Plant more trees ... and save the planet
2019-06-01 15:55:17 -

By Michael McGowan


Climate change is an urgent threat to our planet — and our young people across the world have, through direct action, brought the issue to the top of the political agenda.


Their imaginative action has been well received, and they have secured platforms with key decision-makers. But now is the time for action to help deliver solutions to their concerns.


The demands are ambitious and difficult, but I have suggested one way to progress their concerns and achieve an early success is by what may seem a very simple measure: planting more trees.


Campaigners are correct in demanding a halt to increasing air transport and large-scale road building programmes, for all the good it would achieve, but I believe that action on trees is one way that all can be immediately and directly involved in saving the planet.


Flooding and landslides are most often the direct result of the destruction of our tree resources, and we know that many of the world’s forests have been destroyed in the interest of promoting the economy.


In Ireland, the Forestry Programme reports that the country’s tree planting targets for 2015, 2016, and 2017 have been missed. Broadleaf planting has flat lined since 2015 and is falling short of its overall target. That only emphasises the need for more urgent action.


There is now a real awareness of the important role of trees in helping fight the climate emergency. Ireland’s forests, as they are, helped remove 4.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in 2015; imagine how much more we could do with more trees. The Government, at least, seems to be aware that more tree-planting will also go some way to help Ireland meet its 2030 emissions reduction target, which it is on course to miss.


Meanwhile, our young people have pointed out that species are disappearing fast — animals, insects, birds and plants alike — while air pollution, which is an underestimated and dangerous threat to health, is on the increase.


With more than 50 per cent of the world’s population living in cities (a number expected to increase to 66 per cent by the year 2050) pollution and overheating are becoming a real threat. But that is also where trees can help. Trees help cool the planet by sucking in and storing harmful greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, into their trunks, branches, and leaves, and by releasing oxygen back into the atmosphere in cities. Trees by their very nature, not merely how they appear, make cities healthier and safer places to live.


Trees also provide habitat to over 80 per cent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. A single tree can be home to hundreds of species of insect, fungi, mosses, mammals and plants. Without trees, many forest creatures would disappear.


The most urgent threat to all living things on the planet is especially a threat to young people and future generations. When I joined one of their recent demonstrations, I was impressed by the ingenuity of banners including one which read ‘There is no planet B’.


At a recent meeting, we discussed their demands to halt airport expansion and increase road networks. They want climate change to be studied in all schools, and want 16-year-olds to get the vote.


This international youth campaign has been boosted by the films of David Attenborough, which have been beamed around the world and have inspired people everywhere to act against the poisoning of our planet.


We should take heed of their warnings, and take action — even if it’s as simple as planting trees.


Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.

TAGS : climate change trees planet destruction
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