A cool idea

As we swelter through a steamy, at times viciously hot, segment of summer here in Wellington County, as record-breaking triple-digit temperatures scorch Europe and the UK, as a so-called “heat dome” settles over the Arctic, raising fears of melting ice and rising sea levels, it’s difficult not to say to deniers of the existence of a climate crisis something along the lines of, “Really?”

Weather, of course, is part of, not synonymous with, climate, and individual short-term variations don’t prove a pattern. But the scientific community has a massive body of work to support a near-unanimous conclusion that natural systems around the world are being affected by climate changes, particularly temperature increases, and that these are almost surely the result of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. Given the pace of global warming since industrial revolution, there’s an extremely strong case to be made that it’s caused, or at least massively accelerated by, human activity.

Even if you don’t accept the latter conclusion, given the attendant issues such as more frequent flooding and killer heat waves, chances are you’d still like to see the warming trends reversed.

That’s why, while it’s still only part of the solution, it was refreshing to see a rare report expressing some optimism that something could be done about climate change that seems within the power of the people to do.

Just a few weeks ago the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (SFIT) published a study that appears to show that if the right species of trees are planted in the right soil types, on the right scale, across the planet, the emerging forests could capture 205 gigatons of carbon dioxide in the next 40 to 100 years. That’s two thirds of all the CO2 humans have generated since the industrial revolution.

“Forest restoration is by far our most powerful planetary solution today,” said Tom Crowther, a professor of global ecosystem ecology at the SFIT.

Now the immediate reaction was that it’s not going to be that easy to organize a movement to plant trees on every hectare of land not currently covered by desert, existing forest, urban areas and agricultural land. That’s especially true in the age of Trump, where American leadership on such a program is unlikely. Heck, here in Ontario, a generally enlightened portion of the planet, we find ourselves with regressive a Conservative government that made cancelling a program to plant 50 million trees part of its first budget. While Canada’s federal government has since announced plans to put up $15 million over four years to rescue the program, that still leaves us treading water in terms of net tree cover gain.

In this part of the world, we’ve been doing our bit for a while now, through forward-thinking efforts such as Wellington County’s Green Legacy tree planting program, Trees for Mapleton, Trees for Minto and other such endeavours.

Such programs definitely make a difference, but to make an impact on a planetary scale, a global effort will be needed. Individuals can help with that through their decisions at the ballot box and by making their desire for solutions known to politicians at all levels and holding them to account for their actions, or lack thereof.

Meanwhile, if you’re in favour of extending the Holocene – plant a tree wherever you can.

It’s a start.