Speak for the Trees - By David Pratt
There is not an easy way to say that our environment is doomed, and the world we grew up in will vanish, within our lifetimes.
Human society has been built and flourished from the first inklings of civilization until today because the Earth has provided us some modicum of regularity. From the first predictable floods of the Nile basin till today, we have benefited enormously from living on a planet that provides us with seasons we can forecast and understand, and therefore plan around.
The level of destruction climate change is about to do to this planet, as a result of the pollutants humans have pumped into the atmosphere, will be the end of the civilizations we know for a long time to come. Extended dry, hot seasons have already begun killing off thousands of species around the globe crucial for food chains that support plant, animal, and insect life the world is quietly built on top of. Rising sea levels, due to melting ice caps, will put coastal cities underwater, wiping some island nations, such as Vanuatu and Micronesia, off the map entirely. The new geography of the planet will mean the displacement of millions, resulting in refugee crises and the associated issues with housing, not to mention the rampant disease risk that will spread when highly populated areas connected to complex sewage and treatment facilities are flooded over, and the detritus becomes part of the disaster. The term climate change was coined to demonstrate that global warming is only one facet of what is about to happen; seasons will not go away, our sway over the Earth is not that powerful. They will instead grow stronger, wilder, and unpredictable. As we speak, what could become a hurricane is bearing down on New Orleans as the first of a predicted six major storms this year. Summers will result in longer, more powerful heatwaves that will parch our agricultural centers and starve us of food supplies even as the damage done to the ocean robs us of that as a potential solution to a growing global hunger. Winters will result in more powerful storms that will leave the most vulnerable populations exposed. Indeed, the less wealth a person has, the more the unstoppable changes to our ecosystem will put them at risk, on a scale from permanent lifestyle alterations to death.
The cost alone, in terms of both economic damage and lives of all creatures lost, will be enough to alter society beyond what we know. The worst part is that in some places the damage is already irreversible because it came on so quickly, while in others its progress is so gradual that there is no alarm going off to spur action. The human race will, ultimately, survive the global climate crisis, but the world as we know it today, and much of the beauty in it, will be lost.
Tom Crowder, a climate change ecologist at ETH Zurich, has calculated that the addition of 1.2 trillion trees to our ecosystem could pull enough carbon out of the atmosphere to stave off the effects of climate change. This is roughly enough new growth to cover the United States, and indeed the free space in this country, as well as in Russia, India, Canada, China, Australia, and other parts of the world will be needed to make it fit. Australia has already pledged to plant a billion new trees to stop the spread of the Sahara desert. Pakistan, one of the largest nations most vulnerable to climate change, has already beaten that with a billion new trees planted as of 2017 and more to come. Plant for the Planet, an organization founded in 2007 by then nine-year-old Felix Finkbeiner, has led an initiative that has introduced 15 billion new trees into the soil across the planet.
Sixteen billion new trees in the past decade still leaves us 1.84 trillion shy of the goal. That number can only be approached with a genuine, concentrated effort to create new growth and replant existing forests by the collective environmental organizations and governments of the leading nations on Earth. One advantage is that trees take in more carbon as they grow, so replanting our forests, especially high carbon-capture trees such as pine and oak, will begin to quickly offset pollutants in the atmosphere. However, even then, the planting of new trees must be accompanied by a drastic reduction in emissions, or we will simply be prolonging the problem rather than working to stop it.
We have one viable, realizable solution to our climate crisis and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is to work tirelessly to reverse the destruction we have already done. The clock is ticking, and facing down a number like one trillion, every seed, and every second, matters if we are to preserve anything about our way of life.