The climate crisis upon us is critical. As countries across the globe act on their pledges to cut carbon emissions, a simple action you can take to play a part in helping save the environment is planting trees.
While tree-planting is very beneficial in the battle against climate change, many other resulting outcomes also tremendously work in favour of helping the environment. Here is what you need to know about the benefits of planting trees.
Trees help to capture carbon
Global warming is attributed to emissions of high levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) into our atmosphere. These gases trap the sunlight and solar radiation that reflect the Earth, causing it to heat up. Worst part? The pollutants remain in the atmosphere for centuries, mounting to the climate crisis.
Trees serve as large filters that contest that. All trees create organic molecules that serve as sources of energy for them. And, to make these sugar molecules, they draw CO2 from the air and water from the soil using light energy, releasing oxygen – a process known as photosynthesis.
Spanning across a year, a single mature tree can take in 48 pounds of CO2 from the surroundings and release oxygen in return, supplying us with cleaner air. While this is the case with merely one tree, big forests sequester much more substantial amounts of carbon. Forests are also significant carbon sources upon their removal or degradation. However, recent research shows that they sequester twice as much as they emit. These large global forests absorb a net amount of 7.6 gigatons of carbon per year.
Trees provide shade and cool populated metropolitan areas; therefore, plant trees is to conserve energy and reduce your carbon footprint. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), shaded buildings compared to unshaded areas have reduced peak temperatures by up to 20-45F due to the cooling effect of trees and their water vapour release.
Temperatures in buildings with a green roof in place of conventional roofs even drop by 30-40F. This creates a rippling effect, reducing ambient city temperatures by as much as 5F. Rooftops with vegetation as compared to conventional roofs also reduce the overall building energy usage by 0.7%, lessening the use for electricity – and even money!
Growing food sources by creating your garden makes for an ideal home and also conserves energy. It reduces your carbon footprint by cutting down the +energy spent in the typical industrial production process, from growing the produce to delivering them to the shops.
Prevent soil erosion
Soil erosion is the displacement of the organic matter-rich topsoil due to hard rains, strong wind or human activities like tillage (mechanical agitation for agricultural purposes). Planting trees help to prevent this matter.
The roots of a plant secure the soil in place and prevent it from being swept away, while leaf canopies reduce runoff due to heavy rains. Foliage also helps to break harsh winds and prevent them from attacking the soil.
Protecting the soil is vital. While it helps feed a growing population and provides a home to hundreds of floras and fauna, it is also a large carbon sink. The soil contains about 2500 gigatons of carbon – equal to more than three times the amount of carbon found in our atmosphere alone.
A viable solution or not?
For as long as a tree lives, it will act as a carbon sink; it will continuously pull CO2 from the air to make carbon compounds that help them grow. This means decades or centuries of carbon sequestration that removes excess from the air.
While the potential of trees or large forests as tools to mitigate the climate issue is recognised, these are not complete substitutes for factors like the burning of fossil fuels. However, due to the net environmental benefits, planting trees is still highly encouraged. There are several campaigns currently aiming to achieve incredible feats in offsetting carbon levels.
The need to act now
A recent report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists concludes that human-driven actions have heated the planet by 1.1°C since the pre-industrial times (1850-1900).
The consequences are evident. Just this summer, we witnessed raging wildfires in Turkey and Greece that forced people to flee their homes. Intense heatwaves with a record high of 129F hit Death Valley National Park in California. Germany saw deadly floods that destroyed several buildings; some regions experienced the amount of rainfall usually expected in a month over just a single day. China endured extreme rain and flooding that resulted in multiple deaths and 200,000 evacuations.
On the current trajectory, matters are deemed to worsen. Data shows that levels are bound to hit the limit of 1.5°C over the next 20 years. And, unless significant collective efforts are made to curb the emissions of greenhouse gases, the outcomes of this hotter future will be dire. Even if merely planting trees cannot solve the issue of climate change, they can unequivocally help mitigate it and negate years of human-induced carbon emissions.
What can you do?
If you want to start simple, you may consider growing plants and trees in your backyard. This link could help you get started; it is a compilation of guides that enables you to navigate the journey of growing different plant species. The guides help you with a range of things, from learning the right amount of sunlight each plant requires to maintenance care.
You can even donate to a meaningful project focused on offsetting carbon. Several organisations are doing great things for a greener future. All you would have to do is find one that checks your boxes. To make the job easier for you, we have listed some campaign groups that lead tree-planting projects to help reduce your carbon footprint: Wren, Click a tree, Ecologi, and Eco Force.
Zaain is a freelance writer with a BSc in Medical Biotechnology. She has written for multiple organizations and covered topics on health and wellness, sustainability, and food. With her writing, she hopes to make a difference. She loves being outdoors and discovering cosy cafés in her free time. You can find her on LinkedIn and Upwork.
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