Planting 20 Million Trees, Using Drones, Cannons, And More Unconventional Ways

When YouTuber MrBeast hit 20 million subscribers, it kicked off the promise to plant 20 million new trees by 2020. While seeming rather mad for a single person to attempt such a feat, the channel has begun an organized effort under the banner of ‘Team Trees‘. With many famous and less famous YouTubers and other online personalities pitching in, along with a number of companies and organizations, it seems like it’s not as far-fetched of an idea as it first seemed.

We’ve embedded MrBeast’s video after the break where you’ll also find a video by Mark Rober, who teamed up a company called DroneSeed, who use large flying drones to distribute seeds contained in nutrition pods over large areas. Their focus is on reforestation after large wildfires and other events that leave the land devoid of trees. Of course, this being seeds, it will take quite a while for results to become visible.

The impatient Canadians over at Linus Media Group figured that they’d rather plant tree seedlings at a breakneck pace, cobbling together a nitrogen cannon that fires a nutrition pellet into the soil, creating the hole for the seedling, or alternately firing the pellet and seedling into the soil in one go from the breach-loading cannon. Obviously the results from the latter method are decidedly more questionable, taking a bit chunk out of the about 300 seedlings they were planning to add to the local nature.

Regardless of the method chosen, any significant reforestation around the world could be a crucial part of reducing the global increase of atmospheric CO2, and the climate challenges this creates.  With sources putting the total number of trees in the world today at about 3 trillion, 20 million more doesn’t seem like a lot, yet techniques we’re learning today to speed up the process of reforestation might play a major role in the near future.

(Thanks to Raphael for sending this one in)

67 thoughts on “Planting 20 Million Trees, Using Drones, Cannons, And More Unconventional Ways

    1. Much like robots, trees can have a dark side. My home is surrounded by dozens of huge and beautiful trees that I planted in my youth. Alas, the ravages of time have afflicted both me and my trees. And now, each tree that succumbs to nature costs me about $1000 to be removed. This is no time for DIY. You don’t want to be taking down 60 foot trees when your age is greater than their height.

      The moral of this tale is to make sure you can outlive all your trees, or at least include them in your retirement savings.

      1. That’s unfortunate, but I do hope you’ll replace the trees with new ones.
        Trees are supposed to fall over when they get too old, that’s an important part of their life-cycle, but of course that’s uncomfortable for us humans.

        1. There is a better way than waiting for tgem to get too old, fell them when there’s enough timber in them to warrant it and before it’s too difficult or expensive. Then plant new ones.

          “the best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago, the second best time is now”

      2. Not knowing what has afflicted your trees, is their chance they would have value to others, where they would remove them? That there’s the option of selling the property, even at a loss to stop the bleeding of retirement funds, to find a less expensive place to live. My intent is not to be harse, just realistic. At age 27 a brain injury drastically changed my plans for my future, 25 years later I’m still giving up stuff, to get by on the way to the inevitable.

  1. Excellent! As the article states, any significant reforestation is a step in the right direction. I lack faith in the effectiveness of this approach but what I opine should always be deferred to any works that are in the right direction as this one clearly is.

    Algae blooms as we’ve been seeing in the lakes, streams, and ocean seem to be the planet taking as much action as can be had in the same direction as this project does. Every bit, including our own, will count.

    1. See Rhett Allain’s blog for full analysis, but his estimate is about a 6% reduction for 7.5 billion trees (7.5*10^9… one per person on the planet). that puts 20 million at about 0.015% (about 400ppm CO2 in the atmosphere, so this is a reduction of 0.06ppm atmospheric CO2. Prior to the modern era the highest concentration in the last million years was about 300ppm), Not a lot, even compared to the recent annual rise of about 2.3ppm each year. But still something.

      My concern would be that many of the stunts involved here will be produce enough CO2 that any payoff will be deferred for a number of years loner than many people think. Probably not a major concern, but if I figure that a conifer might hold about 10Kg after 5 years (by the single sample in my yard, that is an about 100mm diameter mid-height, roughly 2m tall, 5 year old tree… data from https://scied.ucar.edu/sites/default/files/images/long-content-page/Carbon%2BStored%2Bin%2BTrees%2Bby%2BSize-Table.pdf) and making oversimplifying assumptions, figure a similar young tree might take CO2 at a rate of 2Kg/year. This 2Kg of CO2 would be the product of burning 0.6Kg of petrol (gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, kerosene, bunker oil, whatever). A bit less than a litre of gasoline, for example (0.2 gallons US, for those that think that way). My reasonably efficient gasoline vehicle will travel about 10Km on this amount, so if I plant a tree 10Km from my home, that is a two year return (10Km each way), at best.

      This is certainly (barring dumb arithmetic issues) within an order of magnitude. Probably somewhat optimistic, at that. Any obvious flaws here?

      I do wonder about the balance (carbon wise) of air-dropping saplings, even in large numbers, from conventional aircraft.

      1. Thinking on your point about the balance of CO2 I wonder if there is a way to use nature to do the distribution of the seeds. Something like feeding the seeds to animals and let them distribute them through their excretions. The disadvantages I see would be that you would only be able to put out seeds of tree species that are able to hold up to the digestive systems of your distributing animals (indeed it is my understanding that some species require this process before they can germinate) and that research would be needed to tailor the process to different environments to suit the different flora and fauna of those areas.

        Anyone else have any ideas on how we can use nature to do the hard work? After all, the natural world has been working on this problem far longer than we have.

          1. Exploding a rocket full of seeds in the eye of a storm cell is certainly an evocative idea, not sure how effective it would be though. The seeds are going to be scattered over a larger area leading to a greater chance that a seed will fall somewhere where it won’t be allowed to grow into a mature tree, like a farmers field. But if you timed it right you could certainly cover a large area with one payload.

      2. The only thing that is certain is even if all of those 20million never directly paid off the cost to plant them (almost impossible baring deliberate sabotage as it shouldn’t take more than a few years no matter how they are planted) the improvements in soil, biodiversity and awareness from this campaign should pay dividends for a long long time.

        Worth noting that because these tree plantings are not one single tree but large numbers the share of that fuel use to get them to the site is going to be fractional. You can easily take even in a small car enough seeds or saplings to make it not 2 years but more like a few months (say carry 30 little saplings and assume 60% of them take – won’t change your fuel cost much but as you are successfully growing something like 15-20 trees not just 1 your 24 months to pay off travel there and back is more like a month).

        The bigger worry is the bean counters finding reasons to further ruin these efforts on cost/land value type grounds..

      3. I have a few curious questions about this myself some ignorant others not as much.

        1. I highly doubt that most of this reforestation is happening in the same areas that the deforestation is occurring. Would this not just cause more harm by throwing things even more out of balance instead of less? Or is the effect so wide spread that even if deforestation happens in one Continent planting in another can improve things for both?

        2. When do these actions even become carbon neutral let alone positive. Ignoring the fact that when trees die all the effort is lost let’s assume the trees all live 10 thousand years. If I’m using a giant drone powered by some DC batteries which I recharge via a coal plant to plant some trees. When does this action become good for the environment? I’ll not be an a$$ and include the damage caused by creating the drone, let’s assume that will be made no matter what, just the action in a self contained bubble. I can’t imagine this improves the situation for at least a decade depending on how efficient the tree planter is.

        I like the idea but just because something feels good doesn’t make it good. Anyone with more expertise in this field I’d love to hear if I am right or wrong on this I honestly lack the knowledge.

        1. “Ignoring the fact that when trees die all the effort is lost let’s assume the trees all live 10 thousand years. ”

          If the trees are burned, the carbon gets re-released into the atmosphere.
          If they get buried in mud, it doesn’t.

          1. One of the things about forests is that mud is thin on the ground (haha). I’m not sure what kind of land is being targeted for this 20 million plan, but it is pretty unlikely that each tree would be subsumed in mud. Unless you’re proposing that we make a mud hole to put trees in?

          2. It doesn’t need to get buried in mud to have a beneficial effect, decomposing wood distributes a lot of its carbon to other organisms if a self sustaining ecosystem is in place. Similarly combustion is often incomplete, leaving a proportion as charcoal which will retain the carbon for a while longer. Finally trees reproduce, so assuming just a 1 for 1 replacement rate over long timescales, they are effectively immortal for the prurposes of a long term calculation.

        2. 1. the team that actually do the planting has already planted 100m+ trees. they know their shits

          2. they are youtubers. their job is to bring as much attention as possible so that they can gather more donation to allow the real professionals to plant more trees. drones & guns are obviously the right choice to gather more attention. more bizarre = more trees

      4. “this is a reduction of 0.06ppm atmospheric CO2. Not a lot, even compared to the recent annual rise of about 2.3ppm each year.”
        So these 20M trees will absorb… 0.06/2.3 * 365 = about 9.5 days worth of current CO2 emissions. Call it 2M trees per day of CO2. Team trees launched four days ago and they’re at about 8 million trees as I write this, so a constant effort at the rate this massive appeal is currently running would just about cancel out our current emissions.

        How much land do we have that can sustain this planting rate? I suspect we’d be OK for about a year and then we’d start running out of places to plant them.

        1. Depends on who’s we. Siberia has a fair bit of land that could be turned into a semi-artificial taiga and a fairly sizeable chunk of forrest that burned down this summer. Last but not least, the chinese are happily logging in Siberia, sometimes legally, sometimes illegally and NOT reforesting, so there’s literal 10s of 1000s of square miles of potential land for planting.

    2. >Algae blooms as we’ve been seeing in the lakes, streams, and ocean seem to be the planet taking as much action as can be had in the same direction as this project does

      Algal blooms tend to be triggered by nutrient influxes. This can be a natural process such as oceanic upwellings, but around shores, lakes and rivers it’s often because of humans screwing things up again by dumping nutrients into them because it’s an easy way to “dispose” of our wastes.

      Unfortunately our waste treatment processes are a bit crap, so even when we try to address this we often have these large sources of waste which aren’t easy or cheap to deal with. It’s even worse when you have multiple small sources of waste (e.g. sceptic tanks) rather than one large source, beacuse a lot of these processes were designed for scale.

      1. It’s far less about waste and far more about nutrient runoff from farming.

        Farmers often are forced to fertilize cropland at suboptimal times because the equipment required to fertilize land is a shared or rented resource, or they are hiring subcontractors with the equipment to do it for them.

        In a lot of cases fertilizers are spread just prior to a rain, the nitrogen heavy compounds end up in the watershed, and eventually the ocean or lakes and that’s when we get algae blooms.

        Farmers would love a solution to this problem because it affects their very thin bottom lines in a couple of ways. First, lower crop yields, secondly increased costs because farmers know that they’ll lose some nutrient they try to forward bias by spreading even more fertilizers.

        There are other factors like when in the season that the farmers are spreading fertilizers, but not as large a contributor.

        1. > It’s far less about waste and far more about nutrient runoff from farming

          It’s both really depending on the area, in agricultural areas runoff is easily the dominant issue. Around where I live there are restrictons on the times of year a farmer can spread to try to doge periods of likely heavy rainfall or periods when that fertiliser would just sit.

          There’s a push in my region to require farmers to actually test the soil of a field before applying fertiliser to see how much, if any, is required. From what I gather we tend to be quite high in phosphorus so there’s a drive to nudge farmers away from NPK to just NK when possible. It turns out the vast majority of them don’t do any testing and just apply as much as their forebears told them to. Hopefully this would save them a bit of money and reduce what’s available to run off.

          At the same time, our wastewater plants are pretty poor, and they’re not hitting discharge targets, and on-farm treatment systems tend to leak. How that will be fixed I don’t know, because nobody wants to stump up the money for capital investments.

  2. Just a reminder: the “problem” with trees is, that after their lifespan they release the CO2 again.

    So in the long term we have to find a solution to keep the CO2. Like coal does, for example.

      1. Yes, assuming the dead tree just lays there and no organism touches it.

        In reality, something different happens with trees. Microorganism, cycle of life, etc etc.

        Repeating myself: for long term binding of CO2 a process like the creation of coal is needed.

          1. ‘Except’? We could create conditions which would lead to long term carbon sinking with trees. It would cost us effort, which to our modern minds means ‘money’, but it’s like repaying the debt for getting to our modern state.

          2. Are you all aware of the fact that timber, the soft grainy stuff we build, with was once a tree, so unless your house, shed or barn burns down or rots away the co2 is locked in, it’s onnly released when we burn it, it rots away on the woodland floor or its chipped up in the currently deemed environmentally friendly way, obviously ignoring the fact that the wood chippers need to be built and require a not insignificant amount of fuel.

      1. Wooden houses, books, furniture for thousands of years? In relevant numbers? Where?

        Research the numbers.

        (California is currently releasing the CO2 stored in wooden houses…)

        1. Trees also put a lot of carbon in the ground; there’s more to the tree than what you see above the ground…

          Even pasture grasses will increase soil carbon with cycles of grazing and regrowth.

    1. You not had watched the video, where, it pointed out what, is long understood. A mature forest id carbon neutral. Any CO2 released by a dead tree is consumed by other plant life in that forest, or the plant life wherever the winds takes the CO2. Reforestation is about restoring the carbon cycle as it once existed

  3. When I was a kid I remember watching a neighbor plant flower seeds by firing them into the ground with a slingshot so maybe the cannon idea isn’t so bad.

    If you really want to curb climate change though trees only go so far. Once they reach full size they don’t pull so much carbon out of the air anymore and when they die and rot the carbon is re-released.

    What you really need to do is actively maintain a stand of trees. Regularly thin it out, cutting the full-grown ones down but don’t clear cut. Clear cutting results in drier land making it harder to get the next generation of trees growing. Replant in the newly created openings.

    Then take the trees you cut down and landfill them. Bury them deep where they will have access to neither air no water so that they do not rot. I’m thinking maybe in the desert. But of course this presents a new problem. How much carbon do you release getting them there?

    So, your tree farm needs to be close to the desert where the trees will be buried. It’s going to need irrigation. Preferably this does not come from a river as rivers that are near deserts tend to already be unnaturally low due to human consumption. Ideally the water will not need to be pumped as pumping consumes energy generating even more CO2. This sounds like an impossible combination so as a compromise perhaps it could be water that was already going to be pumped anyway.

    Also, growing and then taking away all that wood is going to deplete the ground of nutrients. We need a way to fertilize the soil without generating too much more CO2 in the process.

    So, there you have it. The solution is obvious. A large field just outside of every desert city irrigated by that city’s sewage and a big landfill just beyond that to bury the trees in. Save the world using gambler poop.

  4. When you reach steady state, you are in a steady state.

    Well, duh.

    Planting new forests changes the balance by the carbon trapped in the biomass which wasn’t there before.

    Long term this won’t work without, at the same time, reducing CO2 emissions, that’s right.

    1. +1 The trees can help – it is well worth the effort, but its not the complete solution. We can’t magically bottle up the effects from burning all the dead stuff from before the dawn of our species just by putting the forests back. That said a healthy forest being managed correctly could store a great deal of carbon. Dead trees does not immediately mean putting all the carbon back – if we manage these woodlands so they never reach equilibrium and do the right things with the wood removed it can work long term to trap as much as we want.

    2. Are you saying if a lifestyle, that is detrimental to others, that lifestyle, needn’t be changed? You made me use the dictionary in regards to paroxism/Paroxysm. Using that word is out of context, even in it’s number 2 entry in Webster’s. Be still my fingers, you might venture into ad hominem territory.

  5. While all efforts are good, what we as a species need to do is SURVIVE the climate change. We need to take this opportunity to bend the atmosphere to our needs, rather than react to it. We can survive this, by solving the problems instead of the current large scale methodology of using profit motives to make false claims and in the end doing more harm than good. More Gen IV reactors, less solar roadways. Make the whole energy process cleaner.

    I have a problem with Carbon sequestration in salt mines because all we’d be doing is making it a problem for later, rather than fixing it now. How about using Bamboo for industrial purposes and planting the heck out of it. Quick crop, high industrial uses, captures carbon as it grows.

    I always follow the money. If we took greed out of the equation we could solve this issue with just a bit of effort as a species. While people are figuring how to make a buck while doing it, we’re losing time.

      1. Yes, that’s true. But those that proclaim to have the answer normally have the answer to how to pad their bank account and inflate their investments. Many of the “Green” technologies do not provide anything of the sort. The amount of carbon dioxide used to make a single gallon of ethanol is insane compared to the amount of carbon dioxide it will prevent from being released. 100:1 if you’re lucky. So, what does ethanol do? Gives the farmers something to do with their crops. No real benefit outside of that.

        Wind Farms and solar also have manufacturing considerations and environmental trade-offs. Do they REALLY offset that much carbon? Does that offset come at a larger pricetag when you consider what the industrial runoff is for solar cell manufacturing? How about all the materials that need to be made and maintenance that must be done on a Wind Tower? When do the items truly become carbon neutral and begin to offset the carbon footprint?

        So, why do we pursue these technologies? Because they are being marketed as GREEN and people like that word, so they’ll buy something because it’s being used, not understanding that the actual amount of carbon offset is minimal and could probably have been made better by making current power generation systems more efficient. So, market things as GREEN, make GREEN, and don’t really give a crap about the environment other than to use it to make money.

        At least with the guys making emissions you know where you stand. They’re also looking at the green technologies and will institute them once they make sense.

        I’ll believe the bunch on capitol hill really care about the environment when they make energy companies put solar panels on all commercial buildings and offer to put them on homes in exchange for lower rates. Not this leasing baloney, real “hey, no more power plants, use solar!” level stuff. Until then the legislators are looking to profit too.

        1. Your analysis, if taken to its logical conclusion, is a recipe for doing nothing until fossil fuel companies with stranded assets and trillions in global infrastructure, who pay nothing to continue polluting the commons, decide to invest in renewables.

          Choosing to wait until a polluter decides to solve a problem while it remains profitable not to solve it, because of your cynicism regarding the motivations of those proposing alternatives, looks a lot like inaction for the foreseeable future in the face of reasonably foreseeable risks.

    1. Efforts by mankind to”bend” nature is what gets use into bind often. I’m not big on nuclear because it s a finite resourc Every time mankind proclaim anything to be so abundant man can’t make sent, mankind goes out and proves mankind wrong. Man needs to figure out how no make renewable work, within the resources the Earth can provide. I agree sequestration under ground isn’t a solution, but for mechanical reasons, as the seals degrade over time. Methane and propane are stored Kansas salt caverns, with lethal results some years back, due to failed seals into the caverns. Bamboo can be great, but it’s limit in where it can be grown. We should grown up and get over “Reefer Madness”, hemp seems to want to grow everywhere. I believe that simple solar thermal, and simple simple geo thermal are grossly over looked. regardless the nature of climate change, there is a real possibility than much of humankind may not survive. Should be able to, but given the current state of affairs, it’s questionable, monetary welsh acquisitions seems to be most important to leadership.

  6. Love the goal, but I feel this is equivalent to bailing water out of a sinking ship instead of patching the boat first.

    Trees will multiply faster than we can plant them. >20million were just ‘planted’ this week, naturally. There’s really no need to manually plant them. Just don’t remove them faster than they can reproduce.

    Planting without addressing the reasons they’re being removed is just wasted effort IMHO. Whatever gets the views though.

  7. This is great for raising awareness and interest but that is all. We would need to plant something like a thousand times more than this, every year, to make up for the number of trees felled in the same time period.

  8. Planting seeds, or more commonly seedlings, has been more about replacing trees cut down for lumber, or Christmas trees.

    Trees issue so many seeds in order for a few to survive. Many seedlings die or are eaten early on. If too many lived to maturity, they’d probably be too close together to live longer.

    Reseeding is also useful if fire has left an area treeless. Or other places with no trees. Both to prevent erosion.

    Sometimes people mix up things. Cities often lack enough trees, to provide shade but also to offset CO2 in the immediate area. Different from overall global warming.

    I did plant some seedlings as a kid at someone’s farm. It was a barren area, don’t know if it had been deforested or if they were planting Christmas trees, or just putting previously farmed land back to nature.

    I did the planting to get a badge in scouting a few years later.

    Michael

  9. Trees do not need to be planted. Just stop cutting them down, stop burning them down, stop making animals graze the trees’ habitat. Stop eating meat. The trees will return if you let them.

    1. “The trees will return if you let them.”

      Interesting comment.

      I’m not sure “the trees will return if you let them” is the situation always where trees will return if you let them without either being very very very patient to allow for the natural way in certain non-conducive environments for reforestation like the great plains where trees had to be planted to prevent a dust bowl. More likely if you let them return by nurturing like I just noted.

      Interestingly demonstrated in this video I recently watched, where not yet nurtured looks like, regarding the Australian nuclear weapons testing and a patch of rain forest that to this day hasn’t healed from the scar left from the TNT atomic blast simulation:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQUQt7KE6ls

      Here is the link to the time where discussed (t=417 @ ~6:54):

  10. Have they checked the effects of firing the seedlings on survival?
    Seems like soil compaction could be an issue.
    (Wryly amuses me when I see new construction in city – they run all sorts of heavy equipment
    over the ground. Compress it, dump all sorts of misc sand/gravel/whatever on it.
    Then at the end they cover it over with a veneer of mulch/bark/whatever, stick in a few plants.
    So it looks nice long enough to sell it.
    Then the plants die.)
    Need to loosten up the dirt, have some reasonable soil.
    Some landscape architecture degree programs don’t even require them
    to take classes in botany – to know what will work where, etc.

    If want a good carbon sink – plant a peatland.
    (Also help to stop destroying the ones we have.)
    Much denser carbon sinks than a forest.

    1. When a farm in Wisconsin was made into an upscale housing development, the developer scraped up a lot of the topsoil, and then sold the property lots. As the new owners were building their houses, the developer asked them;
      “Would you like to buy some topsoil for your yard?”

  11. M is right. But helping the system along like this “to get a leg up”, seems a good idea as we’ve put a lot of work into knocking the environment off balance the past many years, so putting some time in to help it restore itself seems wise, or at the least, pennance.

    1. Unless you’re introducing plant specimens with diseases (though I realise this is seeds), plastic “protectors” and other crap. Tree planting, unless for decoration in gardens, is so often stupid and counter productive.

      And as Hajma said, introducing non-native species is not a good idea either.

  12. I was given a Gamo air shotgun a few years ago. I got the idea to reload the tiny shotshells with seeds to plant them from a distance. After a bit of trial and error I was able to shoot seeds into the ground from a distance and have them germinate. I’m sure the guy a few houses down was perplexed about all the weird plants popping up in his back yard.

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