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Why planting trees could be the cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis

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You may have head the apocryphal quote, often attributed to Martin Luther, that, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” But it turns out that planting trees today may help prevent the world from going to pieces tomorrow.

A study published last week in the journal Science finds that the “restoration of forested land at a global scale could help capture atmospheric carbon and mitigate climate change.” As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating. This new research estimates that a worldwide planting program could remove two-thirds of all the emissions, according to The Guardian.

The researchers found there are 1.7 billion hectares of treeless land on which 1.2 trillion native tree saplings would naturally grow. Ecosystems could support an additional 0.9 billion hectares of continuous forest, representing a greater than 25 percent increase in forested area, including more than 500 billion trees. That area is about 11 percent of all land and equivalent to the size of the US and China combined.

In their analysis the scientists excluded urban areas and all fields used to grow crops, though they did include grazing land, on which the researchers say a few trees can also benefit sheep and cattle.

“This new quantitative evaluation shows [forest] restoration isn’t just one of our climate change solutions, it is overwhelmingly the top one,” said Tom Crowther of the Swiss university ETH Zürich, who led the research. “What blows my mind is the scale. I thought restoration would be in the top 10, but it is overwhelmingly more powerful than all of the other climate change solutions proposed.”

What makes this an ideal proposal—and one that should be supported by conservatives and libertarian Christians—is that it could be implemented largely without government involvement.

According to Crowther, tree planting is “a climate change solution that doesn’t require President Trump to immediately start believing in climate change, or scientists to come up with technological solutions to draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.” Crowther adds that, “It is available now, it is the cheapest one possible and every one of us can get involved.”

“The most effective projects are doing restoration for 30 US cents a tree,” said Crowther. “That means we could restore the [one trillion] trees for [$300 billion], though obviously that means immense efficiency and effectiveness. But it is by far the cheapest solution that has ever been proposed.” Even if we include financial incentives to land owners for tree planting, Crowther thinks $300 billion would be within reach of a coalition of billionaire philanthropists and other private funding.

To put that into perspective, we could finance the tree planting effort with about the same amount of money American taxpayers spend each year paying interest on the national debt ($266 billion).

Image source: Pixabay

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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