Our environment, our planet, indeed our very way of life, is in danger. As the author of this piece, I am 51 years of age, and I remember as a schoolboy being taught about the greenhouse effect and release of gases into the atmosphere, along with its causal effect. We covered melting of polar ice caps and rising sea levels, the changing air currents and deforestation. Forty years later and has anything really changed? The answer, effectively, is no.
Okay, so a lot of consumables have gone CFC-free, hybrid and electric cars are breaking through and we all drink from cardboard cups using cardboard straws at our favourite take-away restaurant. We recycle plastic bowls and glass bottles and jars at home, and we save energy wherever possible. New houses have solar panels on rooves and our coastal views now also include wind turbines and wave generators.
However, we are closer to ‘Armageddon’ than ever before. Consecutive governments gain power on the back of ‘green’ promises whilst activists and protesters bemoan the lack of progress. In Rio de Janeiro in 1992, The Earth Summit was the very first of its kind. Billed as a game changer, in fact it did very little towards progress. In fact, regress was the outcome. The 1990’s was catastrophic for the environment and earth was bundled into a new millennium in a worse state than ever. Polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate, rain forests are disappearing faster than ever and still the world is failing to join forces to tackle the problem as ‘one’.
Turning Back the Years
Planting hundreds of millions of trees across the world is one of the biggest and cheapest ways of taking Carbon Dioxide out of our atmosphere in order to tackle the climate crisis, according to scientists, who have made the first calculation of how many more trees could be planted without encroaching on crop land or urban areas.
As a tree grows, it then absorbs and stores the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global warming to new, unprecedented levels. New research estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions from human activities that remain in the atmosphere today, a figure that scientists describe as “mind-blowing”.
The analysis found there are 1.7 billion hectares of treeless land on which 1.2 trillion native tree saplings would naturally grow. This area is roughly 11% of all land and equivalent to the size of the United States and China combined. Tropical areas could have 100% tree cover, while others would be more sparsely covered, meaning that on average about half the area would be under tree canopy.
The scientists intentionally excluded all fields which are used to grow crops and urban areas from their analysis. But they did include grazing land, on which the researchers say a few trees can also benefit the native sheep and cattle.
However, this project would require governments, nations and citizens to come together collectively, both fundamentally but also financially, for this to happen. Given our global state politically, the author fears this approach is clever in design but lacking in implementational practicality.
How Do Trees Help?
Effectively, climate change is too big a subject for us mere mortals to wrap our heads around in such a short article. Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, record flooding, record-breaking droughts, record heat – and new records set nearly every year. But climate change is a little more simple to understand when your city, town or home is the subject of a local/national news story or weather disaster headline, or your trip home is by canoe and not your car! Indeed, just today I am looking at news stories from South Wales of the impact of Storm Dennis, and Storm Ciara last week, of people trapped in their homes with water levels reaching ground floor ceilings.
Feeling helpless in the face of mother nature, many cannot come to terms with the contribution just one person can make to the cause of climate change, much less the solution. So, they wait for local and national leaders to make a sweeping, dramatic change to save the planet. But considering that scientists, fossil fuel companies and global governments and world leaders have been well-informed on climate change since the 1970’s, don’t count on any of them to ride in on a white horse anytime soon. We need to make decisions in our own households that can effect change.
But all hope is not lost. Even if you own a small property you can make a significant difference to fighting climate change by planting a tree or two or three (or if you don’t have space for trees, woody perennials or shrubs). Multiply that effort by the millions of property owners in the United States and United Kingdom alone, and that will be a great start.
Trees and woody perennial shrubs are key in controlling the level of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere (carbon dioxide is just one of the chemicals responsible for climate change). All plants take in Carbon Dioxide and release oxygen (the O in CO2) and the carbon molecule is used for many plant functions. In the case of trees and woody perennials like shrubs, it helps form trunks, stems, and root mass, and is stored as wood for years, decades, or even centuries. This is what’s referred to as “sequestering” carbon dioxide.
This carbon storage capacity makes trees one of the best tools to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. According to data on climate change collected by the United States Government as of 2012, U.S. forests, grasslands, and other natural sources sequestered 762 million metric tons (MMT) of carbon dioxide which offset around 11 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Sequestering is also known as “carbon sink” – the ability of natural resources to capture atmospheric carbon.
How many trees have been lost in the US alone?
Since the first European settlers arrived on the shores of the United States, forestland has seen a net reduction (more were cut down than replaced) of roughly 257 million acres. To give you an idea of how many acres that is, it’s three times the amount of land currently managed by the National Park Service: every National Park, National Monument, historic battlefield, trail, seashore, and more combined.
But that’s only half the story. When trees are cut down and burned or used for some other purpose, it releases their stored carbon back into the atmosphere. So not only did the loss of that acreage decrease the ability for the planet to absorb carbon, it also increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. I bet you didn’t know that, did you?
It is estimated by the United States Mid-Century Strategy for deep decarbonisation, that if we are able to expand the acreage of trees and natural grasslands by 40-50 million acres, we could offset 50% of US greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It is figures like this that set your mind in motion with questions such as “Why aren’t we doing that already?”.
From 1987 to 2012, tree planting efforts helped United States forests expand by roughly 1 million acres per year – with federal land agencies accounting for roughly a third of those figures. To reach the mid-century reforestation goal, this annual expansion rate needs to double on average. However, since it takes time for trees to grow and reach their full carbon sequestration potential, even more planting must now occur in the short term. Independent projections call for 2.7 million acres per year of forest expansion from now through at least 2035 – almost three times the current rate.
Georgetown Public Policy Review
Yes, the implications of planting that much land with trees seems overwhelming to us mere mortals, as it seems to be with most politicians and business leaders too. But it is in fact twice as tough to achieve if those responsible for public policy have the will to do it. One may also add, what other choice do we have? Planting trees doesn’t require massive technology development – it is a simple solution to an overwhelming problem that can be done with a minimal amount of equipment, or even by 1 person at a time. As a member of the population of planet earth, I am left asking myself whether I should trust the powers that be to act on this. Or should I do something about it myself?
Which brings us back to the beginning. How can homeowners and gardeners help fight climate change? Planting millions of trees across the country, including in urban landscapes, will obviously take years. In the meantime, the trees that you plant on your property can begin the carbon sink. Trees also contribute to protecting your home from severe weather and shade it in summer, saving on air conditioning costs (which also fights climate change by reducing energy use). Trees also have the added benefit of attracting wildlife like birds which keep down the pest populations in your landscape.
The importance of taking some action and planting trees can’t start soon enough. If you have a shaded property, congratulations, you are part of the solution. But if your property is a clear-cut, golf-green-like lawn from the street to your front door, then firstly ask yourself why? and secondly, buy a tree or two or six and plant them today.
Every tree is a good tree, but if you buy native species of trees – that is, trees that have evolved in your region – they will be very low maintenance (if any at all) once they are established and then they should thrive. Just be sure you make a note of the mature height and spread of the tree and plant them in a location where the mature size won’t crowd your foundation or other trees.
What are the actual figures?
The percentage rate of cremation in the United Kingdom is currently around 90%. Over the past ten years, cremations have surpassed burials as the most popular end-of-life option in the United States, too, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. At the same time, companies have been springing up touting creative things you can do with a loved one’s ashes, such as pressing them into a vinyl record, using them to create a marine reef, or having them compressed into diamonds.
Cremation, along with these creative ways to honour the dead, is often marketed as a more environmentally friendly option than traditional embalming and casket burial. Concern for the environment, in addition to economic considerations, may be driving some of the increase in popularity. But while it’s true that cremation is less harmful than pumping a body full of formaldehyde and burying it on top of concrete, there are still environmental effects to consider. Cremation requires a lot of fuel, and it results in millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. The average cremation takes up about the same amount of energy and has the same emissions as about two tanks of petrol in an average car.
In the western world, all cremations happen indoors at crematoriums. The big environmental concerns with this type of cremation are the amount of energy it requires, and the amount of carbon dioxide emissions it produces. Regional environmental regulations mean that most U.S. crematoriums have scrubbing or filtering systems, such as after-chambers that burn and neutralise pollutants like mercury emissions from dental fillings. The United Kingdom has similar restrictions.
So, what are the actual emissions from a cremation and how much of those emissions do trees absorb?
The estimate is that an average cremation produces 500 pounds of carbon dioxide, all ending up in the environment. In the UK alone, there are 400,000 cremations performed on an annual basis. That equates to an overall figure of 91,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the environment.
A mature tree absorbs roughly 50 pounds of carbon dioxide in a year. So, it takes ten years for a mature tree to absorb the emissions from each cremation.
Say ‘Hello’ to The Eternity Tree!
The Eternity Tree Ltd was founded in the UK and US by two friends who had both recently lost loved ones. Both of these friends are also incredibly passionate about saving the environment. After the grieving process was over, they both had cremated remains in hand and looked into what to do next.
They found two very important issues. Firstly, grieving relatives are often confused as to what to actually do with cremated remains. And, secondly, our planet is dying and needs trees to be planted, NOW. Further, the general public are largely unaware of the toxic effect that scattering human ashes is having on the environment in general, whilst also having a major impact on local wildlife and foliage. Indeed, most National Forests and Parks have now banned the scattering of ashes due to these unwanted effects on the environment.
The cost of memorial parks is becoming increasingly expensive and then there is the added cost of future rents and the burden they could create for the family. The fact still remains that most families want a lasting memorial of their loved one, that can be seen and visited at special times. So, the friends thought what better way to create a lasting memorial than by planting a tree that could absorb the goodness from the ashes, creating a living memorial to their loved ones.
So, they began researching cremated remains. They found that they have an incredibly high pH level but at the same time contain calcium, potassium and phosphorous, essential in the growth of plants and trees. However, the remains do not contain manganese, carbon and zinc, which are important in plant growth.
Therefore, it is necessary to neutralise the high pH level, maximise the impact of the good nutrients and introduce missing nutrients.
Thus, The Eternity Tree developed the world’s first and only bio-neutralising urn, The Eternity Seed. This seed is of a similar capacity to all other urns allowing the remains to be deposited inside in full. The seed then degrades within 6 months, neutralises the harmful elements of the remains and then nourishes the chosen tree. Clients can choose from over 30 forestry commission approved saplings or shrubs, usually planting the urn and tree in their garden. All saplings are native to the chosen country, are grown from seeds in Forestry Commission Approved facilities, free from disease and using absolutely no plastic in the process whatsoever.
So, now there is the opportunity to change mindsets and alter the way we view death. No longer does death have to mean the end. Now, for the first time, we have the ability to see a loved one’s death as the start of something special…new life for the planet and hope. The Eternity Tree also plants two additional trees when someone purchases a product.
Just think, in ten years, those three mature trees will be providing valuable life to a planet in dire need of our love. Multiply that by 500,000 people, or 1,500,000 trees (thanks to The Eternity Tree) and you suddenly have a true memorial that leads to life for the planet and a reversal of climate change.