Most sane and sensible people accept the reality of human-induced climate change. Yet the Trump administration not only denies it, but is working to reduce actions that will help slow the process and mitigate its effects. The EPA, and other government-funded agencies are not even allowed to mention climate change.
Planting trees for—or, more accurately, against—Trump and his policies is a great idea. We know that it’s not going to solve the problem of climate change, although every tree helps a little, and if we plant enough trees they will have a significant effect. But, perhaps just as important in the short term, every little gesture against the awful Donald contributes to the tide of protest by millions of people saying “we will not accept the attitudes of this president and we will not go along with his agenda."
The contribution of trees and forests to the maintenance of a pleasant and livable global environment is well known and understood. However, as we know, forests around the world are under unprecedented pressure and are being destroyed at a horrifying rate. Clearance and illegal logging, particularly across southeast Asia, are rapidly reducing the area of tropical forests there. Brazil’s business-friendly government has recently proposed reducing the protected areas of the Amazon forests and has also announced plans to allow mining and development in protected areas. These activities will result in more clearance and forest degradation.
Clearing forests releases vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, adding to the emissions from power generation, transport, factories, aircraft, and the rest, produced by modern human societies. Clearing also contributes directly to global warming because forests help reduce air temperature: when solar energy strikes green canopies much of it is used to evaporate water (transpiration from leaves), but when solar energy strikes bare surfaces those surfaeces become heated and the heat is transferred to the air, leading to more global warming. (This is what happens in cities, causing what’s known as the heat island effect.)
The droughts that are becoming more common and severe in some parts of the world are affecting forests directly, and also increasing the likelihood that they will burn. Across the western US huge areas of coniferous forests, dried out by drought associated with the changing climate, have burned this summer. All indicators suggest that droughts will continue and fire frequency will increase, raising the possibility that many of those forests will be destroyed in the not-too-distant future. They will not be able to regenerate after repeated burning.
In Portugal, Spain and France, the record heat of this summer, combined with drought, has resulted in unusual numbers of destructive forest fires, in which lives and property have been lost. Australia has just had an exceptionally warm, dry winter. Modelling and data analysis indicate that these conditions have been made 60 times more likely by climate change. The probability of damaging and destructive fires, always high in summer in Australia, has been significantly increased.
So back to Trump and tree-planting. We know that this irrational, materialistic, bombastic and unreliable president is not likely to acknowledge the nature and causes of climate change, and is not likely to encourage or support programs aimed at saving existing forests and increasing the area of forested land on our beleaguered planet. But wouldn’t it be a splendid irony if reaction to Trump’s short-sighted stupidity led to an increase in tree planting that might otherwise be difficult to achieve?