One Tree Ring to Rule Them All

“It takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say.”

Like Treebeard we here at The NYRD know that we can be long winded at times, but we try not to write unless we have something worth reading -or something about Superman, because apparently we cover him a lot… Yet, perhaps the most important issue we try talk about is climate change. Like a dark power growing in the south it’s going to affect us all, men, elves, hobbits -and even those terrifying giant spiders in Mirkwood- and just like the writings of Tolkein, we may find ourselves looking to the trees to save us and extinguish the fires of global warming… At least if we don’t succumb to the power of deforestation.

An Entmoot Point
Did you ever stop to wonder how many trees there are in the world? Well you can stop wondering. According to the best estimates of scientists there are about 3 trillion trees on the planet Earth. That is about 400 trees for every human, but that is actually the lowest number of trees in the history of humanity’s existence on this planet. The global tree count has fallen 46% since the beginning of human civilization. Estimates say that 12,000 years ago there were more than 6 trillion trees on Earth. Currently, more than 43% of the trees that exist today are in tropical and sub-tropical regions, such as the Amazon. However, the sheer number of trees on the planet is actually irrelevant, as the more important statistic is that they are disappearing, thanks in no small part to human-led deforestation.

Treebeard and his kind would not be happy with us. We have been using forests for everything from generating electrical power to building IKEA furniture, but the good thing about trees is that they grow back. We are not discouraging the use of our greatest natural resource, only the rate at which we are clear cutting forests, such as the Amazon. Deforestation that makes way for things like agriculture, mining, and city building has meant that 17% of the Amazon has been cut down in the past fifty years. Globally, we are losing about 48 football fields worth of trees every minute. Remember, to a centuries old Ent a minute is not a very long of a time at all, unless they’re screaming in horrible pain under the chainsaw of some condo developer.

Please know that we’re not knocking condos or agriculture or even IKEA, because those are important too. We are just are trying to give you all the facts, and the saddest fact is that even if every person on the Earth planted one tree -so, 7 billion trees- that would not even cut our annual tree loss in half. Every year we cut down 15 billion trees. That is remarkable considering that 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity -mammals, birds, insects, etc- call forests their home, and 1.6 billion people worldwide depend on forests for their livelihood. Yet, maybe you’re not an Ent or even an elf. Maybe you are just some hobbit or dwarf living in the big city, working your 9 to 5 desk job. Maybe you’re more worried about whether the king is going to raise taxes this year on horse parking or who is going to win the big joust tournament this weekend? Trees don’t affect you. In fact, if you live in the Shire of Brooklyn you probably haven’t seen a tree in weeks. Why should you care?

The Pollutants of Isengard
In Tolkein’s Middle-Earth, the Ents are the shepherds of the forest. They were created to protect the trees from orcs and corporate strip mining, because even the old god, Yavanna, recognized that trees did more than just provide shade and the occasional place to mark the young love of “A&A 4EVR.” Forest loss is a contributor to climate change. Scientists have found that deforestation and changes to the land account for 23% of current man-made CO2 emissions. Though, the exact impact usually varies based upon the type of forest and even latitude, ultimately this still makes sense. Much like how the Ents attacked Isengard, trees attack the C02 in the air. They absorb it to use as nutrients along with sunlight. So, less trees means that less things are absorbing the Co2 in our atmosphere, but it goes deeper than even that.

Fewer trees also lead to less rain. With a process called evapotranspiration, trees and forests take water out of the soil through their roots to use as nutrients. That water is then evaporated by the sun and brought up into the atmosphere. This helps create more rain and greater areas of cooling, which is something that places like California are going to need in the coming summer months. Water can be trapped far beneath the surface, and without the help of tree roots much of that moisture would not normally be able to reach the surface on its own. Thus, it would remain trapped in the ground instead of being evaporated into the atmosphere where it could be used for rain and clouds. In fact, rain forests are especially good at this. Places like the Amazon and the Congo are some of our best natural resources against warming because the water they help to recycle creates albedo, which is a measure of the reflectivity of a surface. The dense clouds of rain forests reflect and absorb sunlight. This actually helps to reduce the overall temperature of the area and generate more rainfall. Remember its not the heat but the humidity that gets yous… also malaria.

Trees also help mitigate already existing climate dangers. They act as a barrier against flooding and mudslides, two things that are becoming increasingly more frequent and dangerous as our planet suffers the affects of climate change. They are very good at holding the soil in place with their roots and they can help drink up excess water before flooding becomes a problem. Similarly, without the help of sun blocking trees, land can dry out quicker and begin to crack, causing once rich soil to turn to useless dust. All of these benefits help battle against the Dark Lord of global warming, and they provide an overall better standard of living for the humans and animals that inhabit the area.

Wisdom of Fangron
“It is easier to shout ‘Stop’, than to do it”

We obviously cannot stop all deforestation in the world, and even if we did it would not solve all our climate change problem. The USA releases 6.2 tons of carbon per person per year. That is roughly about 1.82 billion tons of carbon annually. Even if the US were to plant 44 million more trees in urban areas per year for the next 50 years -for a total of 2.2 billion trees- those new trees would only store an additional 150 million tons of carbon. That means that planting trees alone is not going to be the answer that will solve our current crisis, but it is also a good start. Attacking the problem of climate change is going to be a long and multifaceted process, and though cutting back on deforestation won’t solve all our problems it will have tangible effects on things like helping to stabilize weather patterns and increasing tire-swing-related childhood fun.

After all, if we were to actually dedicate ourselves to planting 44 million more trees annually for the next five decades than we would be able to replace all the trees already lost and increase urban tree cover by 5%. That would help fight soil erosion, flooding, and giant eagle attacks. We here at The NYRD are not advocating that you give your life up and go all Johnny Appleseed -though we’re not not advocating that either- but we do think its time you appreciated everything that trees do for us.

So the next time you have to decide between buying non-recycled paper or raising an orc army, maybe you should stop and remember that Treebeard is watching you… He is always watching you… And if we’re not nice to the trees, there may come a day when they stand up and return the favor.

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