Can Forests Save the Planet?


I recently read a report on the BBC website detailing research on how planting trees can reduce the impact of climate change. The research, published in Science, claims that an area the size of the US is currently available for planting trees around the world, and if this happened, it would reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere by 25%. This is equivalent to two thirds of the extra carbon produced by human activities since the industrial revolution - also known as the date from which we started heading towards the extinction of all life on earth - hooray! Critics of the report have questioned the predictive model data used to back these claims, but trees have always played some role in boosting the health of our planet and maintaining some kind of stability in the face of a fluctuating climate.

During my visit to Westonbirt Arboretum, I spoke to the collection manager Andy Bryce, who told me about another way trees are helping to better prepare us for an uncertain future. They are exploring global climate matching by creating computer models of the climate in the next 50 years, then collecting the seeds of species living in similar temperatures around the world. They then propagate and grow the trees at the Arboretum to see which species grow well, and to understand what our forests might look like in 50 years time.

One of the things that struck me most about all this beautiful science was how I wished it had been part of my own school education. I was good enough at biology, chemistry and physics, but I never truly enjoyed it, and while I appreciate the ‘building block’ nature of scientific learning, I would have been so much more engaged with it if it had related back to real, relatable issues like climate change. Measuring the Newtons in a coiled spring is great and everything, but how about learning to value the natural world as a powerful force for our shared future?