Thursday, January 23, 2020

Trump commits U.S. to more trees, maybe -- Jan. 23, 2020 column


Nobody would mistake President Donald Trump for a tree hugger.

He has dismissed climate change as a “hoax,” rolled back many Obama-era environmental and clean energy policies that reduce carbon emissions, and is withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

But as his impeachment trial was poised to begin in Washington Tuesday, Trump announced during a campaign-style speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the United States would join in the forum’s 1 Trillion Trees initiative. What?

The forum launched to connect, support and fund the international movement to plant 1 trillion trees around the globe in coming decades to fight climate change.

Billionaire entrepreneur Marc Benioff, founder of the software company Salesforce, and his wife Lynne are providing financial support for the digital platform. Benioff said his company also intends “to support and mobilize the conservation and restoration of 100 million trees over the next decade.”

Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will join drew applause from the global business and government leaders in Davos, but it’s unclear what happens next.  

“We will continue to show strong leadership in restoring, growing and better managing our trees and forests,” Trump said, but offered no specifics.

Although he described himself to reporters in Davos as “a very big believer in the environment,” Trump has proposed cuts in the U.S. Forest Service, opened public lands to drilling and mining, and pushed for new logging in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

In Davos, Trump downplayed climate fears saying, “This is not a time for pessimism; this is a time for optimism. . . this is a time for tremendous hope and joy and optimism and action.”

He also indirectly called out Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist from Sweden who was in the audience. She urges all countries to heed the call by the United Nations environmental panel to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over a decade to avoid intense climate impact. That will require reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55% between now and 2030.

But Trump said: "We must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse. They are the heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers.” He also lambasted “radical socialists” who would ruin the U.S. economy with environmental regulations.

Forests remove carbon dioxide from the air and store the carbon in trees, vegetation, the forest floor and in the soil. This carbon removal, or sequestration, “makes the forest a type of carbon sink by absorbing more CO2 than is emitted. This absorption partially offsets the contribution of carbon to the atmosphere from carbon sources such as the burning of fossil fuels,” the Virginia Department of Forestry says on its website.

Some nations have acted. Ethiopia planted more than 350 million trees in 12 hours last July, setting a new world record. India had held the record for planting 66 million trees in 2017.

Trump’s comments in Davos reflect the shifting politics of climate in Congress. House Republicans who recognize they’re losing young voters concerned about climate issues, are developing an alternative to the Democrats’ Green New Deal, Axios reported this week. The Green New Deal would remake the economy to fight climate change. The GOP plan stops short of envisioning major changes in how we work and live.

Rep. Bruce Westerman, Republican of Arkansas, is drafting a Trillion Trees Act that will set a target for growing more trees “for the purpose of sequestering carbon,” according to a summary of the bill Axios viewed, but so far does not include an actual numerical target.

Who doesn’t like trees? Planting them makes people feel good, but that by itself won’t come close to solving the climate crisis. It’s estimated reforestation could provide only up to one-third of the climate solutions needed by 2030 to meet the 1.5 degree goal, the forum reported.

“Nature-based solutions will only be effective if undertaken in conjunction with other efforts to transform energy, heavy industry and the finance sectors,” the forum said.

We in the United States should plant trees as a first step, but we, the Trump administration and Congress will need to do more to fight climate change.

© Marsha Mercer 2020. All rights reserved.

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