Since the industrial revolution, the skeleton in humanity’s closet has been carbon emission. A lot of it.
Part of the problem is that our best achievements are high productivity that creates a surplus of goods. If only we can find where to put them and how to get them around sustainably.
Sadly, these best and worst practices are tied together so tightly that it’s challenging to find a solution that equitably solves one without crippling the other.
That’s why in 2019, it was exciting to have a ray of hope. Tree planting was announced as a means of recapturing up to one-third of all carbon emissions currently in the atmosphere.
The effects of tree planting were fantastic news for governments and organizations. They seemed to be waiting on national leaders to make critical decisions and come to answers on their own. It could be a grassroots effort, is a widely available option, cheap, abundant, and offers solutions that dovetail with other environmental efforts.
Despite the excitement and potential, a few voices have arisen to voice caution about wholesale solutions to complex environmental problems. Today we will look at the project of mass tree planting through the lens of ethics. We’ll try to understand how one solution can rarely fit every situation.
How Tree Planting Works
Bipartisan support for tree planting has grown in recent years due to the simplicity of the process and the welfare implications if appropriately implemented. Beyond environmental effects, large-scale projects can add jobs to the economy and engage citizens with meaningful projects that outlive them and contribute to a healthier political ecosystem.
In simple terms, plants absorb carbon as a part of their growth process. Carbon is stored underground and in the plant material rather than in the air, and the loss of leaves over time will stimulate new growth through insect and soil health.
With these widespread benefits and low-cost strategies, why are scientists urging caution as we look towards planting 3 trillion trees or more?
The Long-Term Effect
With enthusiasm comes natural optimism. However, like any living thing, long-term investment is necessary for a successful project.
Once we get the trees in the ground, how will they be cared for?
What systems will ensure their long-term survival?
If natural ecosystems are to change through dramatic reforestation, do we have the capacity to maintain biodiversity?
How will international organizations ensure funds are distributed responsibly and equitably?
These considerations are among many others that bring a degree of caution to a project founded in a much-needed enthusiasm at a time of climate crisis. While alone, they are not enough to deter us from a much-needed reforestation project. They are a key part of understanding what can go wrong even when our intentions are pure.
Trees have excellent PR. There is a zeitgeist of enthusiasm, art, and love for forests in every country on Earth. However, other environments provide even more compelling benefits for the environment. And devastating implications if we ignore them in favor of simply planting more trees.
Tree Planting – Understanding Where
In the North of Scotland, you will find “Flow Country” and a good amount of peat. Biologists humorously refer to the area as Mamba, or “Miles and Miles of Bugger-All.” It is an unremarkable and depressing territory, save for one often-overlooked fact. Peat stores 15 times the amount of carbon than a forest might.
When the “plant trees” movement gained steam, countries (leveraging the incentive of tax breaks) began looking for areas suitable for forests. The Scottish government selected Flow Country as a prime territory. They began digging up what was once thought to be a relatively unimportant ecosystem with little biodiversity.
Ecologists like Merrit Turetsky raised their voices, explaining how these lands store five times the amount of carbon than in entire forests of Europe combined. Sadly, the damage was already done in many regions. Centuries-old peat bogs were drained, dug up, and discarded. And this allowed the stored carbon to return to the atmosphere and compound the problem. Even with pure intentions, the short and the long term were hampered by tree planting efforts.
Perhaps the most chilling example of this enthusiasm turned to disaster would be the Fort McMurray Fires of 2016. We saw an entire city all-but cut off from Canada due to raging wildfires. These fires were later determined to be mainly caused by extensive swathes of dried bog land intended for reforestation.
So, where does that leave us?
Like any ethical project, you must respect the environment you work in and understand the issue for all of its complexities. Address the opportunities that arise and engage thoughtfully in finding solutions. Ethical Inc. was founded on this principle within the supplement industry. Without sacrificing quality, how can we attract and retain the right producers, supply chains, and ingredient sources? Like tree planting, we have a lofty goal but continue to navigate unique challenges as they arrive.
Are you looking to join us on this journey? Shop our selection now, or contact us to learn more.