Opinion: Trump’s Tree Plan Debunked

Opinion: Trump’s Tree Plan Debunked

During Thursday night’s presidential debate, President Donald Trump responded to criticism of his inaction on climate change by pointing to the Trillion Trees Program, a WWF backed tree protection program. Planting and protecting trees to combat climate change is not a novel idea: organizations like the Arbor Day Foundation and 8 Billion Trees dedicate themselves to planting as many trees as they can to preserve both plant and animal life and to reduce carbon footprint. It seems like an intuitive solution, but students in the Sustainable Chemistry independent exploration recently discovered the ineffectiveness of such programs using protractors and surveyor wheels in Rittenhouse Park.

We measured three trees and determined their heights using trigonometry, a protractor, and a surveyor wheel to measure our distance and angle of elevation. A measuring tape was also used to measure the circumference. After converting the heights and circumferences to meters, we then found the diameters, estimated volumes, and estimated carbon contents of the trees. Our calculations showed that a large adult tree can store approximately 18 kg of carbon.

While 18 kilograms of carbon stored in one tree may seem like a large number, the average American’s car produces 3,272 kg of carbon during the tree’s lifetime. Although each tree does convert some carbon dioxide into oxygen, planting enough trees to offset even just vehicular emissions is not a feasible solution to the current climate crisis. It would take the planting of over 2 billion of the trees we measured each year to offset the carbon footprint of only the top 20 most carbon producing companies.

100 companies worldwide are responsible for 71% of all carbon emissions, so environmentally conscious initiatives must extend beyond the individual level. Successful efforts to counteract corporate damage to the global climate will require massive investments and governmental support. It is unlikely that planting trees will be a major part of that hypothetical solution.  

Basic science and geometry disproves Trump’s assertion that tree planting initiatives are an adequate response to climate change. Joe Biden’s strategy to move away from oil, invest in clean energy, and listen to scientists will protect the environment, counteract climate change, and eventually benefit the economy as well.

Since tree planting is not an effective solution on a large scale, what is? Although there is no perfect solution, reducing your personal carbon footprint and lobbying for corporate regulations is a great way to get started. Maybe use an electric car, carpool/use public transportation, or walk on your way to a climate action protest, ready to fight for our future.