Finally, there's one climate initiative that the Trump administration is willing to get on board with. Republicans are working on a bill that would commit the U.S. to planting billions of trees annually. On the surface, it looks like a great move, but experts are weighing in with their concerns.
Tree-planting campaigns aren't unique to President Trump. The topic came up last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as world leaders sought ways to combat climate change. There, Trump committed the U.S. to joining the One Trillion Tree initiative, which seeks to combat deforestation while committing to protect and restore forest cover by planting trees.
"We're committed to conserving the majesty of God's creation and the natural beauty of our world," Trump said. He went on to add that the U.S. "will continue to show strong leadership in restoring, growing, and better managing our trees and forests."
Republicans will unveil the tree bill sometime next week, which calls for the U.S. to plant 3.3 billion trees each year over the next 30 years. The Hill reported that Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), who drafted the bill, said, "The most pragmatic, proactive thing to do is to plant forests and manage them so that you're actually pulling carbon out of the atmosphere."
However, Reuters reported that youth climate activist Greta Thunberg responded to Trump's announcement by saying planting a trillion trees was "nowhere near enough." It's a sentiment that seems to be echoed by other experts within the climate field.
Sure, trees remove carbon from the atmosphere, and the idea of re-planting trees isn't bad by itself. Deforestation is a big issue, after all. In 2018, a study from the U.S. Forest Service found that the U.S. lost 36 million trees per year from urban and rural areas between 2009 and 2014.
The problem here is that you can't pretend the solution to climate change is as easy as planting trees. David Archer, a University of Chicago geophysical sciences professor, told The Hill, "The fossil fuel carbon is so much bigger than all the carbon in the trees. You can't do carbon neutral by planting trees. ... It's sort of a Band Aid."
The U.S. is a major driver of climate change and is responsible for almost a third of the excess CO2 already in the atmosphere. If the One Trillion Tree campaign was an add-on to other ongoing initiatives, that'd be another conversation, but Trump has consistently undermined climate-saving efforts.
In November, he withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement. In addition, the Trump administration has rolled back water regulations, coal plant regulations, and introduced "transparency" policies undermining scientific research. Planting trees isn't going to do much if business is allowed to continue as usual.