When it comes to climate change, Donald Trump and Al Gore are barely on the same planet, much less the same page. But they concur on one thing: a plan to plant 1 trillion trees around the world as a way to protect the environment.
That’s about as far as their agreement goes. Gore understands that tree planting is just one of many steps needed to help stave off catastrophic global warming. Trump, on the other hand, seems to regard it as a substitute for other necessary and substantive actions.
With polls showing most Americans (86% of Democrats, 55% of Republicans and 78% of independents) demanding action on climate change, the president, who famously labeled global warming a hoax, is suddenly sounding like a tree hugger.
“To protect the environment, days ago I announced that the United States will join the One Trillion Trees initiative,” he declared in his State of the Union address last week, without actually mentioning climate change.
5.8B tons of greenhouse gas emissions
The initiative, announced by the World Economic Forum, would promote the conservation, restoration and growth of trees worldwide. In conjunction, Republicans in Congress have drafted legislation committing the United States to a goal of planting 3.3 billion trees annually in rural and urban areas through private partnerships and schoolchildren.
Conceptually, it’s a laudable idea. Leaves absorb carbon dioxide from the air, storing it in roots and branches as trees mature. The process helps offset carbon dioxide accumulating in the skies at record levels from the burning of fossil fuels. The greenhouse gas contributes to rising global temperatures that fuel more powerful storms, heavier rain, longer droughts and rising seas.
Tree planting sounds wonderfully green. But is it a fix for climate change? Hardly. Scientists, including those who produced a controversial study that was the genesis for the Trillion Trees concept, say it’s not.
The obstacle is the sheer size of the problem. Planting enough trees to absorb just the 5.8 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions the United States generated last year would require a forested area twice the size of Texas, according to the MIT Technology Review.
Meanwhile, the world is struggling to keep the trees it has. Urban development in America contributes to the loss of the equivalent of 36 million trees every year. The logging, mining and industrial-agriculture policies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro — whom Trump praises — have in one year reduced the Amazon rainforest, the “Lungs of the World,” by an area 1 1/2 times larger than Delaware.
Growing trees to mop up carbon pollution is important. But reducing those emissions is essential, and the Trump administration is twisting the spigot in the wrong direction.
Reversing environmental policies
Trump is pulling America out of the Paris climate agreement aimed at achieving worldwide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. He’s working to reverse Obama-era plans for cutting power plant and vehicle carbon pollution.
And his actions with regard to trees? Please.
Trump wants more logging, mining and development of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, America’s largest natural reservoir for carbon storage. A similar proposal has been floated for national forests in Utah, and last year Trump signed an order increasing logging on all public lands.
If Trump says he wants to plant more trees, fine. But the public shouldn’t be fooled. His efforts have not been a solution to global warming; they’ve been part of the problem.
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