The role trees play in saving the world

The forests are a huge asset in the fight against climate change. There are many advocates in the environmental space who argue that we should be planting far more trees and that it will help to save the environment. While that will certainly help, the trees that exist today are even more important.

The issue is of course carbon. We want to lower carbon emissions yet that will only stop the problem from getting worse, we also need to counteract the existing problem. Studies have proved that the level of CO2 in the environment is currently too high and that the planet will warm by 1.5 to 2 degrees. This will have a devastating impact on the world as low lying cities will be hit by rising sea levels and weather patterns will become more dramatic.

A key tool in the fight today is trees. If we plant more trees we can actually take some of this carbon out of the environment. One study recently said that if we can plant 1 trillion trees in the world we could remove one-quarter of the CO2 in the air. This study has been widely criticized for exaggerating the possible benefits and while the figure is likely incorrect it still shows that it is a weapon we can use. However, this does not mean that you should pat yourself on the back when you buy a paper that says it plants two trees for each one that it chops down. Trees are fantastic for carbon storage but when you cut them down you release the carbon back into the environment.

In 2017 deforestation led to an increase of four billion tonnes of CO2 in our environment which worked out as an increasing the total by about 10%. Clearly chopping down trees is a key problem and must be stopped. This is particularly true of trees in rainforest areas like the Amazon which store huge amounts of carbon and are facing an increasing risk of deforestation as local governments change laws to allow it to take place.

A recent study actually proved that these tropical rainforests are able to adapt better to rising temperatures and can still store carbon in a hotter environment. When trees reach a certain threshold of temperature they become worse at storing carbon. Tropical rainforests have a much higher threshold and should be protected. The threshold for these trees appears to be 32 degrees celsius. Anything above this and the carbon losses start to increase at a rapid rate.

The relationship between trees and the environment is clearly a complicated one. We need to plant more trees and we need to save the trees that we have. Yet we also need to realize that if we don’t stop the rise in temperatures even the trees that are saved will be leaking carbon into the environment. The solution clearly can not depend on trees. Instead, we need to address the actual cause of these carbon increases to have any chance of stopping the cycle of increasing temperatures leading to higher emissions in the environment.

Human activity is the key cause of these increases and it must be at the center of any solution. Planting trees and new forests will be a key weapon in the fight against climate change and maintaining the forests that we have in place will be as well. Yet to really turn the tide on climate change we must alter our everyday habits and activities to take more consideration of the environment. Planting a tree is a great idea but it can’t be the only one.