The environmental impact of planting trees

To answer the question surrounding the environmental impact of planting trees, it is good to start with why you are asking this. You may want to get involved in more sustainable living. So do I. Despite having already dipped my toe in living a sustainable lifestyle, my journey has only just begun. I want to continuously do what is best for the environment and everyone that lives in it.  

You have probably become aware of the exponentially increasing damage humans have been exercising towards the planet in the past 100 years or so. It is becoming alarming, and if you are like me you want to do something about it. Take action. Do your bit. Etcetera. And good! I think we need more people like us, and before it’s too late. 

Upon many reasons, planting a tree comes to mind as a very positive thing to do. It provides shade and beauty to your garden along with a fountain of other benefits such as attracting wildlife, preventing flooding, and the list goes on (I will cover this list extensively in further posts so stay tuned!). 

However, when it comes to measuring the positive environmental impact that planting a tree contributes to ‘cleaning up’ the planet; a natural question might be “But how much significance does one tree really make in helping the environment?”. 

If you have asked the question above you are certainly not alone, and in this post my goal is to answer this question (And maybe even give you some additional thought provocation!) 

How much impact am I making? 

It’s no secret that trees absorb carbon dioxide (life-destroying) from the atmosphere, and release oxygen (life-giving) into the atmosphere. However, what perhaps is kept under the radar is just how much oxygen one tree can give you. 

Every year, one average sized tree typically absorbs 21kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and releases approximately 120kg of oxygen into the atmosphere. Now, these statistics may not mean much to you. But it should! This is a huge contribution to the oxygen that allows each and every one of us to breathe! In fact, this amount of oxygen provides a family of 4 to breathe for 6 months. So, plant two trees in your back garden and you and your family are sorted for the year! 

Here are some quick benefits that will help you realise just how important our trees are to our planet! 

  • Reducing climate volatility – including in urban areas! 
  • Provide oxygen 
  • Prevent flooding and water pollution 
  • Provide wildlife habitat 
  • Improve soil health 
  • Provide shelter and shade 

Although it is true that trees have all the benefits above, it also true that trees are recognised primarily on the positive impact it has on air quality. Or more accurately put, it is recognised that chopping down tree is detrimental to the air quality of our planet. With that said, I want the focal point of this post to be on how trees improve air quality, how that improvement impacts the environment positively and most importantly how you can get involved yourself! 

First, I think it is so important to gain some perspective on our planet’s current situation before looking into what we can do in the future.  

The present 

Over human history, we have cut down 46% of the planet’s trees. Today, there are approximately 3.04 trillion trees on the planet (Crowther, 2015). However, we are cutting trees down at a rate of 15 billion trees per year. In effort to negate this scary figure, as a species we are also replanting 5 billion trees per year. The contribution is positive, but still leaves us with a net loss of 10 billion trees per year. If this rate continues, we will have no trees left in 300 years. Additionally, if this rate continues, we will face a lot of issues way before 300 years passes! This is because the amount of oxygen being released will decrease and the amount of carbon dioxide being absorbed by trees will decrease too. 

The future 

This leads us to ask, “what should the future look like?”. I think the goal should be carbon neutrality. To not produce any Carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would be extremely challenging, given the way our society operates today. So, at the very least, we should function in a manner that involves locking away all of the carbon that we extract from the planet and omit into the atmosphere. This is believed to counteract climate volatility and therefore retain a healthy environment.  

To get to this future as fast as possible it appears the quickest approach as a species would be to first, stop chopping down as many trees as we do. 

It is important to consider the reasons for chopping down trees: 

  • Making paper and furniture 
  • Alternative uses for the land. E.g. farming/livestock, mining gold/oil, infrastructure development 
  • To use as firewood 

All of these reasons are avoidable. 

Secondly, to attain our desired goal, we should also reduce carbon emission which is still at all-time highs. This can be from avoiding the use of fossil fuels for energy. In 2019, 84% of the world’s primary energy came from fossil fuels. The alternative should be to use renewable energy, and this is on the rise, but was responsible for being only 5% of the world’s primary energy source. By becoming aware of what produces a lot of carbon emissions, we can make better lifestyle choices. 

Finally (where I come in), to attain our goal at a faster pace, we should plant as many trees as we can! If the goal is carbon neutrality, and if we assume that our carbon usage stays the same (which hopefully it will go down as renewable energy is increasing in popularity). Then, on average we would need to plant 920 trees per person to be carbon neutral. 

I want to get involved but I can’t plant a tree! 

As frustrating it is when a person spills the infamous words of “can’t isn’t in the dictionary!”, I’m afraid I am going to have to join them this one time. 

When it comes to planting trees, there is so many ways to get involved! But, here are some common (and understandable) excuses I hear for not being able to plant a tree, along with some solutions too. 

I don’t know how to plant a tree… This one won’t take long 

Today is your lucky day. For I have a solution for you. If you check out the growing category in our header menu, you will find a multitude of advice and guidance for planting trees and all the potential potholes that you may encounter. I would start with how to plant a tree. It’s a quick read and will provide you with just enough information to get started. 

“I live in a city” or “I don’t have a garden” 

Fair enough! Though, surprise, surprise! I have the solution. 

As technology progresses, we are seeing more and more innovative ways to get involved in planting trees. For example, the picture on the left. This is an apartment in Singapore with a ‘vertical forest’. This is illustrates how creative we can be when it comes to environmental solutions; utilising the vertical space when so much of the floor space is in high demand in our modern society – Doesn’t it look great! Not sure about you, but I would love to live here! 

As great as a vertical forest may be. This isn’t a realistic avenue for you to get involved with. Besides going to a forest or open park to plant a tree (Which, you need to be sure that this is legally possible!!), there are a number of tree planting programs to rummage through and sign up for. 

I have provided below, 3 of the top programs for planting trees that I have got involved with myself. 

https://trees.org

https://plantwithpurpose.org

https://www.tentree.com

Conclusion 

If I have not been able to convince you of the environmental issues associated with the alarming rate of deforestation occurring in the world today then unfortunately, there’s not much I can do about that. I hope you change your mind. However, I also hope, in light of the other vast benefits planting trees produces, that you are still swaying towards planting your own tree. Check out how to plant a tree here. On the other hand, if I was successful in my post, also check out how to plant a tree and be sure to comment your thoughts on the post, or feel free to ask me a question!  

Fossil Fuels – Our World in Data 

Wikipedia

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Lauren


Lauren

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