The evolution of human mentality has put us all in vitro now, behind the glass wall of our own ingenuity. – John Fowles

As the world is fore-seeking to slow the rate of the drastic climate changes and preserve the wildlife whilst supporting billions of people – they forget that trees inevitably hold a crucial part of the answer. Yet we witness the mass destruction of trees – deforestation – continues, sacrificing the long-term advantages of standing trees for a short-term gain.

Between 1990 and 2016, the world lost 502,000 square miles (1.3 billion square kilometers) of the forest – according to the World Bank – an area larger than South Africa.

Is Reforestation the Solution to climate change?

A new study conducted by investigators at Switzerland’s ETH-Zurich, explains how Earth could almost support an additional billion hectares of trees without new forests pushing into the existing agricultural or urban area. Moreover, when the trees grow to maturity, they could store more than 200 billion metric tons of carbon.

Isn’t that amazing?

Great news indeed! But still, some questions remain unanswered. Where and exactly how are we going to plant all the new trees? More so, what kind of trees should we plant? What is the guarantee that the new forests become a boon for people in those particular areas?

Wondering how one could combat this situation?

Technology is the answer!

 Reforesting an Area the Size of the USA

The researchers of the Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich calculated that under the current climatic conditions, Earth’s land could support an estimated 4.4 billion hectares of continuous tree cover – that is almost 1.6 billion + the currently existing 2.8 billion hectares. And of this, 1.6 billion hectares fulfill the criterion of not being used by people. 

Well, that means that there is an area of the size of the US currently available to restore trees! Once the trees mature, these new forests could potentially hold and store 205 billion tonnes of carbon: about two-thirds of the 300 billion tonnes of carbon that has been emitted into the environment as a result of human activity ever since the Industrial Revolution.

The Challenge

Other researchers have noted that the study may overestimate how efficient trees are at restoring carbon, as well as underestimate how we humans have emitted a huge amount of carbon over time. However, they all seem to agree that new forests could potentially offset much of our cumulative carbon emissions-that stands still impressive feat as the objective of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius becomes tougher and tougher to reach/accomplish.

Recently, a Brazilian couple had replanted about 2.7 million trees in two decades, although back-of-the-napkin math states that they, on an average, planted about 370 trees a day, so when you do the math, to plant 500 million trees it would take roughly 3.7 million years – which is not realistic. Even if a million people planted 370 trees per day, it would take 83 years to reach the estimated goal. The current technologies are not well-versed enough to meet the desired challenge, especially in remote locations.

Aerial Reforestation with Tree-Bombing Bots/Drones

Drone Planting

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Technology plays a vital role here that can speed up the planting process, including the new-gen of drones that take tree plantation to another level.

The drones were originally developed by an ex-NASA engineer that was designed to fire off pre-germinated seedpods into the ground. Drone planting is not only a cheaper and less time-consuming way to plant trees, but it is also the fastest way to plant trees exponentially, faster than the locals being forced to plant them manually.

The pods then dissolve over a certain period and the tree seed eventually grows.

Biocarbon Engineering is a UK-based company backed by a drone manufacturer named Parrot, they have been using flying robots to plant trees on a massive scale – up to 10,000 trees a day!

Additionally, the areas that are unviable or not fertile can also be converted into a growing fertile land.

Drone planting has its distinct advantages like planting in-hard-to-access areas, like the mangrove forests – that are disappearing rapidly that in turn increases the risk of floods and storm surges.

AI for Earth

AI for Earth

Certain start-ups are much devoted to finding optimal ways to conduct an estimate forest inventory. One such AI for Earth grantee, Silvia Terra, had innovated a software-based approach after her frustration with the status quo whilst at Yale School of Forestry.

What does the software do?

1) Can assess forests using Satellite Imagery and Machine Learning.

2) The algorithm powered by AI not only reduces the amount of fieldwork needed to assess forests but is a vanguard of new-gen of “precision forestry”

The Goal:

To build a data library and powerful AI tools that can provide a precise up-to-date map of US forests for the first time in history – as well as detailed information about each tree!

This work has given us a bird’s-eye view on a global level, it shows just how powerful the amalgamation of human ingenuity and AI is, and just how badly it is needed to make the kind of an effective, quick global impact and progress we need.

Is it realistic to plant 500 billion new trees? Well, the short answer is yes, it is ONLY possible with the help of technology.

We have the technology to collect and analyze the data pouring in from AI sensors, Satellite, drones, citizen scientists, camera traps, etc. With cloud and AI, it becomes easy to process all of this information accurately and cost-effectively.

If we do plant 500 billion trees to offset some of the negative impacts we have had on the plant, we might as well want to combine the latest exponential technology with the help of reforestation.

Such an approach might also help us address a major issue: that the proposed new forests will likely succeed without intervening the people inhabitation around the areas of reforestation and can reap rewards from turning arable land into forests.

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