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Life On A Reforested Planet

Imagine a world in 2050 where the air we breathe is crisp and clean, the streets are lined with towering trees, and lush forests abound in every corner of the globe. Thanks to collaborative efforts, we have successfully reversed deforestation and undertaken a massive reforestation effort, resulting in a world that looks vastly different from what we know today.

The positive effects of reforestation on both humanity and the environment are unequivocal. The forests act as giant air purifiers, filtering out carbon dioxide and other pollutants from the atmosphere, which not only combats climate change but has also led to a decrease in respiratory illnesses and other health issues caused by pollution.

In urban areas, the streets are now shaded by lush trees, creating a sense of community for those who gather underneath. The green spaces in cities provide a refuge from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and people are spending more time outside, enjoying the fresh air and natural beauty.

In addition to improving physical health, spending time in nature has also been shown to improve mental health. The forests provide a place of refuge for people to reduce their stress levels and improve their overall mood. This has resulted in fewer arguments and more harmonious communities.

A new generation of children has grown up with a stronger connection to nature, leading to cognitive, emotional, and physical health benefits. With increased concentration levels, students are achieving greater success in the classroom, and are better equipped to tackle the challenges of the future.

In 2050, the world looks different from how it does today, but the benefits of reforestation are clear. The air is cleaner, the communities are stronger, and the future is brighter.

This future is entirely possible. 

While many stories about the future tend to focus on worst-case scenarios and the lessons we can learn from them, sometimes it is good to take a different approach. Rather than imagining bleak futures, we can envision a world where our efforts to solve today's biggest problems have been successful, and both humanity and the planet are thriving. By taking this positive approach, we can take steps toward making this vision a reality.

One of the key ways we can achieve this future is by regrowing the world's forests on a massive scale this decade. Planetary-scale reforestation and ecosystem restoration will not only reduce the impacts of climate change but also establish new industries and green economies based on thriving natural systems. This will create new job opportunities in forestry, forest technology, and related fields.

However, achieving this forested future will require innovation to increase the speed and scale of restoration efforts, actively monitor the health of new forests and revitalize ecosystems, and establish the necessary human networks to ensure their survival for the long term. By taking bold steps towards reforestation, we can change everything about life in 2050, creating a world where humanity and the planet flourish together.

The idea of global reforestation and ecosystem restoration may seem like a distant and unrealistic dream, but in reality, we are already witnessing a major shift in the way people around the world view and value the environment. This shift is driven by a renewed commitment to protecting and restoring our forests, which gained momentum in the early 2020s.

This renewed commitment is reflected in the efforts of governments, communities, and businesses who have joined forces as part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Together, they recognise the urgency of the climate crisis and are taking bold steps to address it. For example, removing deforestation from our food supply chains, actively restoring degraded land at the 'forest frontier', reconnecting fragmented forest patches, and restoring forests in the right way. These actions demonstrate a growing understanding of the importance of protecting and restoring ecosystems for the long-term health of the planet and all its inhabitants.

The speakers at the South by Southwest panel: Life on a Reforested Planet, took a unique perspective on the future. Instead of focusing on worst-case scenarios, they discussed a future where reforestation has been successful and its positive impact on the environment. 

Terraformation's VP of Growth, Yee Lee, shared a confident message that reforestation efforts are already underway and will result in the removal of hundreds of gigatonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the next few decades.

The panelists encouraged thinking about the opportunities and benefits that come with cleaning up the environment, reducing carbon emissions, and restoring degraded forests. They asked the question of what the world could look like in the coming decades if these efforts are successful and how we can make that vision a reality. By taking this positive approach, the panelists hoped to inspire action and innovation to create a future where the planet and all its inhabitants can thrive.

One Trillion Trees 

The number of trees on our planet today is estimated to be around three trillion, which is more than the number of stars in the Milky Way. However, this number is only about half of what existed at the dawn of human civilisation. Thankfully, scientists have calculated that we can restore one trillion trees on degraded lands that are not used for agriculture. If planted together, these trees would cover the entire continental US, but there are reforestable lands on every continent except Antarctica. By restoring one trillion trees, they can capture roughly 30% of the carbon that we have released into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution.

The task of planting a trillion trees is certainly challenging, requiring the right type of seeds, skilled forestry professionals, and collaboration with local and national governments, as well as in-depth research and planning, time, space, and hard work. The panelists at the discussion also highlighted the challenges and opportunities we would encounter if we make it happen. 

Here are a few examples of the changes we would witness in our lives and the environment if we can make this vision a reality.

Nature Equity

Nature and trees are often viewed as having universal benefits such as beauty, air purification, and providing habitats for wildlife. However, access to nature is not distributed equally across all communities. The concept of tree equity is rooted in the idea that it's not just about planting trees but about providing access to the benefits of nature for all people. According to Jad Daley, the strategic director of the nonprofit organisation, American Forests, "Tree equity isn't about trees, it's about people." Research has shown that neighbourhoods with more trees have healthier residents, including improved mental health and lower crime rates. 

Unfortunately, neighbourhoods without trees or green spaces often face increased negative impacts from climate change, such as extreme heat, which can lead to fatalities. These neighbourhoods also tend to be low-income and people of colour. In a future where we've successfully planted one trillion trees, cities will have equal access to tree coverage, which will help address the issue of tree equity. Progress towards this goal has already begun, as the US Congress invested $1.5 billion in tree cover for cities as part of the Inflation Reduction Act.

Equitable access to trees

Access to forests has become more widespread than ever, even in urban areas, leading to greater societal equity and widespread benefits from green spaces and trees. In particular, the emergence of "food forests" has been instrumental in addressing food insecurity and encouraging urban agriculture. This trend has been driven by a notable uptick in the number of trees and green spaces in suburban and urban regions over the past three decades, which has brought about tangible improvements in the health and well-being of local residents. The presence of these natural resources has also helped reduce air and noise pollution, cool down sweltering cities, and provide ample space for leisure activities. Furthermore, these green spaces have proven to be a valuable economic asset for local communities, reducing energy expenses associated with heating and cooling buildings.

Wildlife is thriving

The planet's reforestation efforts have led to a remarkable resurgence of wildlife, with many iconic species no longer on the brink of extinction. This positive change can be attributed to a growing awareness of the need to safeguard and replenish natural habitats, which has resulted in thriving populations of animals like the majestic tiger and the playful orangutan. Although these creatures may have relocated, the trees that provide them with essential sustenance and shelter now thrive in their new surroundings. By creating new habitats and bolstering the connectivity of existing ones, this reforested planet has fostered the recovery of diverse natural wildlife. Additionally, this regeneration of natural resources, including water and soil fertility, has proven crucial to the survival of many species.

Incentives Align With the Needs of the Natural World

Although it's unlikely that capitalism will be replaced by another economic system in the near future, non-financial incentives are poised to play a more prominent role in shaping consumer and business decisions, with regulators potentially intervening to adjust financial incentives as well. One example of this trend is the use of carbon credits (which remains a topic of debate about their efficacy) as well as subsidies for electric vehicles and renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

Could we apply similar incentives to promote reforestation efforts? Some countries have already implemented such measures. For instance, Costa Rica has been compensating farmers to conserve and regenerate forests on their properties for decades, resulting in the country becoming the first tropical nation to reverse deforestation. According to Rowe, "People are being rewarded for engaging in environmentally friendly activities, and this has transformed the relationship between many Costa Ricans and nature. This new economy based on nature incentivises us to appreciate and cherish nature in a different way, not just for financial gain."

A Shift in Consumerist Culture

The production of various goods, such as cars, phones, and clothing, not only requires energy and produces emissions, but it also generates a considerable amount of waste. Despite functioning perfectly, people stash their old phones away in drawers and buy the latest iPhone release. Clothes are disposed of or donated to Goodwill while still wearable or fashionable, and 10-year-old cars are replaced with newer models, even though they still have a decade of use. Owning the newest products is a symbol of status and a way to bring excitement to our lives. However, what if we changed our perception and celebrated owning older cars, phones, or bikes as an environmentally conscious decision?

The conscious consumerism movement has already started, where individuals pay attention to the environmental impact of the companies they buy from and choose brands that are Earth-friendly. But for this to make a significant difference, this movement needs to expand to include a larger portion of the population. Rowe predicts that in the near future, product labeling will provide information about their supply chain and environmental impact. For instance, cereal boxes might include information about the tree species restored in the area where the wheat was grown and the amount of carbon sequestered through regenerative agriculture.

By understanding the impact of our consumption, we can gain a new perspective on our role in the environment. In 2050, after reforesting our planet, we will have the tools to make a visible impact. CEO of Restor, Clara Rowe believes that there are ways to integrate forests into our daily lives, and conscious consumption is one of them. She says, "We're touching nature in every part of our lives, but we aren't empowered to know it. We don't have the tools to take the action that we really want to take. In 2050, when we've reforested our planet, the way we have an impact will be visible.

Job Growth in Forestry and Related Industries

Maintaining and nurturing a trillion trees will necessitate a significant amount of financing and human resources, and will foster the development of various occupations. Moreover, reforestation will allow new industries to emerge where there were previously none. For instance, according to the VP of growth at Terraformation, Yee Lee, restoring mangroves can facilitate the development of the shrimp industry. "When we're establishing a new forestry team," he stated, "the lightbulb moment isn't just about forests and trees. It leads to a whole economic livelihood. The obstacle is often figuring out how to train new communities and instill an entrepreneurial mindset in them."

Josh Parrish, VP of Carbon Origination at Pachama has a vision for creating "nature superhighways," a project that would entail substantial job creation in and of itself. "As the climate changes, as we get warmer, nature needs the ability to adapt and migrate and move around," he explained. "We must establish a network of connections with forests that allow for that and have a diverse ecological framework." This would apply not only to primary forests, he said, but also to suburban and even urban green spaces.

Daley reported that his organisation is creating jobs on the front end of the reforestation process, with one example being people who collect the seeds used to plant trees. "We collaborate with the state of California and an organisation called the Cone Core," he stated. "People collect cones to gather seeds that they'll use to reforest the burned acres in California."

Indigenous communities 

Indigenous communities have a profound connection to the forests and have long relied on them for their cultural practices and livelihoods. However, these communities have historically been disproportionately affected by deforestation and environmental degradation. In recent years, there has been progress in the protection and restoration of their lands, as well as increased recognition of their ancient rights to tenure and stewardship of these vital forest ecosystems. As a result, Indigenous communities are experiencing more opportunities for sustainable development, preservation of their cultural practices, and reduced impacts from climate change. They are leading the way in creating a future that is both equitable and sustainable for all people and the planet.

A Reforested World

While the goal of planting a trillion trees may seem daunting, it's not impossible. According to Daley, innovation and mobilisation will be key in achieving this vision, and there is a growing awareness and support for reforestation efforts. As more people get involved, they will discover new ways to contribute to this cause, and this sense of agency will help inspire hope for the future. As we work towards regrowing the world's forests on a massive scale, we can expect a significant transformation by 2050. This will include a reduction in the impacts of climate change, the emergence of new industries based on thriving natural systems, and the creation of new jobs in forestry and forest tech, among others.

Drinking Native might be one of the easiest ways you can get involved in the reforestation movement. For every four 10 pack’s you buy, one native tree is planted in the ground here in Aotearoa. 

In conclusion, we hope that this blog post has given you a renewed sense of optimism and inspiration for the future of our planet. While there are certainly challenges to overcome, we believe that a sustainable and reforested world is within our reach. By taking small, conscious steps in our daily lives and inspiring those around us to do the same, we can build a brighter future for ourselves and for generations to come. So let's continue these important conversations and work together towards a more equitable and sustainable world.

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