The ‘Stop complaining about deforestation, just plant a tree’ argument

Instead of complaining about deforestation on the Internet you should get off your ass, actually do something and plant a tree !

I read this sort of comment hundreds of times under posts about climate change and deforestation. I thought that instead of planting a tree it’s worth addressing this argument in a blog post that goes beyond the obvious point that the person making this comment is complaining on the Internet about people complaining on the Internet, instead of planting trees.

Planting is crucial

First of all, let’s be clear, planting trees is absolutely necessary. Planting and caring for trees is a very powerful action that can transform landscapes and create ecological value for decades to come. This said, planting trees can’t stop deforestation, and it certainly can’t solve climate change by itself, but it needs to be part of any serious climate action plan. A recent study revealed that if we would use all the available space, we could plant 1.2 TRILLION trees across the world and that this would offset our emissions for a whole decade.

We should definitely plant trees, and support companies that plant a lot of trees, like Ecosia. But if we realize the scale of challenge that we’re facing we should definitely do our best to pressure our governments to take action by investing not only in planting new trees, but also in preserving the existing forest ecosystems. And we should do our best to ignite a serious public conversation surrounding these issues. All of this involves a lot of “complaining”.

We’re cutting too much

We’re losing 7 million hectares of forest each year. This means that 3.5 to 7 billion trees are destroyed, mostly in the tropics. Let’s imagine that we’ll somehow manage to replant all these trees, in the same year that they are cut. They will still take decades to grow, but even worse, the forests will take hundreds, if not thousands of years to restore the their biodiversity. Planting a tree in your backyard is awesome, but it won’t bring back the tropical forests that are relentlessly destroyed every second of every day.

When we look at global tree cover, the picture looks deceptive. A lot of the tree cover loss is offset by new growth, a study found out that global tree cover has even increased in the last 35 years. Tree cover, doesn’t equate bio-diverse forests. A lot of the growth is provoked by the warming climate. Tree lines are being pushed in higher altitudes and latitudes. Meanwhile, tropical forests are experiencing constant shrinkage. Furthermore, we should ask ourselves what trees are being planted. Spruce and palm tree plantation also absorb carbon and count as tree cover, but they are not real forests.

Why do we cut trees?

Many people assume that we cut trees to make paper and furniture, but this is only a part of the story. Most of deforestation is happening in order to exploit the fertile soils beneath the forest. 6 out the 7 million hectares of forest that we destroy are converted into agricultural land. We burn the trees, and we plant soy, palm trees and create grazing fields. We can’t replant trees where the land is being used for another purpose. And once the industry has exploited the soil, once the climate and the precipitation patterns have been disrupted, it won’t be easy to grow back the rich forest that once stood there.

‘Complaining’ is crucial

The worst part of the idea is that talking about these issues is completely futile. As if we’re just whining without willing to do anything that could have real consequences. And I understand where this idea comes from. Planting a tree is a much more tangible action than talking about legislation or the corrupt political system. Yet even simply talking about the problems is absolutely necessary and really helpful. You might have noticed that the mainstream news and the most trending stories on social media rarely mention environmental issues, except when there is a big disaster, or on Earth day.

Social media’s role

While social media is the best place where these important discussions can take place, it’s not the most hospitable environment. The algorithms are not working well for reasonable debate, they prioritize simple messages and outrage. So if you’re using social media to talk about these issues or their solutions, know that you’re doing something really important. Media visibility costs a lot of money, and that’s true of social media as well. Even by simply interacting with environmental-related posts you are doing something that has real consequences.

The solutions to deforestation and climate change are going to require huge investments in conservation and a serious restructuring of our laws and economies. This can only happen if a significant percentage of the population is aware of the severity of the ecological crisis.

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