Is Tree Planting a Good Idea?

I read an interesting article in the Times on Monday (20/06/11 by Ben Webster) entitled ‘Planting trees ‘does little to reduce global warming’’. The article discusses a study done by Canadian scientists which was published in Nature Geoscience which states that even planting trees on a vast scale across the globe will have little mitigating effect on the warming that climate change is predicted to have over the coming century. At first, this seems a blow to us conservation-minded people because replanting forests that have been cut down has the dual purpose of reclaiming land for biodiversity and also softening the impacts of global warming on ecosystems around the world. However, the article isn’t all doom and gloom it turns out that preserving remaining forest is a much better way to mitigate against climate change. The study said that a tropical tree plantation (of an unspecified size) removes  10 tonnes of carbon a year from the atmosphere, but cutting down a hectare of rainforest would release 250 tonnes of carbon immediately.

The implications of this research pose a few questions for people concerned about the environment and also the work that we do at Healthy Planet. Through our adopt-a-plot scheme, we fund several projects that plant trees in areas that have been heavily deforested. Does this article make them obsolete? Most definitely not. Planting trees does so much more than absorb carbon from the atmosphere as the Kinesi Village project in Tanzania shows. In partnership with WeForest and Global Resource Alliance, we are helping to plant 1000s of trees around this community which has been forced to cut down many of its trees for firewood in order to survive. The trees that are being replanted are chosen specifically because of the resources that they can provide the community such as sustainable supplies of firewood as wells as food and medicine. Almost just as importantly, the project is also educating the local population on how to use their natural resources sustainably so they remain important in the future. Another project that we support is a scheme in the Khao Yai National Park in Thailand where the Plant A Tree Today (PATT) Foundation is planting trees in an area which has been heavily affected by illegal logging and unsustainable farming practices. This project will increase the area of habitat within the park, boosting the strength of plant and animal communities that live there which will increase the ecosystem’s resilience to climate change. When it comes down to planting trees, we must not forget their value to both natural and human systems wherever the planting takes place.

The article is of course great news for the projects that Healthy Planet supports which protect areas of forest from being cut down in the first place. Deforestation is thought to account for 18% of all CO2 emissions annually, and is more than transport and aviation combined. What better way to help the planet than to protect pristine habitat and prevent climate change? Go to www.healthyplanet.org/adopt to adopt a plot and help protect rainforest from being cut down.

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