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Jack Lynch, Editor

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An Acorn in the Bucket

December 18, 2007

by Jack Lynch

More than one billion trees were planted around the world in 2007, with Ethiopia and Mexico leading in the drive to combat climate change through new lush forest projects, according to a UN report

The grandiose claims of climate change and environmental restoration seem to be somewhat lacking integrity on a macro statistical view, saying nothing of the veracity of the planting claims themselves -

First, no note is made of whether these trees represent a billion new trees, or simply the usual planting of trees world-wide.

The United States Forest Service reports that 1.6 Billion trees are planted annually in the United States:  “Forest product nurseries produce 852 million trees, private nurseries produce 366 million trees, state nurseries produce 348 million trees, and federal nurseries produce 38 million trees.” 

The real concern for U.S. forests are the losses due to sprawl – “More than 70 million acres of U.S. rural land are projected to be converted to urban and developed uses between the present and 2025.”  The majority forest lands.  And while 14 Million acres of southern pine are projected to be added over the next fifty years that could be only about 10% recovery of the sprawl development losses.

Additionally, nearly 12 Billion trees are cut down world-wide each year, a third for paper production which are mostly replanted, and in the U.S. replanted with additional excess plantings over the cutting of paper use trees.

There are attempts to define the world-wide forest cover using satellite data and GIS systems.  But that is no easy task, and one of the first problems rests in defining the many varieties of forest growth and tree density.  Then tracking losses or gains requires massive, refreshed and analyzed data sets over time. 

Map of Global Tree Cover

Determining Tree Cover and Tree Loss

Then, if your supposition is to know what effects trees are having on climate, you find other variables, such as the difference in carbon increases or absorption, between trees in northern hemispheres and equatorial zones.  Trees in Brazil are a net positive effort to reduce global warming, while some trees planted in the northern areas appear to increase heating and carbon dioxide emissions.

So the U.N.’s Billion trees, even assuming these represented new plantings, are a pretty modest number of trees, hardly worth the boasting – let’s face it, this is marketing, not reality.  Apparently, the press has not analyzed the numbers, or has simply reported the U.N.’s claims with little question.

One of the further proposals to change the climate by tree planting is to double the number of trees world-wide, and that analysis yields some interesting results as well. 

For it appears that given conflicting numbers on land mass and tree cover and human land use, there should be cows bumping into trees and some people squeezed off the planet if we did actually accomplish the suggested tree increases –

Earth consists of approximately 197 Million square miles of surface, with 58 Million square miles of land surface.  Historically, trees covered 34% or 20 Million square miles, today 26% or 15 Million square miles.  Livestock use another third of land mass, or 19 Million square miles, so trees and cows, etc. cover 34 Million square feet of surface.  Doubling tree cover would then consume 49 Million square miles, and arable land another 12 Million square miles – oops, we’ve exceeded our planet’s available land surface already – and we still need some space for 6.6 billion people to live!

Spread across the land surface, we’d average 112 people per square mile – but spread across the remaining 12 Million square miles without increasing tree cover, presumably where we are today, its 550 people per square mile average, or a third acre per person. 

Maybe we could give up half our third acre each to new trees, and increase tree cover by 50% overall world-wide.  That’s a more realistic goal.  After all, we still require a few ballparks and open fields to play.  We’ll be left with less than a quarter acre per person though – so unless you live on a farm, it’s a townhouse for you global citizen, no more mini-mansions on 25 acres unless it’s mostly forested.

Oh, and how many newly planted trees each year are needed to increase forest cover 50% world-wide? Paraphrased from the analysis linked above..."will need to plant five billion extra canopy trees per year for at least the next twenty five years - that's right, 125 billion trees...". That's five times as many as the U.N. is bragging were planted this past year.

Linked below is a useful exercise to determine your carbon footprint and find out how many trees you might plant or pay to plant to mitigate your global impacts:

Carbon dioxide emissions calculator

http://www.carbonify.com/carbon-calculator.htm