Planting a Trillion Trees: Noble Goal or Fool's Errand?

It's touted as a way to save the planet ... maybe
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 23, 2022 2:50 PM CDT
Planting a Trillion Trees: Noble Goal or Fool's Errand?
A spruce sapling is shown in this file photo.   (Getty Images / stsmhn)

(Newser) – It's a number that's hard to wrap your head around, but a concept that is easy to grasp: Let's save the planet by planting 1 trillion trees. In a lengthy piece for the New York Times Magazine, Zach St. George examines the noble goal—how it originated, and the ways in which organizations are working toward it—and its myriad weaknesses. While the tree-planting movement dates back decades, some of the credit for the "1T" goal goes to Felix Finkbeiner, who as a 13-year-old in 2011 gave a UN speech suggesting that the world aim for one trillion trees planted; his Plant-for-the-Planet is one of the organizations working toward that goal. St. George points out some of the benefits of the "magically simple" idea: for one, it has the potential to ease global poverty by employing planters in impoverished regions.

He also digs into the science around some pretty basic questions, like "how many trees are on Earth?" (A 2015 estimate puts the number at 3 trillion, down from 6 trillion since the advent of agriculture 10,000 years prior.) And "can it hold another trillion?" (Looks like it.) But then the flip side: Grassland scientists say many of the savannas and prairies targeted as ripe for forests are actually carbon-rich ecosystems that should be protected, not messed with. The species that are being planted are often tree crops (think mango or coffee)—"good for economic development, less so for storing carbon or supporting biodiversity," writes St. George. And then there's the fact that we aren't really planting trees at all: We're planting seeds and seedlings that can succumb to the elements, be stepped on, or die of neglect, and many of the organizations behind the planting end their involvement there. (Read the engaging full story, which has Finkbeiner's current thoughts on his goal).

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