- “Headlines around the world declared tree planting to be the best solution to climate change,” lead author of the critique Joseph Veldman said in a statement at the time. “We now know those headlines were wrong.” Veldman argued that planting trees where they don’t belong can harm ecosystems, make wildfires worse, and even exacerbate global warming. His critique made the case that the amount of carbon the study said 1 trillion trees could sequester was about five times too large. The study also considered planting trees on savannas and grasslands, where planting non-native trees could cause problems for local species. Planting trees on snowy terrain that once reflected the sun could even turn those places into dark patches that actually absorb heat.
The authors of the contested study stand by their work. “We are aware of no other viable climate change solution that is quantitatively as large in terms of carbon drawdown,” the authors from the Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich said in their comments published in Science last October.
To be clear, critics of the campaign are still fans of trees. They still think forests play a role in solving the climate crisis — their skepticism mostly centers around efforts to plant trees in places they weren’t before, or to plant large swaths of a single species to essentially create “tree plantations” instead of real forests. Another big concern surrounding the call for planting a trillion trees is that it could distract from other efforts to slow down climate change, like stopping fossil fuel pollution and deforestation in the first place.
“You don’t need to plant a tree to regenerate a forest,” Fleischman tells The Verge. Forests can heal on their own if they’re allowed to, he says, and these forests end up being more resilient and more helpful in the climate fight than newly planted plots of trees. He argues that the best way to ensure there are enough trees standing to trap the carbon dioxide heating up the planet is to secure the political rights of people who depend on forests — primarily indigenous peoples whose lands are frequently encroached upon by industry and governments.
Just continuing the conversation . . .