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Trees: Can They Save Us?

Emily McQueen

Copy Editor

The words “Lots of solutions are talked about but what about a solution that is right in front of us?” were spoken by Greta Thunberg, climate activist and Nobel prize winner, in a viral video. She and climate activist George Monbiot go on to explain that tree planting and forest conservation is a key part of the solution in fighting against climate change. Trees suck carbon out of the air, cost little and build on themselves; they seem to be the perfect solution, but are they enough? The answer is no; not if overly powerful corporations and our own government continue to use tree planting as compensation for releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. Trees can also go from CO2 drainers to a CO2 source if affected by natural disasters such as forest fires or viruses.

Trees are crucial to the decrease of carbon emissions and the survival of many ecosystems. Thunberg and George explain that all trees from coral reefs, to jungles, to swamps, to the northern Canadian forest could make a massive difference. They list three contributions we must make to help: “Protect, restore and fund.” We must protect trees from direct human harm but also natural disasters. We must restore our forests from harm we have caused in the past. To achieve the two previous steps, we need funding .

The Canadian government was one of the first to take advantage of this solution by investing 3.2 billion dollars into planting 2 billion trees over the next 10 years. According to the Government of Canada’s page “tree planting under the Growing Canada's Forest program will help Canada exceed its 2030 Paris Agreement greenhouse gas emissions reduction target and establish the building blocks to get to net-zero by 2050.” Since the Trudeau government has not taken much action other than this to reduce Canada’s gas emission, they evidently believe that this is a sufficient solution.

Tree planting is quite helpful, but is it enough? British ecologist Thomas Crowther states in the Rolling Stones article Planting Trees to Fight Climate Change that, “if we can do it right, the conservation and restoration of forests can potentially buy us some time as we try to decarbonize our economies.” The problem is that many governments and carbon polluters use tree planting as a means for excusing their fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions. In Crowther’s words, “if tree planting is just used as an excuse to avoid cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, then it could be a real disaster.”

With the augmentation of climate disasters, forests are increasingly at risk. Calamities, such as forest fires or bug viruses that kill trees, turn trees from carbon drains into carbon sources. That is why Canada must protect its forests by reducing greenhouse gasses because the defrizzing of the permafrost (layer of year-round frozen earth) releases viruses that will negatively affect trees and summer heat waves causing large scale forest fires. The Rolling Stones article goes on to explain that during the California forest fires, the dying trees released 600 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Canada has had both an increasing amount of forest fires and many bark beetle infestations, which voraciously kill trees. The dead and dying trees turn from “carbon sinks to a carbon source.”

Canada’s tree planting efforts are not in vain, but we must simultaneously reduce our carbon emissions with more practical methods. When trees are used as greenhouse gas storage our forests become a ticking time bomb, overtly waiting for the next natural disaster.

Photos via Vancouver Sun



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