Forests in a flash? 3 stories you may have missed

© Charlie Shoemaker

Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. A few idealistic Canadians are trying to replant the world’s forests with flying machines

A company says it has a tech solution to deforestation. Will it work?

The story: The idea seems like a no-brainer: Use drones to drop seeds in hard-to-reach deforested areas, spawning legions of young trees to suck up climate-warming carbon as they grow. A Toronto startup called Flash Forest is now looking to use drones to plant 10,000 trees per week, reports Steven Zeitchik for The Washington Post. 

But the idea might not be as simple as it sounds. Zeitchik digs deep to unearth a 2015 blog post quoting a forestry researcher who warned that poorly planned reforestation efforts can actually make local communities and ecosystems less resilient to climate change. Among other things, the researcher said six years ago, the success of tree planting initiatives depends on the species you plant and whether you’re planting trees in order to adapt to climate change, mitigate climate change, or both.

The big picture: On its face, Flash Forest presents a neatly wrapped technical solution to an intractable global problem, so it’s only natural to be skeptical (as those of us who remember the hoopla around the Great Pacific Garbage Patch cleanup can attest).

The fact is, there are many ways to restore forests — that are based in actual science. In Brazil, for example, a traditional method called muvuca is being used to restore portions of the Amazon. This method involves sowing a large and varied mixture of seeds (up to 120 species per hectare) of native plants. Another method? Simply leaving a forest alone and letting it grow back. This method, called assisted natural regeneration, works under certain conditions, for example where there is already sufficient forest nearby to fill in deforested areas. 

Will Flash Forest’s plan work? We’ll find out in about five years — that’s about how long it takes for most trees to grow large enough to be resistant to pests and plant-eaters, Zeitchik reports. 

For the lowdown on how forests can be regrown, click here. Read The Washington Post’s story here.

Speaking of regrowing nature: It’s an effective, economical way to protect against climate impacts. Who knew?

The story: Research published last week by the International Institute for Sustainable Development has confirmed what we all knew: Natural infrastructure (think mangroves and wetlands) can deliver the same protection against climate impacts as artificial infrastructure — such as seawalls and drainage systems — for half the cost, reports Fiona Harvey for The Guardian. Such natural infrastructure could save up to US$ 248 billion a year globally, the report found. 

The report is uncannily timed, with “nature-based climate solutions” set to be a key topic of discussion at the UN climate talks (COP26) that kicked off today in Glasgow. 

The big picture: So why don’t we simply restore nature instead of building pricier seawalls and ditches? There are many reasons, but the main one is money. Finance for climate adaptation measures is already lacking, and restoring natural infrastructure is even harder to fund, Harvey writes, because the benefits are often diffuse. Fortunately, the UK government, which is hosting COP26, is highlighting nature-based solutions at the talks, and new funding and projects are expected to be announced, Harvey reports.

Read more here

In case there was still any doubt.

The story: The degree of scientific certainty about the impact of greenhouse gases is now similar to the level of agreement on evolution and plate tectonics, write the authors of a new study that finds near-unanimous scientific consensus that the climate is in fact changing — and we caused it. “The tiny minority of skeptical voices has diminished to almost nothing,” writes Jonathan Watts of The Guardian, as evidence mounts of the link between fossil-fuels and climate disruption.

The big picture: What do we do with this information? We have options:

  • Tired: Keep this story in your pocket to wave smugly at your climate-denying uncle this holiday season.
  • Wired: Teach your nieces and nephews about climate change this holiday season.
  • Inspired: Offset the climate footprint of your travel this holiday season.

It’s clear that we can move on from debating whether climate change is real and that humans caused it. Now it’s time to start fixing it. 

Offset your climate impact here. Read the Guardian story here.


Bruno Vander Velde is the senior communications director at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Donate to Conservation International.

Cover image: A forest in Chyulu Hills, Kenya (© Charlie Shoemaker)

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