Washington Post: Our simplest climate change solution: Plant a tree, hug a bee

WASHINGTON – Sometimes big problems can be solved simply.

At the moment, our biggest problem – climate change – can be ended by simply planting trees. OK, so a trillion trees, according to a Swiss study published earlier this month in the journal Science. But how hard is that, really?

An equally serious and related problem is disappearing bees. Those cute little black-and-yellow-robed buzzers are essential to our survival, but our pesticides, fertilizers and climate change are killing them along with the insects we hate. Without bees, our ecosystems would collapse, and thus our food supply.

Over the top? Apocalyptic? Let’s just say, no. This is reality, and we have the means to change it: Plant trees, save bees. Since bees also like flowers, let’s go ahead and make America beautiful again.

Saving bees and trees by planting with purpose would kill two birds, so to speak. If this sounds like a modern version of the Emerald City of Oz, I have no problem with that.

Most people know that trees are good for them. They absorb CO2 (carbon dioxide), thus purifying the air for our breathing pleasure. Carbon dioxide is also one of the main greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere, leading to rising temperatures and climate change.

Estimates are that around 15% of emissions come from deforestation. Trees also curb other harmful gases, such as sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide, again releasing pure oxygen into the air. If the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 150 million hectares of forests were lost, it would generate about three times the world’s total annual emissions in 2012.

But scientists, including Thomas Crowther, a co-author of the trilliontree study, were quick to point out that planting trees alone w ouldn’t work.And how does one go about planting a trillion trees? And where should they be planted?

Although tree-planting is a simple solution – effective and cheaper than any other remedies currently in circulation – it isn’t a simple matter to plant trees helt er-skelter. A forest in the wrong place could have detrimental effects by upsetting the ecological balance.

The countries with the most land available for building forests are Russia, China, Canada, Australia, Brazil – and the United States. The Switzerland- based researchers found that adding 1.2 trillion more trees would reverse 10 years’ worth of harmful emissions. Over the decades, Crowther says those new trees would absorb about 200 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Several countries have signed up for reforestation, including the United States, which has seen a steady increase in its forestland, thanks in part to the Forest Service’s tree-planting initiatives. But we have to figure that the wreath of rainforests that fully wrapped around the globe until relatively recently was surely there for good reason. Satellite images show that the Amazon rainforest – the world’s largest – is disappearing at the rate of one and a half soccer-field-sized parcels per minute.

No trees, no birds, no bugs, no bees, no food, no humans. That’s pretty simple, too.

This past winter, a record share – 40% – of honey-bee colonies in the United States died, but bees aren’t the only ones disappearing. Forty percent of all the world’s insects are in decline, according to another recent study, leading scientists to declare that Earth is experiencing the Sixth Great Extinction.

Insects nourish birds and fish, serenade us to sleep. Animals pollinate 87% of flowering plant species. If current trends continue, there may be no insects by 2119, with one likely exception – the indestructible cockroach.

Contact Kathleen Parker at kathleenparker@ washpost.com.

What is Trees for Life?

What we are proposing: to plant and nurture 100,000 new native tree species in Indian River County in the next 10 to 15 years.

To get started, we are proposing a pilot project for the next two years – plant and nurture 5,000 trees – in Vero Beach, Sebastian, Fellsmere and in the county.

Who?PIAS and ELC, along with many – 22 at last count — partner organizations. These include the school district,  extension service, state/county health department, five landscaping/nursery businesses, civic groups such as the Lions Club.

Why plant trees:we have drastically changed the landscape in our county in the last 50 years as our population has grown from 7,000 or so to 150,000 people. Trees belong in our landscape – native trees like live oaks. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. Without trees and all green plants humans and other animals would not be on this earth.

Where will we plant them?Trees will be free to any resident who asks for one, but with some conditions – they agree to learn how to take care of their tree, they agree to let us put it on a map so we can follow up, visit.

Where will the trees come from?ELC and PIAS have built greenhouses and at the schools we will erect shade houses. Right now we have 3,000 live oak seedlings and more coming every day as people find out about the project and offer their acorns.

Also to be planted:150 fruit trees in some of our poorer neighborhoods, the fruit to help improve family diets. For this we thank the health department who can identify the families who agree to the help.

Keeping track:we will map the exact location of each tree using GPS and GIS technology. We will also use GIS mapping to find the soils and drainage most suitable for each tree species.

Who will do this work?Our goal is to ask our combined 600 volunteers/membership, all from our partner organizations. With our partners we will be offering focus groups and tree horticulture educational workshops to community members.

Schools and students will be a big part in this.  ELC staff will design the STEAM curriculum, develop the assessment tools and analyze the numbers, as well as train teachers and volunteers to care for the trees along with student scientists. ELC will contribute staff time, volunteer hours, and greenhouses. PIAS will contribute our greenhouses and nursery, volunteers and education talent.

Both ELC and PIAS have run education programsfor adults and children for many years. We have experience in conservation education programs and projects.

Vero, Sebastian and Fellsmere are already designated as Tree Cities by the Arbor Day Foundation. We want to build on this relationship.

So what about the cost, who is paying for this?  Just for the pilot program, we are funding raising for $100,000. Over the long term it could cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars. We have landed some substantial contributions, and of course we can always use more. Each tree will be free to the residents, the family, the school, but it does cost us money, especially for purchasing the fruit trees. But getting free acorns by the thousand is a good start. Keep the acorns coming.If you want to be a part of this, email: PIAudubon@yahoo.com or call our office 772-567-3520