The audacious effort to reforest the planet

Finkbeiner’s fourth-grade awakening blossomed into a personal crusade and eventually birthed a tree-planting foundation, Plant for the Planet. The organization, which is responsible for planting millions of new trees around the world, is part of a growing constellation of campaigns that seek to reforest every continent except Antarctica.

In October, YouTube broadcaster Jimmy Donaldson, who goes by Mr. Beast,launched a campaign to raise $20 million to plant 20 million trees. Billionaire Elon Musk donated $1 million and temporarily changed his Twitter handle to “Treelon.” In July, Ethiopia broke a world record for the most trees planted in a day, when officials said 23 million people planted 350 million trees.

The reforestation landscape is dotted with small groups, many of which use corporate money given as carbon offsets that are becoming increasingly popular. 

Besides this, combating climate change requires planting the right species. They must live to maturity. Location also matters: Trees planted in Germany do not have the same carbon-fighting capacity as trees planted in the tropics, where they grow more rapidly and therefore capture more carbon.

Using Google Earth satellite images, Bastin, Crowther and their colleagues examined 80,000 half-hectare plots in protected areas worldwide, noting where trees should be abundant, such as rainforests, and where they don’t grow, such as grasslands. Using this knowledge, they calculated the total theoretical canopy cover in today’s climate if the planet were scrubbed of human existence.

 Crowther has acknowledged that trees should not be planted everywhere the model suggests they can grow. Nor are trees a panacea for fighting climate change, he said: “Cuts to emissions” by ending humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels “are the central part” of the battle.

Still, Crowther said, planting trees is “one of thousands of solutions that are absolutely critical.”

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