How Trees Fight Climate Change
We all know that trees are important in the battle against climate change.
Most people think it's because of their ability to absorb carbon dioxide. But trees are multi-talented and they fight climate change in many different ways!
A fascinating 2019 study done by Crowther Lab estimated that planting half a trillion trees around the world would reduce atmospheric carbon by about 25 percent. If that's all it will take to fight climate change, why isn't everyone just planting trees?
The study makes it sound easier than it is. As senior NASA scientist Sassan Saatchi points out, the study leaves a lot of questions to be answered. Like how much time and resources would reforestation at this scale take? Will a billion hectares of new forests actually cool the planet? Saatchi notes that while trees are instrumental in fighting climate change, they are not a substitute for reducing fossil fuel emissions, which is absolutely necessary to tackle the climate crisis.
So why invest our time and money into planting trees and protecting forests? Because to combat climate change and cool the planet, we're going to need a lot of different solutions. Trees are a viable solution with many climate-positive benefits that we can implement now.
Here are a few ways that trees combat climate change.
Trees are our planet's natural air filters. They improve air quality by filtering pollutants directly and indirectly.
Trees directly absorb pollution like carbon dioxide from the air and turn it into oxygen through photosynthesis. They also indirectly filter the air through preventative cooling measures. Trees keep ground levels cooler with their shade; this reduces the risk of harmful pollutants like ground-level ozone from forming. In a city like Los Angeles, trees remove almost 2,000 tons of pollution from the air every year.
Trees help us use less energy. When strategically placed around buildings or homes, trees can decrease air conditioning use by 30% and save up to 50% in energy used for heating. The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that, when properly planted, trees can save households up to $250 a year in energy costs. Decreasing energy usage and our reliance on greenhouse gasses is critical in our efforts to combat climate change.
While it might seem like trees do most of their work above ground, their root system is also hard at work below. In fact, their roots will play a crucial role in mitigating extreme weather from climate change.
In the coming decades, many U.S. regions are at increased risk of flooding and heavy rainfall. Thanks to their root systems, trees keep soil in place and quickly absorb water. Root systems make local soil more porous, so water seeps into the ground faster while also providing stability and resistance to landslides.
Most people who have spent time learning about climate change have at some point probably asked, "why can't we just suck all the carbon out of the atmosphere?" It's a great question that a lot of smart people are trying to answer. Over the last few years, many exciting carbon capture technologies have been in development. That said, most of these technologies are still incredibly expensive and not ready for scale.
That means trees are still the most effective and affordable carbon capturing machines available. One tree can store up to 48 pounds of CO2 every year. Their absorption of carbon dioxide helps keep the planet cool and creates oxygen for us to breathe.
Trees play a vital role in maintaining wildlife habitats and biodiversity. Forests provide healthy and thriving ecosystems for 80% of all animal and plant species. While things like deforestation, habitat destruction, and pollution have dramatically decreased biodiversity over the past century, protecting and restoring biodiversity can reduce climate change's negative effects.
Doing this starts with trees. For example, preserving mangroves in Florida will protect from flooding caused by rising sea levels, reforesting Michigan will help guard against invasive species, and so on. Trees help maintain biodiversity that is crucial in the fight against climate change.
The impact of climate change is not just on our natural environment; it also impacts our physical and mental health. A 2017 study by The Nature Conservancy found that trees can "reduce obesity and depression, improve productivity, boost educational outcomes and reduce incidence of asthma and heart disease" when planted in urban areas. Another study found that trees prevent almost $7 billion in health care costs every year.
At this point, you may be thinking that many climate change problems could be solved simply by planting more trees. And you'd be right to make that assumption! It's important to note again that trees are not a silver bullet for climate change.
That said, planting trees and preserving forests are a huge part of the solution. As individuals, planting a tree is one of the most powerful and productive acts we can take to combat climate change.
For as little as $8 a month, you can work to erase your CO2 emissions and get more trees in the ground. Become a CarbonForest member today!