In July 2019 the journal Science published a report describing how the planting of billions of acres of trees could be a solution to the climate crisis. According to the study, trees planted on over 2.2 billion acres (about the size of the United States) could remove 205 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere, which would make a significant impact towards limiting global warming.
A media buzz quickly developed around this report, which on the surface presents an elegant and even simple solution. However, even if we accept the science behind the study, there are other important questions that must be asked if we are to understand how a project of this scale might be implemented.
So, before we talk about creating more forests, what about the forests that continue to be destroyed every day? According to National Geographic “Forests still cover about 30 percent of the world’s land area, but they are disappearing at an alarming rate. Between 1990 and 2016, the world lost 502,000 square miles (1.3 million square kilometres) of the forest, according to the World Bank—an area larger than South Africa. Since humans started cutting down forests, 46 percent of trees have been felled, according to a 2015 study in the journal Nature. About 17 percent of the Amazonian rainforest has been destroyed over the past 50 years, and losses recently have been on the rise.”
If the destruction of forests is ongoing and even accelerating, how, then can we expect to find the political will to create more?
On top of this, like other climate catastrophes that humanity faces, advanced industrial capitalist governments and big business have known about the devastation that destroying the forests in favour of massive agri-business and natural resource extraction for a long time. This concept was so well known that an entire generation ago, in 1992, a major children’s film “FernGully: The Last Rainforest” was released warning of the disastrous consequences.
Can these same governments and multi-national corporations now be convinced to stop their drive for profits from the insatiable destruction of forests?
We must ask these questions not because we are cynical, but because the scale of the crisis that humanity is facing requires us to do so.
Humanity Cannot Innovate Ourselves Out of a Climate Catastrophe
In the fall of 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on the devastating impacts of not limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Citing over 6,000 sources, the report gave humanity 12 years to drastically reduce carbon emissions or face catastrophic consequences.
In this context, if we answer the above questions honestly, the planting of billions of acres trees is another example that, under the current capitalist economic system which demands economic expansion and increasing profits above all else, humanity cannot innovate ourselves out of the climate crisis. An economic system which drives the destruction of the forests, and all of life on planet earth, is just simply not capable of bringing about the fundamental changes needed to ensure the survival of humanity. Scientists recognize this too. When Damon Matthews, a climate scientist from Concordia University was asked by Wired Magazine to comment on the cutting of global carbon emissions he said, “we haven’t even started to talk about what might be ‘possible’ and are still mostly arguing about what is ‘feasible without compromising economic growth.’ These are of course extremely different things, and the latter will not get us anywhere near the 1.5 degrees C target.”
So, what will keep the planet at the 1.5 degrees Celsius target? In 2012, Evo Morales, the revolutionary President of Bolivia explained that what is needed is a fundamental transformation - one that would create the conditions where projects like the planting of billions of acres of trees would be possible. As he said, “Sisters and brothers of the world: Capitalism has created a civilization that is wasteful, consumerist, exclusive, clientelist, a generator of opulence and misery. That is the pattern of life, production and consumption that we urgently need to transform.”
We Need a Mass Movement for the Climate
The kind of transformation that we need to undertake in order to ensure the continuity of human life on planet earth requires a mass movement. One that brings together poor, working, and oppressed people that will be the hardest hit when the sea-levels rise, the weather gets more extreme, and drinkable water becomes scarcer. The science is clear, and governments and multinational corporations that have willfully neglected the oncoming catastrophe for decades cannot be relied upon to reverse it today.
Here in British Columbia, this means uniting against the climate-destroying projects that are all putting the interests of profit above those of people: the TMX Pipeline expansion, the development of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG), the construction of the Site C Dam and the flooding of the Peace River Valley.
Globally, this movement against the climate crisis must be as broad as possible, despite any differences in methods and techniques. Greta Thunberg, a young woman from Sweden that has ignited a worldwide movement of school strikes for the climate has made the call for a Global Climate Strike this September. There will be actions in Vancouver, Canada and around the world to get involved in, to help shape and build, and to send a clear message to the masterminds of the economic system that landed humanity in this crisis in the first place – we, people of mother earth, will no longer accept business as usual.
“You cannot solve the crisis without treating it as a crisis, without seeing the full picture. You cannot leave the responsibility to individuals, politicians, the market or other parts of the world to take. This has to include everything and everyone.” Greta Thunberg, speech to the National Assembly in Paris, July 23, 2019.
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