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Close to Home: A trillion trees to save the earth

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

Climate change was a major topic in the 2020 election, and it’s time to initiate practical solutions. Cutting greenhouse gasses is obviously important, but removing gasses from the atmosphere also plays an important role and presents a great opportunity for Sonoma County.

Rebecca Canright, in a letter to The Press Democrat, highlighted the need to get serious about regenerative farming and carbon sequestration as tools to fight climate change (“Rethinking farming,” Nov. 11). Carbon sequestration, which is a fancy name for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, is an essential and often overlooked tool to fight climate change.

It’s also the simplest and most universally embraceable technology: plant a tree.

We know that photosynthesis take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and converts it to oxygen. The carbon is captured in the plant and its roots release carbon into the soil to nourish other vegetation.

George Fowler
George Fowler

The United Nations recognized the importance of trees by announcing the Trillion Tree Campaign earlier this year. The program is administered by the nonprofit Plant-for-the-Planet and, as the name implies, it seeks to preserve existing forests and encourage the planting of more trees. Specifically, its goal is to preserve and plant a trillion trees globally.

On the surface, the program is deceptively simple: plant a tree, save the planet. And to a degree, it is that simple. Because of its simplicity, it is easy to dismiss as being inconsequential. However multiple agencies concerned with climate change now see land use programs as crucial.

Paul Hawken, in his best-seller “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming” devotes an entire chapter to land use programs and a recent documentary “Kiss the Ground” explores multiple solutions.

But it’s not just plant a tree. It’s also about what tree to plant and where.

With our climate and history of wildfires in Sonoma County, there are multiple factors to consider. Eucalyptus trees, for example, hungrily absorb carbon dioxide, but they are extremely flammable.

Some trees grow too slowly to be of use soon.

On the other hand, the empress splendor tree is the fastest growing tree in the world, growing up to 20 feet in its first year, and it absorbs tons of carbon dioxide. It is non-invasive and excellent for preventing soil erosion. Importantly, it is resistant to fire.

Other species may work well in Sonoma County, but they need be identified.

And where should they be planted to provide the maximum effect? In town? Along roadways to absorb exhaust fumes? What about in those huge swaths of land that are now black after our fires? In the open fields and pastures throughout the county?

How do we encourage private landholders to plant high-carbon-capture trees? A serious project will need funding: both government and private.

To this end, we need the help of our elected officials in Washington and Sacramento. Incentives need to be created to encourage private landholders to plant and maintain high carbon capture trees. These may include beneficial tax treatment or attractive financing programs.

Answering these questions and developing a comprehensive tree program is an appropriate role for local government. The Trillion Trees program is an initiative that is ideal for environmentally conscious Sonoma County. If it also helps in reducing fire risks and post-fire erosion, even better.

I recall that Sonoma County has a budget for global warming. I would strongly urge the county to look into using these funds to develop and implement a tree program that will be the gold standard for others. Now that’s a worthy gift for our children.

George Fowler a retired international banker with extensive experience working with multilateral development banks to fund environmental programs. He lives in Santa Rosa.

You can send letters to the editor to letters@pressdemocrat.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

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