A tree-planting propaganda coup – or humanity’s best idea ever?

You can’t go more than a few hours without hearing something related to climate change.

If it isn’t Extinction Rebellion threatening to cancel everyone’s summer holidays, it’s 16-year-old Greta Thunberg meeting with another world leader, or record temperatures and “extreme weather events” around the world.

Climate change is very real, even if its causes are contested.

And many of the world’s top tech talents are dreaming up innovative ways to reverse it. One of the more “out there” ideas surfaced earlier this month.

It is basically a plan to plant more trees. But not just a few trees… 1.2 trillion trees.

From The Guardian:

Planting billions of trees across the world is by far the biggest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis, according to scientists, who have made the first calculation of how many more trees could be planted without encroaching on crop land or urban areas.

As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating. New research estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities, a figure the scientists describe as “mind-blowing”.

The analysis found there are 1.7bn hectares of treeless land on which 1.2tn native tree saplings would naturally grow. That area is about 11% of all land and equivalent to the size of the US and China combined. Tropical areas could have 100% tree cover, while others would be more sparsely covered, meaning that on average about half the area would be under tree canopy.

And it turns out this idea isn’t all that out there at all. Here’s what the project’s lead researcher, Professor Tom Crowther from the Swiss university ETH Zürich, had to say about it:

“This new quantitative evaluation shows [forest] restoration isn’t just one of our climate change solutions, it is overwhelmingly the top one. What blows my mind is the scale. I thought restoration would be in the top 10, but it is overwhelmingly more powerful than all of the other climate change solutions proposed.”

According to his research, there are currently around 3 trillion trees in the world, which is around half the amount that were here before humans began to walk the earth.

And on that note, Ethiopia is leading the way.

Record-breaking 350 million trees planted in a single day in Ethiopia – but were they really?

Again, from The Guardian (this Monday):

About 350m trees have been planted in a single day in Ethiopia, according to a government minister.

The planting is part of a national “green legacy” initiative to grow 4bn trees in the country this summer by encouraging every citizen to plant at least 40 seedlings. Public offices have reportedly been shut down in order for civil servants to take part.

The project aims to tackle the effects of deforestation and climate change in the drought-prone country. According to the UN, Ethiopia’s forest coverage was just 4% in the 2000s, down from 35% a century earlier.

Ethiopia’s minister of innovation and technology, Dr Getahun Mekuria, tweeted estimates of the number of trees planted throughout the day. By early evening on Monday, he put the number at 353m.

The previous world record for the most trees planted in one day stood at 50m, held by India since 2016.

Sounds amazing, right? What a great government Ethiopia must have… oh wait…

The problem with this story is, although it did happen – I’ve read reports from people who were there – it likely did not happen on anywhere near the scale the press release states.

And the reasons behind it were more for propaganda purposes than because those in charge really want to save the planet.

When this story made it to Reddit, some redditors, as they usually do, decided to investigate.

Here’s what redditor Daafda had to say about it, in a post that received 3,400 upvotes:

We’re talking about a government that shut down the internet for an extended period last month after surviving a “coup” attempt that probably wasn’t a real coup attempt. The Chief of the Army and a regional Attorney General were killed. Mass detentions are ongoing, and the leader of the opposition NAMA party and dozens of party members were arrested on Friday.

On that same day, news reports emerge that Ethiopia is going to plant 200 million trees in one day.

Lo and behold, only a few days later, they nearly doubled that. Amazing!

Maybe – just maybe – 350 million tress planted in Ethiopia in a day is just bullshit propaganda to distract from what would appear to be a collapse in Ethiopian democracy.

Edit – They actually shut down the internet a couple of days before the supposed coup attempt was thwarted.

Still, that doesn’t mean the tree planting idea isn’t a good one. If Professor Crowther is right, it may be the best idea humanity has had for a very long time.

It reminds me of the crazy (or maybe not-so-crazy) idea about genetically engineering fast-growing giant redwoods to help with climate change and construction I reported on earlier this year: Genetically engineered super redwoods will save us from ourselves.

As I wrote back then:

According to Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, “Once mature, coastal redwoods can sequester up to 250 tons or more of carbon dioxide. Champion coastal redwoods are also highly resistant to wildfires, pests, and droughts.”

“These trees have the capacity to fight climate change and revitalize forests and our ecology in a way we haven’t seen before,” says David Milarch, co-founder of Ancient Tree Archive.

I saw an interesting comment about this story on Reddit, which makes a lot more sense to me than it probably should.

Here’s what the user “FF00A7” had to say:

    In the future, redwoods will be genetically CRISPR modified to be super-fast growing. Each tree contains 250 tons of C02 full grown. To stop global warming 25 billion tons a year need to be captured and stored.

    That would equate to 100 million giant redwoods every year. The dead wood will replace concrete and steel using cross-laminated timber, a layered composite that rivals the strength of steel.

    It will be sequestered as building material, roads etc… A civilization built on redwood, grow from the off-gassing of a previous fossil-fuel civilization.

    The Age of Redwood.

Does that really sound so crazy?

We hear a lot about that CRISPR can do – if you’re not familiar with CRISPR and what it can do, publisher Nick O’Connor’s book is a great start, which you can get for free here – but no real progress yet.

If CRISPR really could be used to make trees grow faster, that would be an amazing way to reduce C02 and, as the commenter said, source building material and fuel.

And to end today, here’s a photo of me and a Giant Redwood from Easter this year. It turns out there is a tree sanctuary in Dunkeld, Scotland, that’s home to some truly amazing species.

Source: me

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

Category: Energy

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