Planting trees, or letting existing trees stand, is indeed great for the atmosphere. Putting it simply, we release CO2 (carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere, but some is absorbed by trees and other vegetation. Trees and vegetation produce oxygen and that is also released into the atmosphere for our benefit. But as CO2 is trapped and the greenhouse effect occurs, it is reasonable to conclude that less CO2 will be trapped if trees are absorbing it.
An example of a loss of trees, let’s cite what takes place in the Cerrado. The Cerrado is two million hectares of savanna, or grassland, and open woodland, that occupies a huge chunk of the middle of Brazil in South America (Cunningham & Cunningham, 2008). It has been becoming agricultural land; any thought of tillable soil used to be regarded as impossible. But Brazilian farmers discovered that even modest use of lime and phosphorous could turn this clay-like soil into usable soil, and logging operations began to clear space for crops. The lush growth of trees and other vegetation is steadily being destroyed. In its place are large farming enterprises so that the growing mass of humanity may have additional food supplies.
However, because there are fewer trees in this once-lush region, soil erosion occurs now where there wasn’t before. There are no layers of leaves to nourish the earth. There is no shade to protect the topsoil, animals, or humans. There is no protection from wind or storm damage. There is no safe haven for the birds and other wildlife because their habitat is destroyed. Much of our earth’s biodiversity is lost in the quest for additional tillable soil. And much of the CO2 that previously had been absorbed, has nowhere to go. It cannot escape the earth’s atmosphere, and there is less green growth to absorb it.
One of the ways to reverse some of the damage done by deforestation is to plant trees wherever agriculture is not in process. It would be preferable if, when a tree is damaged or removed for any reason, another tree would be planted somewhere to take its place. Too often, this does not happen. Humans seem to assume nature will take care of itself, so there is seldom any concern for replacing the trees that would help balance all the elements of nature.
To help the atmosphere and avoid the potentially deadly devastation of global warming that scientists warn about daily, there must be a return to responsible stewardship of the earth. Planting trees is something we all can do. Replacing trees when storms, natural aging, or pests necessitate their removal is a good way of replenishing one of nature’s greatest and most beneficial gifts. The atmosphere will thank us for planting more trees.
Cunningham, W.P. & Cunningham, M.A. (2008). Principles of environmental science, inquiry & applications. (4th ed.). NY: McGraw-Hill.