​Opinion: planting trees is the most effective and practical means to reduce global GHGs

Mike Priaro, B.Eng.Sc. (Chem. Eng.), P.Eng. is an independent consultant who worked in Alberta's oil patch for 25 years.


Scientists from ETH Zurich university for science and technology in Switzerland have published a study in the journal Science that shows planting trees would be the most effective method to combat climate change.

Using Google Earth mapping software to examine a global dataset covering 78,000 forests, they found 0.9 billion hectares (2.22 billion acres) of land worldwide that would be suitable for reforestation.

Once these trees matured they could pull down 200 gigatonnes (billion tonnes) of CO2, representing two-thirds of the extra carbon from human activities put into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. This is a quarter of the overall amount of CO2 in the air.

"Our study shows clearly that forest restoration is the best climate change solution available today and it provides hard evidence to justify investment," said Tom Crowther, senior author on the study.

"If we act now, this could cut carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by up to 25 percent, to levels last seen almost a century ago."

The researchers identified six countries where the bulk of the forest restoration could occur: Russia (151 million hectares), U.S. (103 million), Canada (78 million), Australia (58 million), Brazil (50 million) and China (40 million).

Think of the hundreds of thousands of new weekend, summer, part-time, and permanent jobs for students, young people, those between jobs or careers, environmentalists, and employees and owners of new businesses in city, suburban, rural and frontier areas growing, planting, administering, supplying, and supporting a global tree planting effort, managing the subsequent new forests, and developing efficient forestry technology.

Think of the transpiration of more water vapour to create clouds to reduce global warming and the subsequent beneficial rainfall to reduce desertification.

Think of the extra oxygen released by those trees into the atmosphere.

Think of the new wildlife habitats created.

Think of the moderation of micro and regional climates created by trees.

Think of the filtering and cleaning of ground water by forest root systems and undergrowth.

Think of the reduction of flooding by forest absorption and slowing of high rainfall ground flows and the reduction in soil erosion.

Think of new sources of wood from managed, sustainable forestry.

Think of new opportunities for recreation in forests.

These benefits are just what immediately came to mind. I am sure this list is far from complete.

So where are on this are the well funded non-government organizations that attack resource development, especially Canada’s oilsands, and endlessly and profitably fear monger about “climate emergency” and the “end of humanity”?

I mean you Tides Foundation/Tides Canada, Sierra Club, Rockefeller Fund, David Suzuki, Greenpeace, the Canadian Boreal Initiative, the Natural Resources Defence Council, Ducks Unlimited, ForestEthics, and the International Panel on Climate Change, just to name some.

Are these groups going to be part of the solution, or will they continue to be part of the problem by focusing on the wrong target?

Perhaps planting trees offers them no money or headlines, or it’s too much real work to do something real and positive to change our planet for the better.

If Canada wants to be a global leader in the effective reduction of greenhouse gases, we must focus on our reforestation potential, which is 8.6 percent of the global reforestation potential, rather than the oilsands, which represents only 0.15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

While Canadians should trust that oilsands producers are working hard to make strides in reducing GHGs, that will reduce global emissions by an even smaller percentage.

Even phasing out the oilsands completely, which would amount to criminal economic and constitutional stupidity, would result in no discernible effect on global greenhouse gases.

The benefits of a global reforestation effort are so manifold and great that it could stand on its own, regardless of any effect on greenhouse gases and climate.