Trees Will Not Save Us From Climate Change

A new paper is getting a lot of attention for its claim that the earth has about 2 billion acres of land that are currently unused and could support the planting of 500 billion trees. Once the trees were grown, they’d capture about 205 gigatonnes of carbon. That sounds great, but let’s give it some context:

We have emitted about 450 gigatonnes of carbon since the start of the Industrial Revolution. At our current rate, we’ll add another 205 gigatonnes in less than 20 years.

If we could really get all the countries of the world to plant trees on currently unused land that’s suitable for reforestation, that would be great. But even if we went all out and got 100 percent cooperation, it would take 50 or 60 years for these forests to grow to maturity. Unless we do something about actual emissions, we will have added at least 500 gigatonnes of additional carbon by then, bringing us to total emissions of about a billion gigatonnes of carbon. The trees would make only a small difference.

By all means, we should take this seriously and plant lots of trees. Even 50 or 100 gigatonnes of carbon capture would be a lot. But don’t fool yourself into thinking this is any kind of free ticket. We still have to figure out a way to reduce actual emissions by a huge amount if we want to avoid planetary catastrophe.

$500,000 MATCHING GIFT

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.