The conker tree has been put on the official extinction list.
Ravaged by moths and disease, the horse chestnut is now classified as vulnerable to extinction.
The tree is among more than 400 native European tree species assessed for their risk of extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
About half face disappearing from the natural landscape.
Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN Red List unit, described the findings as “alarming”.
“Trees are essential for life on Earth, and European trees in all their diversity are a source of food and shelter for countless animal species such as birds and squirrels, and play a key economic role,” he said.
The conservation status of most animals in Europe has already been assessed for the inventory of endangered species known as the Red List.
Experts are now turning their attention to plants, with an assessment of all 454 tree species native to the continent.
The report found:
42% are threatened with extinction (assessed as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered)
Among endemic trees – those that don’t exist anywhere else on Earth – 58% are threatened.
Species highlighted include the horse chestnut, which is declining across Europe, and most of almost 200 trees in the family that includes the rowan and mountain ash.
The report identified a wide range of threats, including pests and diseases, competition from invasive plants, deforestation, unsustainable logging, changes in land use and forest fires.
Dr Steven Bachman, conservation scientist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, who was not part of the report, said trees played a critical role in sustaining and enhancing our lives.
“This report fills an important knowledge gap on the threat status of European trees, but the results reveal a disturbingly high level of extinction risk that requires urgent and effective conservation action at all levels.”
A second report found almost half of all Europe’s shrub species are threatened with extinction, due to the loss and destruction of Europe’s wild areas, as well as agriculture, invasive species and climate change.
Luc Bas, director of IUCN’s European regional office, said human activities were causing tree population declines across Europe.
“This report has shown how dire the situation is for many overlooked, undervalued species that form the backbone of Europe’s ecosystems and contribute to a healthy planet.”
Recommendations included further research into the impact of climate change.
Mike Seddon, chief executive of Forestry England said the “climate crisis” was a real threat to woodlands, including the nation’s forest they manage, increasing the risk from pests and diseases.
“Our efforts to have resilient forests include planting a greater variety of trees, including native species, only grown in the UK,” he said.
WASHINGTON — Climate change is heating the oceans and altering their chemistry so dramatically that it is threatening seafood supplies, fueling cyclones and floods and posing profound risks to the hundreds of millions of people living along the coasts, according to a sweeping United Nations report issued Wednesday.
The report concludes that the world’s oceans and ice sheets are under such severe stress that the fallout could prove difficult for humans to contain without steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Fish populations are already declining in many regions as warming waters throw marine ecosystems into disarray, according to the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders in policymaking.
“The oceans are sending us so many warning signals that we need to get emissions under control,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a marine biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany and a lead author of the report. “Ecosystems are changing, food webs are changing, fish stocks are changing, and this turmoil is affecting humans.”
Hotter ocean temperatures, combined with rising sea levels, further imperil coastal regions, the report says, worsening a phenomenon that is already contributing to storms like Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Houston two years ago.
For decades, the oceans have served as a crucial buffer against global warming, soaking up roughly a quarter of the carbon dioxide that humans emit from power plants, factories and cars, and absorbing more than 90 percent of the excess heat trapped on Earth by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Without that protection, the land would be heating much more rapidly.
But the oceans themselves are becoming hotter, more acidic and less oxygen-rich as a result, according to the report. If humans keep pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at an increasing rate,marine ecosystems already facing threats from seaborne plastic waste, unsustainable fishing practices and other man-made stresses will be further strained.
“We are an ocean world, run and regulated by a single ocean, and we are pushing that life support system to its very limits through heating, deoxygenation and acidification,” said Dan Laffoley of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a leading environmental group that tracks the status of plant and animal species, in response to the report.
The report, which was written by more than 100 international experts and is based on more than 7,000 studies, represents the most extensive look to date at the effects of climate change on oceans, ice sheets, mountain snowpack and permafrost.
Changes deep in the ocean or high in the mountains are not always as noticeable as some of the other hallmarks of global warming, such as heat waves on land, or wildfires and droughts. But the report makes clear that what happens in these remote regions will have ripple effects across the globe.
For instance, as ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica melt and push up ocean levels, the report said, extreme flooding that was once historically rare could start occurring once a year or more, on average, in many coastal regions this century. How quickly this happens depends largely on the ability of humanity to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that are heating the planet.
Around the world, glaciers in the mountains are receding quickly, affecting the availability of water for millions of people who depend on meltwater downstream to supply drinking water, irrigate agricultural land and produce electricity through dams and hydropower.
But some of the report’s starkest warnings concern the ocean, where major shifts are already underway.
The frequency of marine heat waves — which can kill fish, seabirds, coral reefs and seagrasses — has doubled since the 1980s. Many fish populations are migrating far from their usual locations to find cooler waters, and local fishing industries are often struggling to keep up. Floating sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is declining at rates that are “likely unprecedented for at least 1,000 years,” the report said.
The report notes that some pathogens are proliferating in warmer waters, including vibrio, a bacteria that can infect oysters and other shellfish, and that already sickens some 80,000 Americans who eat raw or undercooked seafood each year. “That’s a good example of how changes in the ocean can affect even people who live far from the coasts,” said Sherilee Harper, a public health expert at the University of Alberta and an author on the report.
The report warns that more dramatic changes could be in store. If fossil-fuel emissions continue to rise rapidly, for instance, the maximum amount of fish in the ocean that can be sustainably caught could decrease by as much as a quarter by century’s end. That would have sweeping implications for global food security: Fish and seafood provide about 17 percent of the world’s animal protein, and millions of people worldwide depend on fishing economies for their livelihoods.
And heat waves in the ocean are expected to become 20 to 50 times more frequent this century, depending on how much greenhouse-gas emissions increase. Vibrant underwater ecosystems such as coral reefs, kelp forests and seagrass meadows are all expected to suffer serious damage if global temperatures rise even modestly above today’s levels.
The potential for these heat waves to wreak havoc in coastal communities is already becoming noticeable in areas like the North Pacific Ocean, where what became known as a “blob” of unusually hot water in 2013 and 2014, partly fueled by global warming, killed thousands of seabirds and helped spawn toxic algae blooms that forced fisheries to close down from California to British Columbia.
Last year, officials in the Gulf of Alaska had to reduce permitted cod catches by 80 percent to allow stocks to rebuild in the wake of the heat wave, roiling the local fishing industry.
“When that happens, it’s like a punch in the gut,” said Brett Veerhusen, 33, a fisheries consultant and commercial fisherman based in Seattle and Homer, Alaska. “And it’s not just fishermen who are affected, it’s an entire supply chain, from processing plants to shipping to grocery stores and restaurants.”
Changes in the ocean also threaten to disrupt the complex and often delicate ecosystems that underpin marine environments. The report notes that the upper layers of the open ocean have lost between 0.5 percent and 3.3 percent of their oxygen since 1970 as temperatures have risen. And, as the ocean absorbs more carbon dioxide, it is becoming more acidic, which could make it harder for corals, oysters, mussels and other organisms to build their hard shells.
Acidification and declining oxygen levels are already affecting the California Current, a nutrient-rich pattern of water currents in the Pacific Ocean that supports one of the world’s most lucrative fisheries, the report notes. While scientists are still trying to understand the full effects of these changes, one risk is that shifts in the food chain could cause fish to migrate away.
“If the fish leave, that affects the small fishing fleets we have up and down the California coast,” said Gretchen Hofmann, a professor of marine biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara who was not involved in the report. “So there’s the risk of real economic and social problems.”
While the report recommends that nations sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions to lessen the severity of most of these threats, it also points out that countries will need to adapt to many changes that have now become unavoidable.
Even if, for instance, nations rapidly phase out their greenhouse gas emissions in the decades ahead and limit global warming to well below an increase of 2 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels — a goal enshrined in the Paris Agreement, a pact among nations to fight warming — the world’s oceans and frozen landscapes would still look very different by the end of the century than they do today. Warm-water coral reefs would still suffer mass die-offs. Global sea levels could still rise another 1 to 2 feet this century as ice sheets and glaciers melted. Fish populations would still migrate, creating winners and losers among fishing nations and potentially leading to increased conflicts, the report noted.
To cope with these problems, coastal cities will need to build costly sea walls and many people will likely need to move away from low-lying areas, the report said. Fishery managers will need to crack down on unsustainable fishing practices to prevent seafood stocks from collapsing. Nations could also expand protected areas of the ocean to help marine ecosystems stay resilient against shifting conditions.
But the report also makes clear that if greenhouse gas emissions keep rising, many of these adaptation measures could lose their effectiveness. In the report’s worst-case emissions scenario, where greenhouse gases continue piling up unchecked in the atmosphere throughout the century, sea levels could keep rising at a relentless pace for hundreds of years, potentially by 17 feet or more by 2300, the report said.
“Our fate is probably somewhere in between” the best- and worst-case emissions scenarios laid out in the report, said Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University and a lead author of the report’s chapter on sea levels. “But if you think about the possibility of indefinite or even accelerating sea level rise for centuries to come, that bodes very poorly for coastal civilization.”
Brad Plumer is a reporter covering climate change, energy policy and other environmental issues for The Times’s climate team. @bradplumer
David Milarch’s near-death experience inspired a personal quest: to archive the genetics of the world’s largest trees before they’re gone. This short film from The Story Group documents his effort to save the redwood champions of Northern California from the effects of climate change. The Story Group: http://thestorygroup.org/ ➡ Subscribe: http://bit.ly/NatGeoSubscribe ➡ Get More Short Film Showcase: http://bit.ly/ShortFilmShowcase
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Annie Haigler steps out of her home in Louisville, Ky., pulling a handkerchief out of her pocket to dab sweat off her forehead. She enjoys sitting on her porch, especially to watch the sunrise. She has always been a morning person.
But as the day progresses, the heat can be unbearable for her. On summer days like this, when highs reach into the 90s, the lack of trees in her neighborhood is hard for Haigler to ignore.
“That’s what I’m accustomed to trees doing: They bring comfort. You don’t notice it, you don’t think about it. But they bring comfort to you,” she says.
The tree cover in her neighborhood, Park DuValle, is about half the city average. As one of the lower-income areas of Louisville, it’s in line with a citywide trend: Wealthier areas of the city have up to twice as many trees as do poorer areas.
Trees can play a huge role in the health of people living in cities, but across the country, cities are losing millions of trees year after year. And many poor urban neighborhoods — often home to a city’s most vulnerable — are starting at a disadvantage.
“If we show you a map of tree canopy in virtually any city in America, we’re also showing you a map of income,” says Jad Daley, president and CEO of the nonprofit American Forests. “And in many cases we’re showing you a map of race and ethnicity.”
That lack of tree cover can make a neighborhood hotter, and a joint investigation by NPR and the University of Maryland’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism found just that: Low-income areas in dozens of major U.S. cities are more likely to be hotter than their wealthier counterparts, and those areas are disproportionately communities of color.
“If you live in an area in cities that is seeing more extreme heat days, but you don’t have tree cover to cool down your neighborhood, that can literally be a life or death issue,” says Daley. “The folks who are least likely to have air conditioning to weather heat waves, the folks who are most likely to have preexisting health conditions that put them at greater risk from those heat waves, aren’t getting the benefits of trees.”
A study by the Georgia Institute of Technology found Louisville to be getting hotter faster than any of the other 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, compared with the rural areas around them. One reason cities tend to be hotter? Fewer trees.
Louisville is losing 54,000 trees each year from development, natural disasters, disease, invasive species and lack of tree care. And it’s not alone. From 2009 to 2014, 44 states lost tree cover in urban areas — that’s around 28.5 million trees lost every year, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
“Make no mistake, we are losing trees all around the U.S., and cities are struggling to keep up with restoring and establishing a healthy, thriving tree canopy,” says Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation.
In keeping neighborhoods cool, money matters
In Louisville, St. James Court is an oasis: A fountain bubbles in the center of a scenic boulevard. There are few spots left unshaded by the dense tree canopy that stretches overhead.
But maintaining the quarter-mile stretch of land will cost around $20,000 this year, according to the St. James Court Association. That money comes from the annual St. James Court Art Show. Not all neighborhoods can afford that kind of tree maintenance, and neither can the city government.
Louisville is facing a $35 million budget deficit, which has already resulted in cuts to libraries, pools and firehouses. The city also eliminated the Office of Sustainability, which was coordinating tree planting and heat island issues in the city.
Still, the city estimates it has planted and donated nearly 30,000 trees since 2013. That ends up being more than 5,000 trees on average each year — not nearly enough to make up for the more than 50,000 lost annually.
“We’ve got to wrestle with this great American challenge, right? People want everything but they don’t want to pay for anything,” says Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. When it comes to increasing tree cover, “city government is not going to be able to do all that by itself,” he says.
Maria Koetter, the former director of the Office of Sustainability, says one of the reasons sustainability initiatives can lack political support and resources is that their benefits often aren’t immediate. That is especially true, she says, when it comes to trees.
“With a tree, you plant it now, it won’t hit a 30-foot crown for 15 years,” says Koetter. “A lot of that work of today is about a future payoff.”
“Instead of giving pills, we plant trees”
In one Louisville neighborhood, a team of researchers is trying to prove that trees are just as important to the health of people in cities as are widely accepted practices like building codes and water treatment.
The Green Heart Project — a multimillion-dollar effort funded in large part by the National Institutes of Health and the Nature Conservancy — is starting to plant fully grown trees, as tall as 30 feet, in a test area within the city. The five-year study will measure health indicators, particularly those for heart health, for around 700 participants, half of whom will be living under the shade of those new trees. The other half will be part of a control group, who live where new trees haven’t yet been planted.
“The idea was to run this whole project as a clinical trial, but instead of giving pills, we plant trees,” says Aruni Bhatnagar, director of the University of Louisville’s Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, which is leading the study.
Beyond cooling a city’s temperature down, which on its own can improve health, trees have been linked in prior studies to myriad positive health outcomes: longer life spans, lower levels of stress, better air quality and lower rates of cardiac disease. But Bhatnagar says those studies haven’t been enough to get city leaders to prioritize trees.
“We’re trying to convince other cities that this is worth doing,” says Bhatnagar. “Design cities and neighborhoods that first think about health, not last. That should be the first consideration before you put a single brick into a neighborhood.”
LUCKNOW, India — More than a million Indians planted 220 million trees on Friday in a government campaign to tackle climate change and improve the environment in the country’s most populous state.
Forest official Bivhas Ranjan said students, lawmakers, officials and others planted dozens of species of saplings Friday along roads, rail tracks and in forest lands in northern Uttar Pradesh state. The target of 220 million saplings was achieved by 5 p.m.
Ranjan said the trees, including 16 fruit species, will increase forest cover in the state.
India has pledged to keep one-third of its land area under tree cover, but its 1.3 billion people and rapid industrialization are hampering its efforts.
“We set the target of 220 million because Uttar Pradesh is home to 220 million people,” said state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Planting was carried out in 1,430,381 places, including 60,000 villages and 83,000 sites in forest ranges.
“The whole process is online. The pits are geo-tagged and the saplings carry a QR code. So we can record how many saplings are planted and where,” state government spokesman Awanish Awasthi said.
The long-term survival of trees remains a concern. Usually, about 60% of saplings survive, with the rest succumbing to disease or lack of water, he said.
Kavya Sharma, a 7-year-old student, skipped classes in Lucknow, the state capital, to plant two saplings in a forest range.
It was the second huge tree planting campaign in Uttar Pradesh. In July 2016, 50 million saplings were planted in a day.
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
In 2007, Boston marked Arbor Day with an announcement by then-Mayor Thomas Menino that the city would plant 100,000 new trees by 2020. But despite the fanfare that accompanied an initial deployment of saplings, within a few years the ambitious goal was quietly abandoned. Officials chalked up the failure to the city’s dense development and trouble maintaining the trees already growing on public land.
That’s a shame, says David Meshoulam, co-founder and executive director of the non-profit Speak for the Trees, Boston.
“Trees are not only a nice thing to have, they’re actually a critical thing for a city to have,” he says. “We’re a city that sits right on a harbor — we’re going to be dealing with flooding, all sorts of new climate patterns. In my mind, this is a really existential issue for Boston.”
Boston is not the only city where a thriving urban forest — and the so-called ecosystem services it provides — may prove crucial in the coming decades. According to a growing body of research, planting and caring for trees is one of the best things cities can do to adapt to climate change. As summers get hotter, trees can mitigate the urban heat island effect, reducing dependence on air conditioning. As winters become more unpredictable, trees dampen wind speeds and keep nearby buildings warmer. Their shade can extend the life of infrastructure by shielding it from the baking sun, and their roots prevent storm water runoff, something that will become more and more important as rising seas inundate coastal cities.
Of course urban trees also store carbon — 708 million tons in the United States alone, the equivalent of one-eighth of our annual emissions, according to the US Forest Service. And a recent study by researchers at Boston University’s Earth and Environment department suggests that, if well-managed, they may do this more efficiently than rural forests. Although street trees have shorter average life spans, with double the mortality rate of rural trees, once established they grow much faster (ironically, this is thanks in part to the carbon dioxide and nitrogen spewing from tailpipes).
“If you have plants that are growing at three or four times the normal rate, you are going to get a much larger bang for your buck by planting a tree in the city than you are in the country,” says Professor Lucy Hutyra, the study’s senior author.
This is all good news for cities, because unlike, say, restricting the use of private automobiles, taking better care of urban trees is within the power of every municipal government (and generally lacking organized political opposition). Still, as Boston has learned, it’s easier said than done. Even as cities incorporate trees into their climate change plans, the Forest Service recently calculated that we are losing as many as 36 million urban trees each year. Many fall to development, while others perish early due to poor maintenance or lack of watering — something that’s especially important when trees have yet to establish their root systems.
The biggest, oldest trees are often removed pre-emptively — which is unfortunate, notes Hutyra, because it’s those trees that actually work the hardest to keep cities cool, shelter wildlife, and sequester carbon. But there are ways to preserve these older trees. A recent study by researchers at the University of Florida, for example, found that cities in that state with “heritage tree” ordinances, which protect the largest trees from being chopped down even on private land, have canopy coverage 6.7 percentage points higher than similar urban areas.
“Trees need to be managed as green infrastructure,” says Deborah Hilbert, a PhD student who led the study. “It has to go beyond just planting trees.”
The Florida study offered unusually clear evidence of one strategy’s effectiveness, but other creative approaches show promise. City Forest Credits, a new nonprofit based in Seattle, is selling carbon offset credits backed by urban tree planting and preservation projects to companies including Microsoft and Bank of America. And while utility companies typically have an adversarial relationship with trees (which can knock out power when they fall on lines), in Sacramento a long-running partnership between a local nonprofit and the public utility places trees in people’s yards, where they reduce cooling costs — and the accompanying drain on the power grid — by as much as 40 percent within five years of planting.
Still, the most important way to expand the urban forest may involve learning to look at city trees as an ecosystem unto themselves, says Jad Daley, president and CEO of American Forests, a conservation organization that often assists local nonprofits, including Speak for the Trees. “Even seemingly isolated street trees work together to create a forest-like effect, so the way we work with them has to be holistic,” he says.
Managing the urban ecosystem means planting a heterogeneous mix of species — an insurance plan for pests and diseases, like the emerald ash borer, which has been spreading through Massachusetts since 2012. Meanwhile, a crop of healthy young trees must be on deck to replace aging giants, as in a natural forest. All this is easier when you know the landscape, which is why many cities are investing in mapping and cataloguing their public trees. It’s a major undertaking (the public-private partners behind the San Francisco Urban Forest Map, for example, took a year to count that city’s 125,000 trees), but knowing which oaks or elms are growing where can help a city keep track of watering, pruning, and pest control, as well as which neighborhoods could benefit from tree-planting campaigns (poor and non-white areas tend to have fewer trees).
Information will be key in Boston as well, says Christopher Cook, the city’s chief of environment, energy and open space, who is looking forward to a new study of Boston’s tree canopy, funding for which was recently approved by the City Council. The survey will use plane-mounted LiDAR (for “Light Detection and Ranging”), a remote sensing method that Cook explains is more accurate than satellite imagery because it can determine which greenery is a tree and which merely a bush. After several years of rapid development, the new survey is likely to find a depleted canopy, Cook says. Still, it will be the first step in a more comprehensive approach to Boston’s urban forest, one that is more nuanced — and will hopefully be more successful — than Menino’s 100,000 tree plan.
Meanwhile, Cook says, it couldn’t hurt for Bostonians with hoses — or even buckets — to pitch in and help the city’s urban forest survive another long, hot summer. “Even just a few gallons of water from your faucet could help,” he pleads. “Trees ask so little of us, and they give us so much in return.”
Amy Crawford is a writer living in Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @amymcrawf.
Every year, an estimated 15 billion trees are chopped down across the planet to make room for agricultural and urban lands and other uses. We’ve cut down so many, in fact, that what’s left is about half of the number of trees that the Earth supported before the rise of human civilization, and scientists warn that it’s not helping our climate. Planting more trees is one way to offset deforestation. But now, a report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds that to have a shot at combatting the climate crisis, among other efforts, we’ll need to cut down fewer trees to begin with.
Global deforestation is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Of all the land-use-related carbon dioxide emissions between 2007 and 2016—between 2.6 and 7.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide yearly—most of it comes from deforestation, the IPCC report’s authors estimate. And, as my colleague Rebecca Leber explains:
The way we eat, farm, and cut down forests contributes in a major way to the climate problem. Deforestation, agriculture, and other land use are already responsible for 23 percent of the rise in human-caused greenhouse gases, and agriculture is responsible for 44 percent of methane emissions. Those numbers will certainly grow without changes in land management—changes like growing forests and improving soil’s carbon capture with more native plants and crops.
One partial solution to the effects of deforestation is simply to plant more trees. Last year, the IPCC estimated that we’d need to plant 1 billion hectares of forest by 2050 to keep the globe from warming a full 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. And in a recent, controversial study published in the journal Science, researchers based in Switzerland, Italy, and France concluded that doing so would be “undoubtedly achievable” and restoring forests worldwide could cut atmospheric carbon by a massive 205 gigatonnes. Critics of the study described the idea of a major tree-planting effort as somewhat impractical and unrealistic, but for others, it was “setting the limits,” as one researcher toldMother Jones.
Thursday’s IPCC report didn’t exactly advance or refute the findings of the Sciencepaper. It did, however, underscore the fact that planting trees will be part, by necessity, of any climate solution.But its authors note that “there are limits” to afforestation—planting trees in new places—and doing so potentially has some drawbacks. “Widespread use at the scale of several millions of km2 globally could increase risks for desertification, land degradation, food security and sustainable development,” the authors write. For example, tree planting could push agricultural operations onto less-suitable land, the New York Times reports.
“We cannot plant trees to get ourselves out of the problem that we’re in,” Pamela McElwee, a professor of human ecology at Rutgers University and an author on the report, told the Times. “The trade-offs that would keep us below 1.5 degrees, we’re not talking about them. We’re not ready to confront them yet.”
Climate mitigation efforts like planting trees may be a long-term and an admittedly quixotic solution, but there is also the option of slowing down or putting a halt to deforestation. “I do think eliminating deforestation is more important than planting new forest,” says Stanford University professor Rob Jackson, who chairs the Earth System Science Department and Global Carbon Project and is an author of a forthcoming study on the ability of forests to store carbon as more CO2 enters the atmosphere. But “it’s not an either-or, of course,” he says. “We can do both.”
When trees are cut down, he says, it can release years of a forests’ stored carbon back into the atmosphere. Given Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro’s determination to cut down parts of the Amazon rainforest, Jackson says focusing on deforestation is “especially critical” now.
“Forests provide many benefits beyond storing carbon,” Jackson says. “They store and recycle our water, they prevent erosion, they harbor biodiversity. There’s a legion of reasons to protect forests, especially in the tropics. When we plant forests, we gain some of those benefits, but it takes years to decades to grow a healthy forest.”
Avoiding meat and dairy products is one of the biggest ways to reduce your environmental impact, according to recent scientific studies.
Switching to a plant-based diet can help fight climate change, according to a major report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which says the West’s high consumption of meat and dairy is fuelling global warming.
But what is the difference between beef and chicken? Does a bowl of rice produce more climate warming greenhouse gases than a plate of chips? Is wine more environmentally friendly than beer?
Food production is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming, according to a University of Oxford study.
However, the researchers found that the environmental impact of different foods varies hugely.
Their findings showed that meat and other animal products are responsible for more than half of food-related greenhouse gas emissions, despite providing only a fifth of the calories we eat and drink.
Of all the products analysed in the study, beef and lamb were found to have by far the most damaging effect on the environment.
The findings echo recommendations on how individuals can lessen climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
When it comes to our diets, the IPCC says we need to buy less meat, milk, cheese and butter – but also eat more locally sourced seasonal food, and throw less of it away.
The IPCC also recommends that we insulate homes, take trains and buses instead of planes, and use video conferencing instead of business travel.
Cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by two-thirds, according to the Oxford study, published in the journal Science.
“What we eat is one of the most powerful drivers behind most of the world’s major environmental issues, whether it’s climate change or biodiversity loss,” study researcher Joseph Poore told BBC News.
Changing your diet can make a big difference to your personal environmental footprint, from saving water to reducing pollution and the loss of forests, he said.
“It reduces the amount of land required to produce your food by about 75% – that’s a huge reduction, particularly if you scale that up globally,” Poore explained.
If you fly regularly, replacing flying with other forms of transport may have a bigger impact on your carbon footprint than changing your diet. A passenger’s carbon footprint from a one-way flight from London to New York is just under half a tonne of greenhouse gases. Switching from a regular petrol vehicle to an electric car could save more than double that over a year.
Knowing how and where your food is produced is also important, as the same food can have huge differences in environmental impact.
For example, beef cattle raised on deforested land is responsible for 12 times more greenhouse gas emissions than cows reared on natural pastures.
The average beef from South America results in three times the amount of greenhouse gases as beef produced in Europe – and uses 10 times as much land.
Meat and dairy are not the only foods where the choices you make can make a big difference.
Chocolate and coffee originating from deforested rainforest produce relatively high greenhouse gases.
For climate-friendly tomatoes, choose those grown outdoors or in high-tech greenhouses, instead of in greenhouses heated by gas or oil. Environmentally-minded beer-drinkers may be interested to know that draught beer is responsible for fewer emissions than recyclable cans, or worse, glass bottles.
Even the most climate-friendly meat options still produce more greenhouse gases than vegetarian protein sources, like beans or nuts.
University of Oxford researcher Joseph Poore, and Thomas Nemecek of the Agroecology and Environment Research Division in Zurich, Switzerland, looked at the environmental impact of 40 major food products that represent the vast majority of what is eaten globally.
They assessed the effect of these foods on climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of land and fresh water used across all stages of their production, including processing, packaging, and transportation, but excluding the cooking process.
By analysing data from nearly 40,000 farms, 1,600 processors, packaging types and retailers, Poore and Nemecek were able to assess how different production practices and geographies have very different consequences on the planet.
What about serving sizes?
The data in the study looked at the environmental impact for 1kg of each of the different food products.
For this story, these were converted to impact per serving sizes based on serving sizes from the British Dietetic Association (BDA) and healthy diet portion sizes from BUPA.
The figures for serving sizes based on the BDA and BUPA suggestions are often lower than portion sizes commonly found in restaurants and what people normally expect, so the figures returned by the calculator on the impact of individuals’ consumption are likely to be higher in reality.
Protein-rich foods were calculated using the impact per 100g of protein from Poore and Nemecek’s research and data on protein per serving from the BDA, to avoid differences between cooked and uncooked foods.
What are greenhouse gases?
The figures for greenhouse gas emissions are in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2eq). This is a unit that converts the impact of different kinds of greenhouse gases, like methane and nitrous oxide, to the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.
How do you know what my diet is equal to in miles driven?
The annual impact from eating a specific food is calculated by multiplying the impact of one serving of that food by the times it is eaten in a year, based on the weekly estimates submitted by the user.
These are then compared with the emissions of other daily habits. The European Environment Agency estimates that driving a regular petrol car produces 392g of CO2eq/mile over its entire lifecycle, including emissions from the vehicle’s production, fuel production and exhaust emissions per mile.
Heating the average UK home produces 2.34 tonnes of CO2eq annually, according to data from the Committee on Climate Change, and a passenger’s carbon footprint for a return flight from London to Malaga is 320kg CO2eq, based on figures from the Carbon Neutral calculator.
The land used to produce the annual consumption of each food is compared with the size of a double tennis court, 261 metres squared.
The annual amount of water used is compared with a shower, based on figures suggesting the average shower lasts eight minutes and uses up 65 litres. Only “blue water”, i.e. water taken out of rivers or the ground, is included in the data.
LONDON — Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has been getting his hands dirty this summer, and this week he got much of the nation to join him.
Students, farmers, urban professionals, foreign dignitaries, environmentalists and government officials planted millions of seedlings on Monday, in what the government said was the largest one-day tree-planting effort in history.
It was part of Mr. Ahmed’s campaign to plant four billion trees in Ethiopia before the fall to combat deforestation and global warming.
Many schools and government offices were closed for the day, as students and civil servants were urged to take part in the program, which was supported by several international aid groups.
The aim was to put at least 200 million seedlings in the ground a day, and by day’s end, government officials said that more than 350 million had been planted.
The figures could not be verified, but they far exceed the previous record. That is held by the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, which in 2016 planted more than 50 million trees in one day, according to Guinness World Records.
On balance, the planet’s forests continue to shrink at an alarming rate, but reforestation campaigns have picked up momentum around the world, recognized as a powerful tool to fight climate change, habitat loss and erosion. After losing much of its forest cover, China has set out to be the world leader in expanding it, and most countries have signed onto an array of ambitious tree-planting campaigns.
The Earth Day Network has called for planting 7.8 billion trees on Earth Day next year — one for every living person.
Worldwide, about 900 million hectares of land — almost 3.5 million square miles, nearly the area of the United States — is not being used by people and could support forests, according to a recent study by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology, ETH Zurich, that drew intense interest from environmentalists worldwide.
If trees were planted on all of that land, the study said, when they matured they could store about two-thirds of all the carbon that human activity has pumped into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.
In the early 20th century, about one-third of Ethiopia was covered in forests, according to historical estimates, but that had dropped to just 4 percent by 2000, according to the United Nations. The country’s population has soared to more than 100 million people, about five times as many as it had in 1960 — growth that has increased demand for farmland and timber, contributing to deforestation.
From 1990 to 2015, Ethiopia lost 2.6 million hectares of forest, or more than 10,000 square miles, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Agency.
Ethiopia is among the nations taking part in the United Nations’ decade-old campaign against deforestation.
Organizations like Farm Africa have been working on management of forests with people in Ethiopia and other countries who depend on them for their livelihoods.
Farm Africa has supported farmers in Bale Province in developing forest-compatible trades like beekeeping, producing essential oils and making bamboo furniture, and using fuel-efficient stoves to reduce dependence on firewood.
A version of this article appears in print on July 31, 2019, Section A, Page 6 of the New York edition with the headline: Ethiopia Takes a Day to Plant Trees. Many, Many Trees...
From Chapter 11: Planting and Establishing Trees (Publication No. ENH 1061):
“Planting and establishing trees is all about managing air and moisture in the soil. Manage these correctly and trees will grow quickly following planting. Three of the most common causes of poor plant establishment or tree death are planting too deep, under watering, and over watering. If appropriate trees are planted at the right depth and they are irrigated properly, the planting has a good chance of success. As simple as this appears to be, problems often arise that lead to poor establishment or plant failure.”