Climate change continues to be the greatest threat facing humans and all life on Earth. The raising temperatures fuel forest fires, more powerful hurricanes, and other natural disasters. We are witnessing our water resources drying up as well as oceans rising to dangerous levels.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated with high confidence that, “Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.”
Carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere has already caused the Earth to warm by 1°C as compared to temperatures before the Industrial Revolution. The increase in CO2 in the atmosphere is caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels.
As the IPCC report states, warming the Earth by 1.5°C has dire consequences. It means 14% of the global population will be exposed to severe heat at least once every five years. Sea levels will rise by 0.4 meters by 2100. Seven percent of Earth’s ecosystems will have to shift to be able to inhabit new conditions, and 4.8 million km2 of Arctic permafrost will thaw.
All the facts about global warming may seem very daunting, but it is not too late. It is possible to slow down global warming and decrease carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. In fact, you may even have one of the greatest resources in the fight against climate change growing in your backyard right now – trees.
Trees play a vital role in preventing global warming in multiple ways. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and other gasses from the atmosphere. Trees are able to directly remove carbon from our air and release oxygen through a process called photosynthesis. Forests offset between 10 to 20 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions each year.
One mature tree is capable of absorbing 48 pounds of carbon dioxide a year and can emit enough fresh oxygen for four people to breathe clean air. Tree planting can sequester around 1.1 to 1.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide a year, according to a previous IPCC report.
Trees do so much more to help us combat climate change than removing carbon from the atmosphere. Trees also help protect our coastal communities from severe flooding due to sea level rise and powerful storms.
Trees slow down the strength of water that surges onto the land because trees absorb the excess water in their soil and release it as water vapor into the air. Trees also catch rainwater, reduce erosion, and create more permeable soils that help prevent flood damages.
Take a moment and imagine all the water needed to fill about 600,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Well, trees have helped to prevent nearly 400 billion gallons of water runoff in America which is enough water to fill all those swimming pools.
Trees also provide us with shade which helps the soil retain its moisture. More moisture in the ground keeps the land fertile for agriculture even as temperatures are rising.
Trees help us reduce our carbon dioxide emissions and our utility bills. When it is hot outside, the shade from trees in urban areas keeps us cooler and so, we spend less energy and burn fewer fossil fuels trying to combat the heat.
The latest IPCC report included a section about how to reduce greenhouse gases that are already in the atmosphere. The section highlighted the importance of “reforestation and ecosystem restoration.”
Trees are essential to ecosystem restoration. Although global warming poses a serious threat to Earth’s ecosystems, trees keep them healthy and thriving. Trees are anchor species for other plants and wildlife that are also capable of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.
The journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” published a landmark 2017 peer-reviewed study led by scientists from over 15 institutions. The study found that reforestation is the number one solution to climate change. Conservation of our current forests was the second.
The chiefs of the United Nation’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Program wrote in a joint statement that stopping deforestation and replanting forests could “provide up to 30 percent of the climate change solution.”
On March 21, 2018, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said at a tree-planting ceremony in New York for the International Day of Forests, “Trees and forests play an essential role in mitigating the impact of climate change. Planting trees is one of the most important things we can do to contribute to the health of the planet. Forests are the lungs of our planet, drawing in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen. And trees improve our lives both on a grand scale and at the local level.”
We need to protect the trees that we already have on this Earth and work to plant more of them in order to ensure this planet is habitable for future generations. The world needs more trees. They are the lungs of our planet and our greatest resource in combating climate change.