Human beings are pretty destructive creatures. Since the onset of civilization 12,000 years ago, we’ve chopped down half of Earth’s trees to make way for our cities, farms, and world wonders. But a new study has revealed that Earth is covered in more trees than previously thought — three trillion of them.
“These things really dominate our planet,” forestry researcher Thomas Crowther told the Associated Press. “They are the most prominent organisms … and there are three trillion of them.”
The discovery that the Earth is home to three trillion trees began as a challenge. Crowther is part of a United Nations youth group, Plant for the Planet, that wants to plant a billion trees on Earth. The question was — would that many really make a different in the fight against climate change?
The first thing the group needed to know was how many trees currently live on Earth. The working estimate was 400 billion, based on satellite images from space. But the new count used both satellites and ground-based density estimates in 400,000 spots around the world to discover that number was really three trillion, Reuters added.
According to Nature, the three trillion trees were mostly found in Russia, Scandinavia, North America, and the tropics. The highest density were found in the northern regions, with 24 percent of the total represented in skinny conifers, while the tropics had the greatest area of forested land, with 43 percent.
While the new count is obviously much higher than scientists expected, it’s not exactly good news — Earth used to have 5.6 trillion trees. That’s a lot of people screaming “timber!”
Every year, 15 billion trees are cut down and people replant about 5 billion. The net loss means that in 300 years, all of Earth’s trees will gone — even though she started with an amazing three trillion. And humans are the ones who will suffer for it, because we often forget that we need them, Thomas noted.
“Trees provide a wide range of important ecosystem services for humans. They store water and nutrients, stabilize the soil, provide habitats for plants and animals, offset the impacts of climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide and they generate the oxygen that we need to breath[e].”
Though scientists fail to see the purpose in counting trees, Thomas said having detailed maps will help conversation efforts. As for the U.N.’s tree planting scheme? A measly one billion won’t cut it, given the count’s stats — they’ve upped that number to 18, which will be planted over many decades.
“There are currently fewer trees than at any point since the start of human civilization and this number is still falling at an alarming rate,” he said. “If anything, the scale of these numbers just highlights the need to step up our efforts if we are going to begin to repair some of these effects on a global scale.”
[Photos Courtesy Galyna Andrushko, Stephane Bidouze, Shutterstock]