By: Samuel Brown
At the end of January, the World Economic Forum (WEF) launched the 1t.org project. The goal of this initiative is to engage nations, corporations, and individuals in reforesting planet Earth. This global reforestation project would help reduce the accumulation of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, which has spiked since the Industrial Revolution. By releasing this plan, the WEF is attempting to capitalize on the recent drive for reforestation projects, which include American Forests and Trillion Trees Initiative, and to convince major stakeholders to invest in the project. Those who have already stated their intentions to support and participate in the project include Marc Benioff, the billionaire CEO of Salesforce, and U.S. President Donald Trump.
To justify the new 1t.org initiative, the WEF referenced a study which states that the planting of one trillion trees in a variety of areas where trees have either been removed through logging and other forms of deforestation or where trees have not previously existed would help to offset approximately a third of all CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Over the past year since the study was released, it has garnered increasing attention because it provided a relatively simple, convenient, and cost-effective solution to climate change.
However, it is that very mentality that presents one of the most important issues with the 1t.org initiative. That is, the idea that any one solution would be sufficient to solve a problem as vast and important as climate change. This idea is foolhardy at best and dangerous at its worst. The choice to focus solely on the planting of trees could result in the rejection of other solutions that are equally important to the future of climate change reversal, such as clean renewable energy use or forest fire/logging problems in the Amazon rainforest and forests of Southeast Asia. In addition, the plan assumes that planting enough trees to offset CO2 emissions will require trees to be planted where none existed before. This would include grasslands, savannas, and potentially even mountain-sides. This creates a number of other issues, chief among them complete ecological alterations of landscapes that were never tolerable to an abundance of trees. This appears to be a step backward considering that one of the major goals in the fight against climate change is to preserve current ecological systems. Additionally, planting trees on mountainsides and frequently snow-covered locations could result in an increase in heat absorption, thereby contributing to a greater greenhouse effect because trees’ darker colors absorb more sunlight than snow.
Despite the severity of these negatives, however, there are ways around them. Most importantly, initiatives such as 1t.org should be applied not alone but in conjunction with other efforts to combat climate change. A few additional proposals call for a reduction in fossil fuel use and utilizing cutting-edge technology in power plants and other CO2 emitters. Moreover, for initiatives like 1t.org to truly succeed, trees need to be planted in a responsible way. For example, they should first be planted in areas where trees have historical roots, and those planted should be native species to foster sustainable biodiversity. Additionally, the trees should not be planted in monoculture, as this can be very harmful to the ecological health of an area by creating tree plantations. Finally, if the plan is not to cause more ecological damage than the present, those running the initiative should avoid, if at all possible, the planting of trees where none have previously existed. These include grasslands, savannas, and mountain-sides, areas where their preexisting ecological systems should persist.
Although initiatives like 1t.org are well-intentioned, they must take into account other possible solutions to climate change and pre-existing environmental and ecological processes if they wish to have any hope of alleviating or reversing the ongoing climate crisis. If 1t.org is not executed properly by making full use of all available data, it could actually make ongoing environmental problems worse rather than better.