Reforestation is one of the most important topics when it comes to climate change. Gone are the days when talking about forests was a hippie idea or detached from reality. They are our best hope – but there’s a very wrong way of doing that.
To understand why forests are so essential in the recovery of our planet, I need to go back a little in your early school classes.
Do you remember why humans don’t survive in space? Why is there no oxygen. Human respiration is totally based on capturing oxygen from the atmosphere and in the process of exhalation we return carbon, one of the greenhouse gases.
In the case of trees, this process is the opposite: the planet’s plants absorb carbon and return oxygen to the atmosphere. Price, are essential for climate recovery. However, the situation is not easy when we talk about forests.
According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), the United States of America leads the world in terms of forest loss. Between 2000 and 2005, the country managed to lose 30% of its forest area.
As you can see in the graph, the plant lost about 12% of its forests in just five years and that means in other words that in just fifty years if we continue at the same pace, we will have no more living plants to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.
This, of course, even from the beginning of the Trump administration, which left the Paris agreement and offered great support to industries that commented on deforestation. This also portrays a very different time from the current ones, in which the population is around 8 billion people.
With more people on the planet, it is necessary to have more space to house them and more crops and livestock to feed them. If we don’t act now, the rest will suffer the impact that this economic appeal will have on their existence.
This is not the only problem, although it is serious enough. The super-exploitation of the soil, aligned with deforestation, causes the land to lose its ability to regenerate, losing its nutrients and minerals.
As a consequence of this depletion, we see an irreversible and extremely dangerous process: desertification.
If you’ve ever been to a desert (or watched any movie in your life), you know what the setting is. There is no room for life in a desert. There is no water, no nutrients. There is only sand.
If we don’t reverse it while there is time, the process of desertification could take away the ability that has kept us alive until now: the ability to grow our own food. Imagine this on a global scale, in the nearly 200 countries that exist in the world.
And it is at this moment that the urgency of reforestation arises.
Reforestation is a strategy for recovering deforested forests by planting new trees. This is a delicate process, as it is not enough to drop billions of seeds from a helicopter and watch the magic happen.
Each type of forest has its characteristics, its strengths and weaknesses, and the trees interact with each other. If the planting is done wrong, the new trees may have difficulty growing in some soils, or threaten the existence of trees that already exist in the space.
There are many advantages to reforestation, such as:
- The massive capture of CO2 from the atmosphere.
- The preservation of species, which balance the ecosystem, serve as food and object of study for, for example, the development of new medicines;
- Reverse soil erosion: treetops protect the forest floor, making flooding and landslides more difficult. Without trees, we lose that capacity and experience more and more frequent catastrophes.
- Human health: every vitamin or nutrient in your body came from a food, which in turn came from the soil. With weakened soil, without minerals and infested with pesticides, the human species is increasingly susceptible to diseases that can escalate to a pandemic level.
As you can see, reforestation is one of our weapons today to restore environmental balance, but this is not an easy task.
To have effective power of restoration, it’s no use planting a tree in the year on a holiday. This reforestation needs to be massive and consistent.
Just to give you an idea, the European Union’s goal is to plant 3 billion trees by 2030. This means that, to reach this goal, the group of nations would need to plant 1,123,595 trees every day.
Eucalyptus forests: the wrong way to do it
Have you ever heard of eucalyptus reforestation? This is the important reminder about how the fight for reforestation is not based on quantity, but quality.
Since the early 2000s you may have seen companies publicizing their reforestation program. Many of these ads, the company brags about having a gigantic number of trees planted.
The problem they don’t tell you is that these trees are Eucalyptus.
Eucalyptus planting has its strengths, but also its disadvantages. This species of tree is preferred by companies because it grows very fast.
A eucalyptus tree takes about 7 years to reach its full development. This means that this rapid growth captures a lot of carbon from the atmosphere, because the tree needs energy to grow at that speed.
But not only CO2 lives a tree. Eucalyptus, in addition to rescuing a lot of carbon from the atmosphere, also captures a lot of water from the soil to feed this accelerated growth. This means, in other words, that eucalyptus trees can be extremely harmful to the soil. Its high water absorption can drain the groundwater available at that location.
Another important observation is that eucalyptus trees are extremely vertical trees. Unlike the imagery of trees that always appear in children’s drawings with a super canopy full of leaves, eucalyptus trees have a narrow canopy that lets rainwater through.
This characteristic means that, when eucalyptus trees capture a lot of water from the ground, they allow the water to reach the surface, which greatly facilitates the possibility of floods and landslides.
For this kind of counterpoint, it is necessary to plan the massive reforestation process so that it is not harmful to the environment rather than something positive.
How to do responsible reforestation?
Responsible reforestation needs planning that considers environmental factors of the fauna and flora of each location.
Some of the important points of this strategy to combat climate change are:
- Field study
- Deciding which species is best
- Deciding on the best planting method
- Forest protection planning
In the first stage, land assessment, environmental engineers can check the conditions of the soil, such as its depth, fertility level, climate and the native flora of that environment. All of this brings us to step number 2.
Deciding on the best tree species
Reforestation field study
After understanding the conditions of the specific environment, it is necessary to choose the best species. In an ideal scenario, reforestation would be done only with native species (that is, similar to trees that already exist in the place or that are close to 100 kilometers).
It is possible that imported species will also be included in this project, aiming at rapid growth, as long as these species are compatible with the region’s flora.
Decision on the planting method
As we said earlier, it’s not enough to just fly by with a helicopter dropping seeds.
As with any type of planting, it is necessary to prepare the soil to receive the new trees and choose the least invasive planting technique.
This method planning also considers the potential coverage area of each new tree, so that they do not conflict with others and, above all, are not harmful to native trees.
Lastly, you need a follow-up plan. Rebuilding the planet cannot be a one-off action: it needs to be a daily and consistent work.
Therefore, it is necessary to have a monitoring program against pests, fires and other criminal acts that could make reforestation work useless.
How can I help reforestation?
Nobody expects you to leave your house in the morning planting trees. If you are an ordinary citizen, you probably don’t have the time or knowledge to carry out this process efficiently.
However, your help is essential. There are several professionals organized around the world to carry out safe and responsible reforestation. Your mission? Support these groups!
The Hourglass project has a program for rebuilding the planet, in which, in addition to disseminating guidelines on climate change, it also makes monthly donations to institutions that defend and recover our air, water and soil.
See how you can help and be member of Hourglass Planet Healing program.