Forests to rescue a planet on fire

Maria Isabel Garcia
We cannot grow more oceans but we can grow more forests. A return to the forests should now capture human imagination.

If I were made to bet between a change in human and plant behavior, I would bet on the plant.  

Plants are more reliable and dependable when it comes to adapting to what is going on with the environment. They know what to do in the “accidental” places of their birth, even if they cannot simply pack up and leave when threatened. They do not have brains yet their sensory systems are perfectly adapted to how they are going to negotiate their survival with light, water, and other living organisms that could help them survive and flourish, as well as how to defend themselves against predators. Humans, the ones with such self-proclaimed crowning glories called brains, have a far more complicated relationship with objective realities such as the climate crisis. 

But plants, particularly forests (trees that are made to grow within an ecosystem that are supported not only by trees but other organisms such as animals and fungi), have been far more diligent about the climate crisis than humans have been. It is not just important but essential to understand that forests are “systems” – like extended families that depend on each other. To see forests as just trees is to miss the point entirely. 

Without having to be conscious and sentimental about it like humans, forests have been doing its job, taking in more carbon in the past decades. We know this because records show that they have taken up as much as 30% of carbon dioxide emitted by human activities even if we are losing about 2% of forests globally every year since the ’90s. This is almost as much as the carbon being taken up by the oceans.

Carbon dioxide is that gas which human activities, largely from our industries fueled by human consumption, have built up in our atmosphere in proportions that have caused our planet to heat up. By breathing in carbon dioxide, trees “capture” that gas. When trees are young, they take up more carbon dioxide. This is why scientists have been studying and suggesting that planting more forests and managing them so that we wisely harvest old ones to ensure we promptly plant new forests may be a sure way to meander out of this mess that we humans have created for ourselves and the planet.

And finally, mainstream news picked up one of the more recent studies by Swiss scientists on this. The studies predict that the planet has enough space to grow enough forests that could capture the carbon that humans have spewed on the atmosphere in the past 25 years! That is the promise of 750 billion metric tons leaving the atmosphere if we plant 9 million square kilometers of forests – about 30 times the size of the Philippines!  

If the calculations are right, then feverishly planting more forests could save us from ourselves in the face of the climate crisis. But alas, the greatest threat to many species is really habitat loss – the loss of spaces where webs of life thrive like forests. We take over wild spaces to build new estates where more humans can live and pretend that we can urbanize our existence out of the climate crisis when in reality, we are hastening the effects of the crisis. 

But geniuses that we think we are, can’t we find a way to live in forests? Can’t we relearn to live in trees by building tree houses that respect the architecture and the living connections that animate the forest? Wouldn’t it be so neat if we had offices that were also plant and animal observatories, suspended in trees, and connected by suspended bridges? 

Instead of assigning the mandate of appreciating and understanding nature only to museums, shouldn’t we have our own observatories where we live and work? We could do that if we lived, worked, and played in forests. Maybe not all of us would be willing to live in forests, but I think many of us are willing to adapt and be flexible in adjusting our ways of living and consuming so we can live in forests.

Only oceans and forests can devour massive amounts of carbon dioxide that we humans have unleashed so carelessly and lethally in our own atmosphere. We cannot grow more oceans but we can grow more forests. A return to the forests should now capture human imagination. That, or carbon captures us and our planet in ways we would no longer be able to reverse. –

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” You can reach her at

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