers up there *never melt*. Snow and ice don’t melt if the temperature never rises above the freezing point of water.

    How they shrink is through sublimation. When air that’s dry enough moves over ice, it can ‘snatch away’ water molecules from the surface of the ice. Over time that action slowly wears down the ice as it sublimates directly from solid phase to vapor phase.

    It’s the same process that happens in a frost free freezer. The freezing air slowly moving through the freezer is kept so dry that it pulls water molecules from ice cubes and out of food. Left long enough in a frost free freezer, food can dry out and ice cubes sublimate away completely. If food packaging has any porosity at all to molecules the size of water or larger, it cannot protect against “freezer burn”.

  18. What about an army of robotic tree planters? There could be two types, one that digs a hole and fills it in once the tree or seedling is placed (I’m thinking something that resembles a think tree spade with a conveyor belt used to move soil). The second moves trees from a delivery site and places them in holes that were dug moments earlier.

    I’ve also heard of using biochar as a form of both soil restoration and carbon sequestration. It could be made from agricultural waste, fast-growing plants, invasive species, or algae, then mixed with the soil.

  19. I’m greatly in favour of taking all of europes sewage, extracting methane and other atmospheric nasties to make useful fuels (Hydrogen ect.) then pump it all to the sahara. Something will grow eventually

  20. Someone above said that they can’t delete individual posts, only entire conversations. If that’s true, it’s a great opportunity for trolls to silence people; pick a thread you don’t like then just post something that’s so over the top against the rules and they’ll have to just memory hole the whole thread. Trolling AND plausible deniability! I’m too cynical to believe Hackaday isn’t complicit in the practice.

    1. “Akismet works by checking all your comments against our constantly-growing global spam database to remove irrelevant, malicious content before it gets published and damages your site’s credibility.”
      Maybe it is being automatically deleted before the mods see it, anti-climate change opinions being irrelevant or malicious.

    2. No, Joe, it’s vice-versa. We can delete anywhere in a comment tree, but all of the child nodes go when a parent does. Prune a branch, and it takes all of those leaves with it. (Oh the apropos metaphor!) But the leaves on other branches stay.

      The end result? If you post in response to a troll, it’ll get deleted when we kill the troll’s post. So don’t bother replying to a troll. Hit the “report comment” button to get it sent back to moderation, and deleted sooner.

      Trolls can’t kill otherwise good threads. We just lop them off at the troll.

  21. 500 million years ago the Earth was a ball of ice, 50,000 years ago Northern Europe was under a mile of ice, the Earth’s temperature goes up and goes down and life will exists weather the the temperature goes up by 1.5 C or not.

    1. https://xkcd.com/1732/

      The earth has been hotter and it has been colder. So far as we know it has never changed temperature so rapidly. It’s going fast enough that natural selection only gets a few generations to act, and if the current die off of wildlife is any indication, it’s just not enough.

      1. Global temperatures changed just as rapidly during the LIA and the MWP.

        The current warming isn’t 1.5C by the way. This figure actually represents both NATURAL warming (1C or more) and the remainder (supposedly) man-made (<0.5C). This fact is almost never pointed out when using the 1.5C figure. I wonder why?

        The figure for the man-made part of it is, arguably, real or fake depending on how you look at the way they measure it. Funny how all the adjustments favour the indication of warming – they are NEVER adjusted to show any cooling even though that has been demonstrably proven. I wonder why?

  22. Is planting a trillion trees the end-all perfect and super-easy solution that will solve everything? Certainly not. Is it easy? Not precisely, but it’s probably one of the easiest and most effective things that we can do to combat climate change. Will it totally solve the problem? Of course not, but it will certainly go a long long ways! Planting zillions of trees would probably give us our biggest bang-for-the-buck. I have been promoting this idea for years.
    … And who doesn’t like trees? I don’t see how we can go wrong with this. Oh, wait, corrupt politicians and bureaucratic bungling (which got us here to begin with). THAT’S what we need to solve.

  23. Kind of sad in the U.S. areas where large tree planting campaigns occurred with the Civilian Conservation Corps have been removed. Especially, in the dust bowl regions. Looks like the link below notes the “Tree Army” planted 3 billion trees.
    https://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1586.html

    I’m thinking with tissue culture methods and GMO “open source” strains… the issue could be tackled very reliably if the time and resource were provided. Seems a very simple problem to solve from my observations. Let’s say, start with everyone on public assistance has to plant XXXX number of trees in a year.

    Super simple start that I’d think the Conservation Districts, Departments of Natural Resources and USDA could muster up the brain trust regarding “how to” with some industry experts on “open source” or somehow licensed to be public GMO highly reliable strains to negate later harvesting as well as seedling and cloning transplanting issues. Seems like two great problems with easy solution potential.

  24. 1. Buy ocean going barge.
    2. Install soil.
    3. Plant mangroves. (Sequesters carbon, converts salt water to fresh water, rebuilds diversity)
    4. Tow into middle of ocean.
    5. Profit!

  25. I love how American’s think they can fix global warming by adding tree’s, what the actual f- is the logic behind this? i’ve read the article and i still dont understand, surely you people understand that the co2 polution goes up into the atmosphere, it wont go look for the nearest tree… it comes down weeks if not months later, when it already damaged the atmosphere, and it tends to come down in the same area where it rose up, so unless you start carpet bombing all your factories with tree saplings theres really no point to this, if anything its a waste of good trees.

    Also surely you people understand that most saplings dont sprout into trees yes? theres a reason forests are not solid but tree’s tend to be about a meter apart or more.

    Just kick the orange ape out of the office, and get back in the global climate agreements, that would actually help and cost nowhere near as much, limiting your co2 output like the rest of the world is doing is the actual way forward, carpet bombing area’s with tree saplings is not (not to even begin mentioning what adding 1000’s of tree’s can do to an area in the sense of ground water/nutrients etc)

    1. Surely you realize that CO2 is a gas that is mixed into our atmosphere along with all of the other gases in our air. CO2 doesn’t go up into our atmosphere and “damage it”, CO2 is a constituent part of our atmosphere just like nitrogen, oxygen, argon, helium and lots of other stuff. CO2 has always been in our atmosphere as long as there has been life on earth (only the amounts change). The theory says that increased CO2 helps our atmosphere hold in heat which leads to climate change. The debatable science how much impact humans have on the CO2 levels vs normal geologic and cosmic processes. In a nutshell, yeah trees actually hold carbon out of our atmosphere while they are alive, so do most other plants. That is a fact. Actually an even better absorber of carbon is algae which sucks up even more CO2 than trees pound per pound.

  26. When decimation of the coral was publicized it was not THE factor that influenced my decision about the ecology heading to disaster. It was given to readers as a marker in time of when it became obvious to myself that we’ve been seriously screwing ourselves and the situation is more hazardous than apparent.

    We passed the tipping point quite a while ago. We will experience the ecological backlash. Heroic efforts to protect the environment, if implemented, will reduce the impact on humanity, but we’ve already bought the ticket for this ride and the roller coaster left the gate 20 or more years ago. The only questions are if we’re making enough change to reverse the effects, and how long those will take to show a positive effect, and what peaks it will hit in the meantime.

    You know, we respond to a house fire AFTER the fire is blatantly apparent and often this is beyond when the house can be saved. Some things need to be prevented rather than addressed once in progress.

    Just read the news and pay attention for the next 30 yrs…

  27. It’s worth reading the short story “The Man Who Planted Trees” by Jean Giono. Or watch it (there are animated versions) or listen to it (there are books on tape). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Planted_Trees

    It’s the allegorical story of a simple shepherd who spent his life planting trees, and the marvelous improvements he made to what was formerly a desolate area. The book is famous, and inspired many people to duplicate his feat in their areas of the world.

  28. Not every tree would have to be planted by humans. Nature is very capable of creating more trees after a certain point of reforestation. We just have to stop cutting them down….

  29. Not really. Depends on when the panels were made. Prior to 2010 they cost more energy to make then they produce. Current panels are a better but still not that good. (Best number I saw was 75%).

  30. Check my math here please. I have the land surface of the earth at 57,130,000 square miles. A trillion trees works out to 17,503.9 trees per square mile on every mile of the earth’s land surface. That works out to a tree in each 1,592 square feet. This means you have to divide the entire land surface of the earth into squares, each square being 39.9 ft across and you have to put a tree in every box. Note that this includes ALL land surface area which might be covered in ice, desert, cities, your house, New York city, Paris, etc. I am not sure where we will grow food at.

    Of course my math could be all wrong here.

    1. TOTAL land area is (according to gobble) 197,000,000 sq miles. If you discount deserts, high plains (over 5,000 feet), arctic/antarctic etc your figure seems right.

      But when did actual facts stand in the way of outrageous claims by the eco brigade?

  31. A trillion tees is a huge undertaking, especially for short term carbon storage . I say short term because the trees will eventually die and rot, a lot of the captured co2 is released during decomposition. What about other green plants that grow easier than trees? suppose a plant like corn were bio engineered (don’t panic would not be for consumption) to lock up more co2 than normal and then “harvest” the co2 stuffed biomass and deposit it in old coal mines in compressed bales and seal the filled up sections of mine as you go. new crop planted every year, carbon locked in old mines, and far easier to have 1 trillion corn plants than trees so even if it takes 100 trillion corn plants we can do that much more effective than planting trees we have the infrastructure already in current farming equipment, tech, distribution methods and no new or repurposed equipment. any thoughts ?

  32. I find bringing up anything that conflicts with building planned communities and strip malls makes some cultures angry.. I was born in the 80s and most places I have been have next to no trees now..

  33. Why only 12 years? Why not 11? or 13?

    And why 1.5 degrees? Why not 1.4 or 1.6?

    These figures have been produced without proper data – GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) they say.

    We’ve had any number of ‘we only have xx days/weeks/months/years to save the planet’ – and NONE of the dire predictions have come to pass. I seriously doubt whether this new one will either.

    Instead of planting a trillion trees how else could deprived, displaced, disadvantaged humans be helped? That’s an AWFUL lot of wasted resources/manpower to satisfy a religious belief in ‘catastrophe’. Besides, increasing CO2 levels are already greening the planet – fact.

    I’m not a denier – climate change is real – but the effects and computer predictions regarding future warming have NEVER been right. How come so many science-inspired commenters on here are not questioning the science?

  34. The devil is in the details.
    If we plant diverse forests consisting of trees native to their areas, in areas that was forest before, that’s good.
    If we plant forests in wetlands, savannas, meadows, etc., we are going to destroy habitats of animals and plants and cause horrible extinction. Same when we use non-native trees, e.g. eucalyptus is used now in many African countries.

  35. A functioning solution will not be simply a trillion trees, it will be a trillion different ideas and methods of which those deemed a great chance of effectiveness are acted upon with urgency, and the lesser solutions also being put into progress. Trees is one of those lesser but much needed solutions, along with thousands of others.

    One of the larger items that has my attention are large deposits of frozen methane at the ocean floor and subterranean on land. Globally the quantity is massive. We’ve documented events of these suddenly turning to gas form and releasing into the atmosphere when warmed or even just simply disturbed. This is greenhouse gas in massive quantities, on steroids, globally, and we have no way to capture and sequester such quantities should they be released. And I’m sure you’ve all heard about how much methane cows produce as part of their natural digestive process. Best to work on this problem right along with the trees project.

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