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Scientists issue warning against commercial tree-planting schemes: ‘We should shift focus’

“We risk reducing natural ecosystems to one metric…”

“We risk reducing natural ecosystems to one metric..."

Photo Credit: iStock

One strategy that is being implemented to combat the ongoing overheating of our planet may actually be doing more harm than good, scientists have warned. A new study on commercial tree-planting schemes discovered a variety of unintended consequences.

What is happening?

The study, published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, looked into the practice of tree planting to mitigate global overheating. There are dozens of public and private planting initiatives all over the world that seek to plant as many trees as possible in order to “capture carbon,” i.e., reduce the amount of planet-overheating gases in the atmosphere.

The problem is that many of these initiatives simply try to plant as many trees as they can for as little money as possible, creating plantations of a single type of tree — often pine, eucalyptus, or teak — which results in commercial monocultures instead of native forests.

Why is this a problem?

By planting only one type of tree at a time, the study explained, “we risk reducing natural ecosystems to one metric — carbon.”

The results include drying out native ecosystems, acidifying soil, crowding out native plants, and creating conditions that allow wildfires to spread more rapidly. 

“It is broadly assumed that maximising standing carbon stocks also benefits biodiversity, ecosystem function and enhances socioeconomic co-benefits — yet this is often not the case,” the study said

What is being done about it?

According to the study, we need to put more emphasis on preserving and protecting ecosystems as a whole rather than on viewing trees as “nothing more than sticks of carbon,” according to one scientist quoted in The Guardian.

And, of course, the single best thing we can do for the health of the planet is to switch from dirty energy sources such as oil and gas to clean, renewable sources like wind and solar.

“Aside from the obvious need to reduce fossil-fuel emissions, we should shift focus to conserving and restoring ecosystems … Conserving ecosystems and their functioning will only be possible by prioritising biodiversity beyond a single monetary-based metric such as carbon sequestration potential,” the study concluded.

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