You want a tree?
The Arbor Day Foundation will give you a tree. (Actually, they will give you 10 trees if you give them $15 for a membership.)
I’ll give you a tree, too. (For free, if you don’t mind digging up one of the tiny maples sprouting in my yard from a record helicopter seed crop this spring).
There. That’s settled. Now let’s see about planting 999,999,999,989 more.
A trillion trees to help save the planet. That’s the idea. You may have heard about the Swiss researchers who calculated that planting trees could eat up almost 830 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide. (That's all of the carbon pollution we humans have put out into the atmosphere in the past quarter-century.)
“This is by far — by thousands of times — the cheapest climate change solution,” the study’s co-author Thomas Crowther told the Associated Press last week.
And the most effective.
More effective than cutting emissions, according to Crowther, a climate change ecologist at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Zurich.
More effective than switching to a plant-based diet. (Can you imagine if the planet’s people had the personal and political will to tackle all three?)
When I read that trillion tree story, I felt a little glimmer of hope.
A flicker of possibility, despite the epic floods and earthquakes and fires, despite the dwindling ice caps and sweltering in Alaska and climate deniers with their heads in sinking sand.
Trying to make a difference — Look, I’m using recycled toilet paper! — can feel like trying to empty the ocean with a tea cup. (Look, we’re opening 10 new coal plants and shredding the Paris Climate Agreement!)
But trees. Surely we can all get behind trees.
A trillion trees would cover 3.5 million square miles. And we have room, the Swiss researchers said. Especially in Russia and Brazil and China, Australia and Canada and the United States.
But a trillion? A number that would take roughly 32,000 years to get to if you started counting now and didn't stop to sleep or go to the bathroom?
Crowther called it a monumental challenge. “Which is exactly the scale of the problem of climate change.”
Nebraska's tree lovers don't need to be told.
“We’ve been carrying this message for a long time,” said Arbor Day's Woody Nelson. “We feel like trees are a solution to many of the world’s problems.”
The need for more trees is immediate, he said. “Humankind is facing a crisis.”
And at the Arbor Day Foundation they aren't just wringing their hands, they're carrying shovels in them.
In March, the nonprofit — headquartered in downtown Lincoln — formally kicked off its Time for Trees initiative with a goal of 100 million new trees planted by 2022, the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day. (The Nebraska Forest Service has planted tens of thousands of those trees, mostly ponderosa pines.)
One of the organization’s young award winners is part of a global youth effort to plant a trillion trees. (Plant for the Planet was started by 9-year-old Felix Finkbeiner in 2007, and he’s still at it along with 70,000 other youth ambassadors around the globe.)
A separate Trillion Tree Campaign is underway, backed by the World Wildlife Federation, the Wildlife Conservation Society and BirdLife International (birds like trees, too).
We all like trees, says someone who really likes trees, Nebraska State Forester John Erixson.
“It really is a nonpartisan issue,” Erixson said. “And it’s a fairly simple solution.”
Trees are transcendent, Nelson agreed. Old people and young people, rich and poor, city and country dwellers all appreciate trees.
They need trees.
They provide shade and reduce the need for air conditioning. They filter wastewater and remove airborne pollution. They provide habitat. They keep rivers from flooding. They improve the quality of life for humans from Namibia to Nebraska. (The forest service alone has planted 220,000 trees in the past few years with plans for 100,000 more next year.)
“I do think we have the opportunity to grow more trees and store more carbon than a lot of other places,” Erixson said. “The trees are the answer, I think any forester you talk to would agree.”
And you don’t have to be a forester.
There are farmers and conservation tree planting programs. Suburbanites with their small plots of paradise.
“Even shrubs store carbon,” Erixson said.
A few red-twigged dogwoods aren’t going to save my grandkids’ future. I know.
And our earth was once home to 6 trillion trees, so there’s that. And there's this: Last year alone, the planet lost 10 billion trees to deforestation, fire and other human activity.
But I’m not sure about a better Plan B at the moment.
And this does seem to be the moment.
“If ever there was a time to plant trees,” Nelson said, “this is the time.”