Climate

What Every Country Can Learn From Ecuador

CREDIT: AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa

Children plant a tree on Catequilla Hill in an area called "La Mitad del Mundo," where the equator is located, north of Quito, Ecuador, Saturday, May 16, 2015. Environmentalist organizations aimed to break the Guinness World Record for the largest number of people planting trees simultaneously across the country, including this arid area near the capital.

On Saturday, in often sweltering heat, more than 44,000 people in Ecuador reportedly sowed their way into the Guinness Book of World Records by planting 647,250 trees of over 200 species in one day. The effort was organized by the Ecuadoran government under an initiative called “Siembratón.”

Ecuador’s record was set based on the number of species of trees planted. “There is no record in history of similar events involving over 150 species,” a Guinness Records adjudicator told AFP.

Volunteers reportedly sowed an estimated 216 species of trees across some 2,000 hectares of land in 150 locations ranging from the Pacific coastal region to the Amazonian basin to the high Andean mountains. The diverse climatic terrain likely helped in the small country plant so many different species. Trees included alder, wild cherry, willow, cedar, rosemary, lignum vitae, myrtle, podocarpus, carob, cholan, laurel silk guarando, eugenia, mahogany, paper tree, walnut, fig tree and arabisco.

Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s president, participated by planting a tree in the parish of Pifo, in the capital of Quito. “Today Ecuador is making history again,” he said in a press release. “We are a green country.”

The mass reforestation record vied against other recent efforts around the world.

Men of the Trees planted 100,450 trees at Whiteman Park in Perth, Australia in one hour last year, setting the record for the most trees planted in one location simultaneously. The record for most trees planted simultaneously over multiple locations was set in the Philippines, with 2,294,629 rubber, cacao, coffee, timber fruit, and mahogany trees planted in 29 locations. India planted 1.9 million in 2011.

Ricardo Quiroga, a government employee who volunteered as a planter in Catequilla, told the AFP that the record was not set to win a contest, but in the hope that everyone would beat it.

“I want to beat it once a month so the planet will be full of trees in very little time, which is what we need,” he said.

Ecuadoran Environment Minister Lorena Tapia Núñez organized the effort, and announced the news of the broken record to an assembled crowd on Saturday.

Tapia said earlier in the week that this event was part of a broader effort to reforest 500,000 hectares, which would effectively zero out the country’s current deforestation rate.

Devoted reforestation efforts can mitigate climate change by producing forests that act as terrestrial carbon sinks, trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into tree trunks. On balance, however, it is deforestation that plays a larger role in the global carbon cycle, with annual net losses of forested areas amounting to 5-6 million hectares. Deforestation comprises between six and twelve percent of annual carbon dioxide emissions.

The benefits are not just confined to climate change or forested areas — reforestation can also bring benefits to urban areas by cutting air pollution like ozone which is hazardous to human health.

Slowing tropical deforestation is important, as Pope Francis noted when he called destroying them a “sin.” Amazonian rainforests are being cut down at higher rates following a period of improvement. There may be new hope for the rainforest: a new way of farming cattle is making waves in Brazil (by way of New Zealand) that allows ranchers to leave 80 percent of their land untouched while producing ten times the volume of milk as a typical rancher. And as slaughterhouses sign agreements to ensure their supply chains are zero-deforestation, clear-cutting has been “dramatically” reduced.

Yet some of the worst offenders lie farther north. Canada leads the world in forest degradation, according to data obtained by a mapping tool released last year. Russia has lost a forest the size of Switzerland three years in a row.