A campaign to plant enough trees to offset Donald Trump’s climate policies is under way. Organisers hope to plant ten billion trees by 24 December 2017, with the last one being a Christmas tree planted in front of the White House.
The organisers of Trump Forest are asking people to donate trees to make up for the 650m tonnes of CO2 that will be released into the atmosphere by 2025 if the president’s plans to backtrack on US climate commitments go ahead.
“Since Trump has taken office, we have seen him make attack after attack on initiatives designed to slow down manmade climate change. Trump has declared a war on a healthy climate for life on Earth so we are fighting back with an army of trees. The more trees that people put in the ground, and the quicker they do it, the faster we will offset Trump’s ignorance,” says glaciologist Daniel Price, a co-founder of the project.
The figure of 650m tonnes – equivalent to the annual carbon footprint of 33 million Americans – is calculated from Trump’s decision to roll back the US 2015 Paris Agreement pledge to lower emissions by at least 26% below 2005 levels by 2025.
The Obama administration’s clean power plan, which Trump has vowed to review, aimed to cut emissions from existing coal and gas-fired power plants and would have reduced carbon emissions by nearly 650m tonnes by 2025 – just under halfway to meeting the Paris pledge.
Jeremy Woods, deputy director of environmental policy at Imperial College London, says the project’s calculations make sense, even if they are at the optimistic end of the scale. He says that trees – especially when they are growing as they use more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – are a key component of removing CO2 from the air, and an important tool towards a sustainable climate future.
“Overall, it’s a positive project. If you plant trees on one hectare of land, roughly the area of a football pitch, with one tree every 10 square metres, that’s 1,000 trees per hectare. With 100 ha per square kilometre, the 100,000 sq kms targeted by Trump Forest would plant 10m hectares with 10bn trees.
“I would expect that many trees to take at least 300m tonnes of CO2 out of the air over the eight-year period, so 650m tonnes by 2025 is not outrageous if you take into account the growth of the trees is likely to be higher than my conservative assumptions used here.
“Projects like this demonstrate the importance of doing something now even if they can come across as glib,” says Woods.
So far, the tree count stands at 342,000, from 1,242 donors who have invested 50,000. If the campaign is to succeed, they must plant enough trees to fill at least 104,659 sq km, the same size as the US state of Kentucky. (France is 643,801 sq km, England is 130,279 sq km and Ireland 84,421 sq km.) Despite the massive scale of planting needed, the campaigners believe it can be done.
“It’s clearly a big challenge, but only recently the world record was broken when India put 66m trees in the ground in a day. If we all chip in, it is a completely realistic goal,” says Price.
“In 30 years from now, when people look back on the Trump presidency as an attack on the planet and on rational thought, it would be pretty cool if the history books say his actions were negligible because the global community offset the administration’s additional emissions.”
Woods is positive, but cautious. He says that reforestation initiatives are complicated to implement, and that it is difficult to make sure they are sustainably introduced into local communities.
“On balance, it’s a positive thing if it’s done well … but we also need to remember that tree planting takes time and investment and so not all, in fact, very few, of the 10bn trees are likely to be planted within the next five years. The new forest has to be there in perpetuity if the carbon is to be kept out of the atmosphere. And you need to help food production and local communities.
“My fear is that people may look at it and say this isn’t that big an area … all we have to do is plant trees on an area the size of Kentucky and the problem is solved, but it’s nothing like that. There’s no silver bullet,” he says.
People can contribute in two ways to Trump Forest: either by buying trees from their preferred tree-planting organisation anywhere in the world and sending Trump Forest the receipt so they can count their pledge, or by donating directly to their partner, the Eden Reforestation Projects.
Donating through the Trump Forest website, one US dollar buys eight mangrove trees in Madagascar (they are hoping to have the credit card fee removed soon so one US dollar will buy ten mangrove trees).
The organisers say they have tapped into a global sense of frustration with the president’s climate change policies. The project’s co-founder Adrien Taylor says he felt helpless and had to do something to compensate for Trump’s behaviour.
“Only a small percentage of the world’s population voted in Trump, but everyone, everywhere, pays the cost of his climate ignorance. He should be standing up and taking leadership in addressing what is the biggest collective challenge humanity has ever faced. But he’s not,” says Taylor.
“People like Trump are spineless dinosaurs who have no place in politics in this century.”