I’d love to change career to plant trees

A forest

Just how many lockdowns because of pandemics could we have? It’s a reasonable worry, if deforestation – particularly for farming – is pushing animals, which carry diseases, closer to human contact.

But let’s take a step back. Theories include that animals are forced to live closer to humans, increasingly the likelihood of spreading diseases. Or that destruction of habitats, such as forests, disturbs the places that host diseases.

Human-induced land use changes are among the drivers of disease from the forests to communities, one scientist told Unearthed Greenpeace, adding that scientists were agreed on this theory.

A United Nations summit on biodiversity, scheduled for this month, will be told there is a strong link between environmental destruction and unlocking deadly diseases, according to a report in the Guardian.

This adds to the reasons not to destroy the Amazon rainforest. The primary reason is that trees absorb the carbon emitted across the globe. The Amazon rainforest has come to be known as the lungs of the planet.

Unfortunately, about 20 per cent of the Amazon has been destroyed by humans already. It is estimated that 20,000 square miles of the Amazon is vanishing per year, according to rain-tree.com. In 50 years time, at the same rate of destruction, it could all be gone.

Today, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature has published a report saying that two thirds of the world’s wildlife has disappeared in the past 50 years. Because of humans.

The fact that it is the same timescale is particularly noteworthy. It is as if we are midway through a disaster, across a century of years. And a century is hardly any time across the history of millions of years that the earth has existed. Granted, there have been ecological disasters before – as the dinosaurs would tell you if they could.

Changing forests into agricultural systems is among the problems, says the WWF report. The problem, therefore, is not just about urbanisation of land or population growth – tangible concepts close to home for many of us – but consumption. Namely how we feed ourselves.

Much of that Amazon rainforest removal in Brazil, for example, is for cattle farming, which is all about employment and profit. Well, primarily profit. The WWF report says that this broken relationship with nature can be addressed. It suggests transforming food production and consumption, aggressively tackling climate change and investing to conserve, protect, and restore nature. Governments need to act, says the WWF.

While the problems highlighted are more about biodiversity than climate change itself, the WWF report says the latter will become a factor. It is on the same field – environmentalism.

So how do we restore nature? And why are forests such as the Amazon so important? Because trees capture carbon dioxide from the air. In the process of growing, they produce oxygen. They also help soil capture significant amounts of carbon. It is all explained in a report in National Geographic, based on a report in Science magazine. Trees might be one way to off-set emissions, but humankind needs to go further by restoring what it has ripped up.

The report says that it would take land the size of the United States to plant enough trees to erase 100 years of carbon emissions. Where would we find this land, globally? The report adds that half the potential for land space can be found in six countries: Russia, USA, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China. Why? Because those places have seen the most deforestation. And forests – over simple trees – would be better, for diversity of wildlife, the scientist quoted in the report suggested. That brings us back neatly to deforestation.

Occasionally I get pop ups on Facebook inviting me to “offset” carbon by donating to plant trees. Often, the ultimate destination is abroad. According to Carbon Pirates, a baby tree absorbs 5.9kg C02 per year, while a 10 year old tree absorbs 22kg CO2 per year. An average Briton created 8.34 tonnes in 2017, according to one report. That’s some forests we need to plant, then!

There are apps to help us calculate our carbon emission and footprint – which, like Covid-19, is something we cannot readily see.

The aims are to help us reduce our carbon footprint in our lifestyles – just like smart metres are designed to help us worry about how much energy we are using, and cut it accordingly. Many people will pay to “offset” their carbon footprints, particularly after a holiday via aeroplane. Or perhaps annually according to their car use.

But it is one thing to know about a problem, another to address creating the carbon footprint in the first place. Then there is making positive change. For example, not just helping to rid nature of litter by collecting it, but addressing where it comes from. Or addressing the problems nature itself faces by making positive improvements by planting. Installing reedbeds perhaps. How much have this year’s vegetables on our plots and in our gardens captured any carbon?

Last year, Surrey County Council launched a plan to plant 1.2 million trees – one for each resident – by 2030. I’m considering a career change. I’d definitely consider one to plant trees, for the good of the planet.