Earth Day has become a prevalent movement towards a sustainable Earth by addressing key global environmental issues such as climate change. It is more than just a day where we appreciate our earth; it’s a drive towards protecting our planet for future generations.
The very first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 took place during the beginning of environmental awareness in America, mobilizing millions of Americans to take action. The creation of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and many other groundbreaking environmental legislations in the US soon followed. Twenty years later in 1990, Earth Day had gone global with over 200 million people engaged in 141 countries. Now, after 46 years, Earth Day has actively involved over 1 billion people. This makes it the largest environmental movement in the world!
This year, Earth Day is focused on the importance of trees. Sounds simple enough, but trees are part of a complex solution to battling global climate change. This is because trees are vital tools for offsetting the carbon we emit each day. Carbon offset refers to a reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere, essentially with the goal of a net-zero carbon emission (aka carbon-neutral).
One tree absorbs as much as 48 pounds of CO2 each year, with a total of one ton CO2 sequestered within 40 years of growth. In fact, forests capture up to 40% of the total carbon that we emit each year. Trees also absorb other pollutant gasses such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, ammonia and ozone, and release clean, fresh air for us to breath.
Unfortunately, this massive pollution filter that could help offset global carbon emissions is being destroyed at exponential rates. Approximately 80% of the world’s forests have already been demolished, with one football field-sized forest disappearing every 2 seconds. Ontop of this, deforestation has contributed approximately 10.8 billion tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere.
Clear-cutting has become the method of choice for wood harvesting in many countries. This act removes the forest influence of an area, leaving bare ground open to the climatic elements. When soil is exposed, it is more prone to degradation and erosion. This means that the landscape loses nutrients, thereby loosing the ability to be productive. Without trees, the soil also cannot retain water near the surface. This limits the plants that can re-grow, as well as the wildlife that can survive in an area.
Wood harvesting therefor not only diminishes the forest carbon sink, but also destroys habitat for wildlife. Half of the known species in the world are native to tropical rain forests, which are being cut at a staggering rate. If these demolition rates continue, tropical rainforests will vanish altogether within the next 100 years. This would lead to the disappearance of countless species, many of which have already been endangered due to habitat loss in recent decades.
So who is using all of these wood products? While the US has only 10% of the worlds’ population, it uses approximately 30-35% of the worlds’ paper, with an overwhelming total of 700 pounds of paper per American per year. While America is the largest consumer, Canada is not doing much better. It is time for us to take action.
“How can I help?”
To combat this travesty, Earth Day has set a target to plant 7.8 billion trees by their 50th anniversary in 2020. There are events across the globe for everyone to participate in, as well as ways to donate and join the movement. You can find an event or make a donation at www.earthday.org. Just $1 will plant 1 tree!
Other non-profit organizations and companies also make carbon-offset via tree planting simple. Some great examples are:
One Tree Planted (www.onetreeplanted.org) plants trees in South America, North America, Asia and Africa. You can even choose where you want your trees to be planted!
Carbon Neutral (www.carbonneutral.com) also leads a wide range of reforestation and forest protection projects, with a goal of offsetting carbon emissions.
TreeCanada (www.treecanada.ca) will calculate your carbon emissions and tell you how any trees must be planted to offset them. They will then even plant them for you in their designated planting zones!
Trees for the Future (www.treesforthefuture.org) plants trees in villages across Africa to restore farmland. This helps villages grow and prosper.
These are just some of many organizations with the same goal: Trees for Earth. This April, join the movement. Let’s go hug a tree and plant some more! Happy Earth Day!
Earth Day (2016). www.earthday.org
Carbon Neutral (2015). www.carbonneutral.com
Lousie Gray, The Telegraph: World's Forests absorbe nearly 40% of man-marde CO2 (2011). Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/earthnews/8708979/Worlds-forests-a...
Keenan, R. ., and J. . Kimmins. 1993. The ecological effects of clear-cutting. Environmental Reviews 1:121–144.
Tree Canada (www.treecanada.ca)
Trees for the Future (2016) www.treesforthefuture.org
NC State University, Department of Horticulture Services. Tree Facts. Available at: https://www.ncsu.edu/project/treesofstrength/treefact.htm
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