Tend the Trees. They're Crucial to You and Climate Change.
Updated: Dec 9, 2021
4 keys ways to protect and restore forests.
What’s your current relationship with trees? Do you:
take walks in the woods and feel refreshed?
prune the trees in your yard to keep them healthy?
cut or buy logs for winter fires?
bring a tree inside and decorate it for Christmas?
surreptitiously hug trees?
These are all wonderful ways to interact with trees. However, these majestic plants are much more integral to our lives than we typically recognize in our daily lives. Yes, they provide us with materials, like lumber and paper. But more than that, they are a source of life. We cannot live without the oxygen and rain they help produce, nor can we keep the temperature on Earth to a habitable level without them.
Forests help “stabilize the climate. They regulate ecosystems, protect biodiversity, play an integral part in the carbon cycle, support livelihoods, and can help drive sustainable growth.” Yet, instead of tending and protecting these essential eco-entities, humanity has been treating them like a commodity and destroying them for years. We would do well to learn from Indigenous communities that revere and respect trees “as unique, sovereign beings equal to or exceeding the power of humans.” Certainly, trees do what we are not able to do. It’s time we tended them in the way they deserve. If not for them, for us.
Forests as Carbon Sinks
Forests, which cover 30% of the planet, are a natural carbon sink and a key solution for removing GHG emissions from the atmosphere. Old-growth forests, like the Amazon and Boreal forests, are especially crucial. They store 30–50% more carbon than managed growth forests. We need to act now to protect the forests we have left and re-forest ecosystems that we’ve razed.
Fortunately, scientists say the Earth can support over 1 trillion additional trees. Many groups, like the Bonn Challenge,which aims “to bring 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested landscapes into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030,” have been working on this for decades. And many more are now stepping up their efforts. In November 2021, an alliance of over 130 governments, businesses, financial firms, and other leaders, representing over 90% of Earth’s forests, committed to reversing deforestation by 2030 in the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use. And 12 countries collectively pledged to provide US$12 billion for forest-related climate finance between 2021–2025.
While this is great news, according to WRI, “forests are still disappearing at an extraordinary rate… and 20 years of historical data shows few signs of progress towards curbing deforestation.” Recent studies show that our efforts at reforestation haven’t been as effective as we want. As Bill McKibben writes in his 10/8/21 newsletter, “Good intentions and good outcomes are not always the same thing.”
Forrest Fleischman, from the University of Minnesota, says that tree campaigns seem to work best when the local community engages in the program. He also says that we should think about forests as cleaning up the atmosphere from the carbon we’ve already emitted and as offsets for past forest destruction. This means we can’t rely on trees planted now to take care of the emissions we produce today. It is most important to keep existing forests protected and standing. So, where are the current forests we should focus on protecting 30% of nature by 2030?
Tropical Rainforests: According to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), while rainforests in tropical countries form the largest living biomass and have the most biodiversity, they are the most threatened by deforestation. The Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest covering 40% of South America, is most endangered and its deforestation has a wide-reaching impact. For instance, a recent study published in Nature concluded that loss of “Amazon and Congo forests could have catastrophic consequences for the people living thousands of kilometers away in surrounding countries.” There is so much loss of tree coverage in the Amazon that parts of the forest loggers and industrial agriculture have burned and cleared now emit more CO2 than they absorb.
However, all is not lost. Some think we can still save parts of the Amazon. Thomas Lovejoy, who wrote an op-ed in the NY Times about the last chance for action in the Amazon, said that while we can’t restore the rainforest to what it was, we can still make a difference.
Temperate and Boreal Forests: These forests cascade across the countries in the northern hemisphere. Boreal forests comprise coniferous and broadleaf trees, while temperate forests also include deciduous trees. These types of forests have less diversity than tropical forests and have been decimated for centuries.
Recently, however, groups are planting more trees to expand temperate forests.
The 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest in Alaska is one of the largest and long-lived northern rainforests in the world. Its ancient trees store millions of tons of carbon. However, the Trump administration opened 9.2 million acres to logging and development. Fortunately, the Biden administration is putting environmental protection policies back in place. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would no longer allow large-scale old-growth logging in the forest and is cancelling plans to sell 15,000 acres worth of trees. The administration also promised it will restore protections under the 2001 Roadless Rule. But it hasn’t happened yet.
According to Environment America, the 1.2 billion acre Canadian boreal forest, which stores 300 billion tons of carbon and some call a “wooded web of life,” is also in danger. Every year, loggers cut 1 million acres of this ancient boreal forest for lumber and single-use products like toilet paper and tissues. The trees in both these old-growth forests are irreplaceable. We need to protect them now. Fortunately, there are 4 types of action we can take now.
4 Ways to Tend the Trees
In tending the trees, like with all climate action, there are four categories of action we can take. We can educate ourselves about what’s happening in the forests; advocate for protection and restoration; donate to groups working on preservation and reforestation; and act directly by planting trees in our communities, for instance. Below, I list specific resources to help you engage in all four areas.
Read this article to learn more about concerns re tree planting.
Watch videos, like this 5 minute video on how trees help draw down excess CO2, or this 4 minute video on Forests and Land Use, narrated by David Attenborough. If you want to feel wonder about trees, also watch The Secret Language of Trees.
Check out WRI’s Forest Watch platform website. It provides data, technology, and tools to help efforts to manage and protect forests better.
Watch the 45-minute film, Understory, to learn about how a young local fisherwoman set off on an expedition to save the Tongass Forest.
Sign Environment Maryland’s petition asking the Forest Service to save the Tongass by restoring the Roadless Rule protections.
Sign the petition asking Costco to “stop all sourcing of boreal forest trees and commit to a minimum 50% post-consumer recycled material for Kirkland brand toilet paper.”
Sign Greenpeace’s petition to protect rainforests from industrial agriculture.
Before donating to any organizations, I suggest you think about what is most important to you. Which region(s) and type of solution(s) do you want to support? You may need to research a few organizations to help you get clear.
Donate to an organization specifically working to protect the Amazon. This article lists 7 groups.
Donate to an indigenous group working on protecting trees and the land. For instance, Pachamama Alliance provides monthly funding for the ongoing work of Indigenous federations in Ecuador. Smithsonian Global works with indigenous groups to protect forests in Panama. This article lists several communities working to protect the Boreal forest in Canada.
Donate what you can to another forest organization. I list a few of the many organizations working to protect and restore forests here.
The Nature Conservancy (TNC)
Use your daily life to support forests. I list some specific actions below, including some from Greenpeace (in quotes).
“Support efforts to amplify the voices of Indigenous Peoples and traditional forest communities.”
“Demand that the forest-derived products you purchase are made from 100% post-consumer recycled content materials and when products are made from virgin forest, demand that the sourcing is done in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.”
“Reduce your consumption of animal products” since many forests are cut down for industrial meat production.
Buy tissue, paper towels, and toilet paper made from bamboo or 100% recycled materials. I buy mine from Who Gives a Crap.
Plant trees. While it is not clear how effective mass tree plantings efforts are, many people still think it’s a good idea. The best groups work closely with local communities and government agencies to ensure the tree planting is sustainable and long-lasting. Here are some ideas to consider:
Read this article to help you decide which tree planting organization you want to give to. It provides a guide and asks questions like What do you want from that reforestation company? What’s their motivation, and do they have a strategy? And who profits from planting those trees? (Note: it concludes it is the best organization to give to. Use your own judgment).
Volunteer with or donate to a tree planting program. Find a local tree planting program. Planting trees in disadvantaged urban communities can go a long way to reducing heat and pollution. Or connect with a larger organization, like the ones listed below.
This article lists 9 more
How will you tend the trees this holiday season?
What actions will you take in 2022 to protect and restore forests and leave trees for the next generations to sit under after you are gone?
I wish you all the best. Thanks for all you do.
PS. For those who follow me, I will take a break from writing for a few months while I tend to some personal health issues. See you in the new year.