Today is the 46th annual Earth Day, and this year we are being encouraged to remember that Earth Day is more than just a single day, but a wider call to action. The theme of the campaign in 2016 is Trees for the Earth, with the launch of the most ambitious Earth Day target yet – a plan to plant 7.8 billion trees worldwide.
One of the things I love about travel is the chance to see some impressive and wonderful species of trees, like the giant redwood sequoias in the USA, or the beautiful old baobabs in Africa. We also have some pretty impressive trees here in the UK. So this Earth Day I’d like to challenge readers to do something to help plant and protect trees, wherever you are in the world.
Trees for the Earth
Over the next five years, as Earth Day moves closer to its 50th anniversary, the organisers are hoping to achieve one of their most ambitious goals yet — by planting 7.8 billion trees around the world. That’s one tree for every person on the planet!
The idea behind Trees for the Earth is quite simple: the campaign recognises that we need trees to survive!
Forests support the livelihoods of 1.6 billion people and provide a home to more than half the earth’s biodiversity. They provide food, fuel and shelter, not just for people but for wildlife too.
Trees use carbon dioxide to make food from the sun and put clean oxygen back into the air, and living forests act as natural reservoirs that accumulate and store carbon for an indefinite period.
Trees also have an important role to play in maintaining healthy water cycles, and even fertilise the soil they grow in by dropping their leaves to release their nutrients.
During the life cycle of a mature broad-leaved deciduous tree, 70% of its nutrients can be returned to the soil for the next generation of trees to grow and thrive.
So we should be worried that our planet is currently losing over 15 billion trees every year! By helping to plant 7.8 billion trees between now and 2020, we can contribute to three major goals:
Mitigating climate change and pollution
Trees absorb excess CO2 from our atmosphere. In a single year, it takes roughly 96 trees to absorb the amount of CO2 produced by one person. Trees also absorb odours and pollutants like nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone, as well as filtering particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark.
By planting the right trees in the right places, we can help counteract loss of species, as well as providing increased habitat connectivity or corridors between regional patches of forest.
Supporting communities and livelihoods
Planting trees can help communities achieve long-term economic and environmental sustainability, and provides food, energy and income.
Studies have shown that schools with tree cover have reduced rates of asthma and help students to concentrate for longer periods. Tree planting is claimed to have a direct correlation to reduced crime rates, increased property values, reduced litter, higher social cohesion, and a number of other social and community benefits.
How you can help
1. Plant a tree, or organise a team to plant trees in your neighbourhood
If there is a spare patch of land in the heart of your community, why not approach the local authority and see if it could become a community orchard. Or plant a tree in your own garden. With the right species of trees, even a small patch of land can be used to plant trees.
Around the world, men and women depend on forest resources for food, energy, and income to support themselves and their families – but trees are disappearing at an alarming rate.
You can help the Earth Day Network reforest and rebuild communities by donating to the Canopy Project. For every $1 you donate, they can plant one more tree that will transform a community.
3. Raise awareness about climate change and the importance of trees
Why not get a local expert, like a sustainable forester or arborist, to come to an event and talk about working with trees, their role in ecosystems, or the risk of climate change and the role of forests in combating it.
4. Write to the people elected to represent you
Ask your local elected representatives to make a commitment to planting more trees in your area, or start an online petition to protect a forest under threat.
5. Call your local Parks Department and offer to help
The local authority or forestry commission might already have a volunteer day coming up or you could offer to plan a tree planting, park clean-up, or invasive plant removal day.
6. Sponsor a tree with The Woodland Trust or another charity
Dedicating or sponsoring a tree is a great way to support the charities and other organisations who are working to protect and restore forests and trees both in your local area and worldwide.
7. Give the gift of a tree
Trees can make wonderful gifts for a birthday or other celebration, if your loved one has somewhere suitable to plant it. Try to choose one that is a native species and will provide blossom or fruit for wildlife to benefit from, as well as being suitable for the location.
8. Carbon offset the emissions from your travel
Carbon offsetting, through a reputable scheme, can help protect and restore forests for communities around the world. Why not take the first step and calculate the carbon cost of your most recent flight: Carbon Calculator
9. Apply for free trees for your school or community group (UK)
If you are a school or community group in the UK that wants to make a difference to your local environment, you could be eligible for a free tree pack from the Woodland Trust.
10. Volunteer to help protect ancient trees
There are many opportunities to volunteer to help trees.
For example, Trees for Life is an award-winning Scottish charity working to restore the ancient Caledonian Forest, a spectacular wilderness region in the heart of the Scottish Highlands.
Almost all of our work is carried out by volunteers.
11. Use forest products efficiently, reuse wood and recycle paper
Only ever buy wood and paper products from either sustainable forestry or recycled stocks.
Look out for certification systems such as the Forest Stewardship Council or Sustainable Forestry Institute before you buy wood or items made from wood products.
Recycle paper and wood to help preserve forests. This reduces demand for wood, conserves resources and generates less pollution during manufacturing. It also reduces solid waste, because it diverts usable paper and wood from the waste stream.
12. Responsible travel to forests
Many trips and tours will take you deep into some of the most important and bio-diverse forests in the world. As visitors we must respect forest land and the wildlife that thrives there.
Responsible travellers should not dig up, pull up or damage plants, trees or flowers; disturb wildlife or do anything which is likely to pollute the water or interfere with the flow of water in the forest. Where foraging is permitted, only ever take what you need.
Always remember that forest fire can have devastating consequences. Lighting a fire can put other people and animals at risk, especially when the ground is dry.
In public forests you may not even be allowed to light a fire, stove or barbecue unless it is in a designated area. Make sure you know the rules where you are, and always take care when lighting campfires.