10 Planet Hacking Schemes -- No. 10: Foresting


(Scott Kleinman/Photographer's Choice PR/Getty Images)

Can humans break the planet's climate? Global warming proponents insist that we can. And if so, does that mean we can fix it, too? Forget conservation and clean energy! Science got us into this mess, and science can darn well get us out.

That's the idea behind planet hacking (or geoengineering, if you want to sound buttoned-up about it). For many conservationists, this may smack of human arrogance and lead to worries about how much more damage we could do to the planet while trying to fix it, but it could be just what we need.

In the past, many scientists balked at the idea and worried over the political implications of nations choosing possibly risky geoengineering projects over carbon emission reduction. Yet as mad-sciencey as many of these planet hacking schemes sound, experts are coming around to the idea.

In the nine days ahead, we're going to touch on some crazy-sounding ideas. For day one, however, we're going to start low-tech with a no-brainer: Plant a whole bunch of trees.

Yep, foresting. Trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) , enrich our oxygen and reflect more solar radiation back into space than parking lots and industrial sites. If there's a surplus of CO2 (and other chemicals) in our atmosphere, trapping the sun's heat and warming up the planet, then more trees planted on more land can help us push the balance back in our favor.

Pulling this feat off involves planning greener cities and greener buildings, for starters -- as well as turning formally barren areas into CO2-munching forests. In a recent article, Treehugger mentioned the prospect of airdropping tree seedlings into cleared areas, as well as using nitrogen-enriched soil to boost CO2 absorption in the world's forests.

Science Daily recently put this relationship into interesting perspective by discussing the possible effects of tree-killing hurricanes on global warming. 2005's Hurricane Katrina took out 320 million trees. Those trees would have absorbed 50 to 140 percent of the United States' yearly carbon absorption by forests.

Planting more trees seems like a win-win for everyone, offering a potentially high cooling contribution at minimal cost and risk. If you're interested in getting your hands dirty, the National Arbor Day Foundation is always eager to hear from you.

Drop back by tomorrow and we'll continue to look at planet hacking schemes -- this time with TECHNOLOGY.

Learn more at HowStuffWorks.com: How Global Warming Works How Weather Works Can installing a green roof save you money? Could military strategy win the war on global warming? If I plant trees in my yard, will it offset global warming?


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.