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Trees: A Tool to Fight Climate Change

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Jun 22, 2021

Most of us probably remember those elementary school science lessons where we learned about how trees breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. Though a bit oversimplified, most young children thus understand how trees are an essential part of the ecosystems that allow us to live. Trees give us oxygen to breathe and purify the air of toxins and pollutants that we create. In addition, they help recharge groundwater aquifers, regulate the temperature and water cycle, provide shade, and sequester carbon.

Besides these essential ecosystem services, trees also provide us with wood for the homes we build and paper for our children's homework assignments. Though we don't often equate trees with other products, certain trees are also the primary source of dozens of different products we use daily. Some of these include latex rubber gloves, car tires, sponges, wine corks, chewing gum, hair dye, and the chocolate we crave. In our homes and yards, trees also provide a way to regulate the temperature inside our homes naturally. Finally, they can also be a significant source of healthy, organic food through designing, planting, and caring for a food forest.

We here at Rise recently participated in the ChangeNow Conference, one of the most significant impact gatherings globally that brought together leading thinkers and actors who are working on concrete and innovative solutions to face the world's biggest challenges. "Trees for Biodiversity" brought together Stéphane Hallaire, president of Reforest Action, Nicole Schwab, the Co-Head of the World Economic Forum's Nature-based Solutions, Sarah Toumi, Founder of Dream in Tunisia, Pieter Van Midwoud, the Chief Tree Planting Officer (CTO) of the search engine Ecosia, and Julio Andrés Rozo, the founder of Amazonía Emprende.

Below, we'll offer a summary of this panel and draw a few practical lessons for how homeowners can contribute to reforestation efforts focused on increasing biodiversity and resilience in forest ecosystems worldwide.

Clear Cut Forest

The Ecological Challenges of Deforestation and Loss of Tree Biodiversity

Endangered species and biodiversity loss are often equated with the animal kingdom. The rapid decline of animal (and insect) species is a clear cause for concern. But, trees, shrubs, and other plants are also drastically affected by the sixth mass extinction event that is currently underway. More than 60,000 tree species are known worldwide, and around 25 percent of those species are currently under threat of extinction. The loss of a quarter of all known tree species would also mean a loss of habitat for other animals. However, how many of those trees might also contain medicinal products that could help improve the lives of humanity? How many provide other bio-based products that could help us transition away from fossil fuels and towards a bio-based economy?

During the panel, Stephane Hallaire stated unequivocally that "natural forests are the best solution to meet the twin challenges of biodiversity loss and global climate change." Transitioning away from fossil fuel sources of energy and towards renewable energy is also essential for reducing carbon emissions. However, with carbon dioxide levels currently at almost 420 parts per million (ppm), we need to stop emitting greenhouse gasses and find ways to sequester the excess carbon already in our atmosphere. Planting more trees and caring for bio-diverse natural forests are the best way to do that.  

How Can We Care for Natural, Bio Diverse Forests on the Other Side of the World? 

Most of us know that tropical rainforests such as the Amazon are threatened by deforestation, forest fires, and the advancement of the "agricultural frontier." According to Mongabay News Service, "2,980 square kilometers (1,150 square miles) of forest was cleared and burned in 2019, about 65 percent of the 4,500-square-kilometer area deforested between 2017 and 2019." But is there a practical way that homeowners in North America can contribute to stopping deforestation of essential forest ecosystems on the other side of the world?

It turns out that there is. Illegally logged timber accounts for anywhere between 50 to 90 percent of the wood harvested from the tropical rainforests of Amazonia, central Africa, and Southeast Asia. The mahogany wood flooring that you purchase for your dining room renovation, then, might be driving the massive deforestation of the few tropical rainforest ecosystems around the world.

FSC Wood

How Can You Choose Responsibly Harvested Wood For Your Home?

Make sure only to purchase wood products that are certified with the most rigorous wood certification programs. You can read more about the best wood certification and sustainable forestry programs here. We also have a complete guide on sourcing rare and exotic wood species for your home responsibly.

According to several experts on the "Trees for Biodiversity Panel," creating sustainable and profitable value chains that benefit local communities is one of the best strategies for reforestation and protecting forest ecosystems. Stephane Hallaire says that "building value chains that give economic benefit to local communities is fundamental. In many developing countries, forests are a key driver of social benefits. If communities protect and restore forests, it should directly lead to their economic benefit. The environmental benefits come later as a consequence, but there must be a value chain that gives local communities a stimulus for keeping forests intact." His organization, Reforest'Action, works with local entrepreneurs who live in forest communities. These community leaders know the value chain and are the main drivers of any reforestation project.

Similarly, Julio Andrés Rozo, the founder of Amazonía Emprende, believes in green business ideas as an instrument for conserving tropical forest ecosystems. Simply put, if communities worldwide can earn a living wage from their forests, there will be added economic incentive to maintain those forests and regrow the already logged areas.

Rainforest Alliance Certified Bananas

What Can Everyone Do To Save Forests?

Every dollar we spend on products that come from forests is either supporting further deforestation or increasing responsible forest management. Spending an extra couple of dollars to purchase chocolate that is sustainably sourced from farmers who manage their cacao trees under the shade of a tropical forest canopy can help those farmers continue to protect those forests. The same goes for other products that we might regularly consume, including citrus, cassava, avocado, cashews, Brazil nuts, spices like vanilla and sugar, coffee, tea, rubber, etc. Supporting those ecological value chains and demanding that companies source their raw materials in a socially and environmentally responsible way are two things that we can all do to support tropical forests worldwide.

There are also companies in the private sector who are making efforts to shift their business models to protect biodiversity and help combat climate change. This process includes responsibly sourcing their raw materials. However, several businesses are going beyond that starting point. They are actively committing to a regenerative business model that attempts to restore forest ecosystems. Nicole Shwab from the World Economic Forum says that "we have shown that if we transition to a nature-positive economy, one that actively regenerates the natural world, this could create value and jobs…We have become addicted to a mindset that sees nature and trees as a resource that we can keep on depleting, and this is the mindset that we urgently need to change."

One of the most heartening examples of companies engaging in a regenerative business model is Ecosia. 


Do Ecosia Actually Plant Trees?

Ecosia is a search engine that uses advertising revenue from your searches to plant trees where they are needed the most worldwide. The team collaborates with local communities and organizations to plant, care for, and monitor native and endangered tree species. In addition, they focus on growing biodiverse forests in over 25 countries around the world.

"We knew that deforestation was a major environmental problem. We also knew that search engines were a great way to raise money to reforest...Today, we do not consider ourselves a search engine company that engages in reforestation projects, but rather, we are a reforestation company with a search engine," he says.

Van Midwoud says that the company's reforestation efforts actively challenge some of the basic tenets of business economics. "We invest in planting trees where the return on investment is increased biodiversity, not necessarily higher capital returns. We need to do what is best for our children, not just what is best for us economically."

Every time North American homeowners choose to search the internet with Ecosia instead of Google or another search engine, they support reforestation efforts worldwide. Ecosia estimates that every search removes about 1kg of carbon dioxide. The company continues to support communities worldwide that are planting and protecting hundreds of millions of trees. Thus, every individual can make an effort to find companies like Ecosia transitioning towards a regenerative business model and making the consumer decision to support those businesses.

Old  Growth Tree Stump

"Everything you use in daily life will have either a good or negative impact on trees around the world," Van Midwoud says. "We are teaching our users that they are part of the world and connecting them with our projects on the ground."

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-05T20:10:12+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.