Resistance to the Trump administration’s rollback of U.S. climate policy is literally taking root across the globe, driven by three climate-savvy campaigners in New Zealand and hundreds of thousands of trees.
Dubbed “Trump Forest,” the project aims to plant enough trees — 110 billion, to be exact — to offset the carbon emissions created by the Trump administration’s climate regression, from repealing the Clean Power Plan to pulling the United States out of the Paris climate agreement. The project is the brainchild of climate scientist Dr. Daniel Price, ex-journalist Adrien Taylor, and political scientist Jeff Willis, all of whom were spurred to action by a sense of frustration and fear of the Trump administration’s destructive impact on the planet.
“It doesn’t matter where you are from, climate change doesn’t recognize national boundaries. Carbon dioxide doesn’t have a passport,” Willis told ThinkProgress via email. “Our atmosphere is shared by everyone. So climate ignorance in the U.S. unfortunately impacts all of us, every person is put at risk by Trump’s incompetence and inability to recognize a global threat.”
The project rests on a simple idea: to soak up excess carbon emissions created by the Trump administration’s rollback of climate policies and devotion to fossil fuels, plant something that absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. To completely offset the climate policies of the Trump administration, Price and his team estimate that they’ll need to plant enough trees to cover an area roughly the size of Kentucky.
“Trees get a bad wrap most of the time… turns out they’re not simply for hippies and greenies,” Price said. “They actually sequester carbon dioxide, they suck it out of the air. They are the cheapest and most natural way to slow the accumulation of the planet warming gas in our atmosphere.”
Planting trees is one of the oldest and most common types of carbon offsets — programs that calculate the carbon emissions created by an individual action (something as small as an airline trip, or as big as withdrawing the largest historic emitter from an international climate agreement) and calculate the amount of trees needed to take up equivalent emissions elsewhere in the world. Tree planting projects can also do more than just soak up carbon from the atmosphere; they can help restore forests in areas that have been plagued by deforestation, returning equilibrium to ecosystems and habitats thrown out of balance by industry. And, in some places, planting trees has been used to slow the pace of soil erosion and desertification. In China, for instance, some 66 billion trees were planted between 1978 and 2014 in an effort to slow the encroachment of the Gobi Desert into China’s native grasslands and forests.
But reforestation is not a perfect solution for combating climate change. To start, there are serious concerns with planting new or non-native trees in conditions where they may not survive, meaning that for a reforestation project to work, it has to be carried out in the right location and with the right kinds of trees. Moreover, any reforestation project is merely a temporary solution, because eventually planted trees will die, decompose, and begin emitting the very carbon dioxide that they have spent their lives absorbing. And, with climate change lengthening wildfire season around the globe, there’s legitimate concern that the world’s forests — now carbon sinks — could eventually become carbon emitters due to widespread forest fires.
To ensure that the trees planted as part of the Trump Forest project have the best chance of survival, the project has partnered with the Eden Reforestation Projects, a reforestation company that works with local villagers in places like Nepal, Madagascar, Haiti, and Ethiopia to replant native trees lost to deforestation. Eden Reforestation Projects claim an 80 percent survival rate for the saplings they plant.
People can also participate in the project locally, by planting trees on their own and sending the receipt to the Trump Forest project, which will then add that tree to the overall project tally.
“People can then take comfort in the fact that for decades to come, slowly but surely their tree will stand in defiance of Trump,” Price said.
Since the project launched in April, more than 130,000 trees around the world have been planted in the name of standing up to Trump. And Price said that while he’s pleased with the results, he’s far from surprised.
“We’re obviously delighted with the impact it has had, but we were very aware that there would be millions around the world with the same concerns as us. It’s amazing to be able to reach them,” Price said. “People are angry. It’s unacceptable that the ‘leader’ of the free world is incapable of understanding established science.”
So far, the project has seen pledges mainly from individuals, but Price hopes that as the its profile grows, businesses will step forward both to plant trees and call attention to the Trump administration’s catastrophic climate policies. And beyond planting trees, Price hopes that the project draws attention to the urgent need for climate action from governments around the world.
“We’re fully aware that planting trees is far from enough to avoid the worst consequences of a changing climate. But it’s an effective piece of the pie,” he said. “We don’t have time for Trumps, Pruitts, and Bannons. Their days are over, they’re dated. We’re decades behind where we need to be already and we need to get going.”