The World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader Thomas Crowther gave an impassioned Countdown TED Talkrecently in which he emphasized the risks of restoration done wrong. “Simplicity was the strength” of the global Trillion Trees initiative that was launched in January 2020 at the 50th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, “but it came at the expense of nuance that is so important,” Crowther bemoaned to his TED audience.
“Countdown is a global initiative to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis, turning ideas into action.”Countdown Website Home Page
During his Countdown TED Talk, Crowther humbly rephrased the noble mission of planting a trillion trees in the .9 billion hectares of ideal land where the trees will likely thrive as that of “restoring nature’s biodiversity.” It’s estimated, that if we succeed at this, we would drawdown 30% of the excess carbon that’s currently stuck in our atmosphere with no place to go which is causing global warming and climate change. But Crowther insists that this shaving off of 30% of our legacy carbon is NOT the solution for curbing annual carbon emissions. In short, the planting of these Trillion Trees is NOT a carbon offset for big corporations.
Additionally, Crowther spoke of his regret that anyone would plant monoculture forests that were void of biodiversity and emphasized the difference between the two concepts through two opposing audio tracks: one that highlighted the sound of biodiversity (bird chirps, frog gribits, crickets and insects) versus the lifeless sound of silence of monoculture forests.
Crowther’s humility — at one point, he referred to his mistakes as “naive” and “stupid” — immediately erased two years of frustration for me, someone who has had to fight very, very hard to include biodiversity in the local “tree planting” projects in my county, Fairfax County, Virginia. Most local and state grants are only for tree planting, no biodiversity allowed (deer might come). In one cornerstone county tree planting project, with a large number of volunteers and a collection of decision makers, my being what seemed like the lone voice emphasizing the benefits and importance of biodiversity (planting native diverse shrubs, perennials and ground cover in natural layers beneath each tree, and mapping out small pocket forests that group a handful of diverse native tree species and all the biodiverse layers beneath them) landed me in a corner where I felt side-lined and shunned.
There are many other biodiversity project managers like myself who have experienced similar isolation these past two years because of the odd way that many leaders interpreted the Trillion Trees initiative. “Trillion Trees” became an impossible barrier to navigate around. Meanwhile, passionate nature book lovers like myself rely on resources like Douglas W. Tallamy’s Nature’s Best Hope (2020) and Bringing Nature Home (2007), Gabe Brown’s Dirt to Soil, David R. Montgomery’s Dirt, that reinforce the vital and life-saving importance of biodiversity. And how about the documentaries: Kiss the Ground, A Life on Our Planet, and Breaking Boundaries. With these books and documentaries reinforcing the importance of biodiversity, seemingly at odds with the “just trees” movement, it became a pitched battle.
Passionate people devoted to nature, surround themselves with, and are captivated by, all types of varying species found in nature. A hike on a forest trail (the Appalachian Trail as often as possible for me) is an adventure of endless discoveries. Traveling to experience the many different types of ecosystems and to learn more about biodiversity and wildlife, as well as devour as many books, documentaries, and movies we can find is what most of us do with our free time. Thus, Trillion Trees was an anomaly from the start that left many of us scratching our heads.
Through this very powerful, necessary and brilliant Countdown TED Talk, Crowther bridged the gaps, mended the fences, and united all of us who are focused on rewilding and nature-based solutions in our climate emergency. He announced the creation of his new nonprofit Restor founded by Crowther Lab, which is a new open data platform network equipped with a machine learning model that is powered by Google Earth Engine and Google Cloud for the purpose of helping “anyone be part of ecological restoration.”
“Biodiversity underpins all life on earth.”Thomas Crowther
Crowther explained the important benefits of such an innovative global platform:
- We can all learn from each other by sharing our successes and failures.
- Protection of the land so that trees can recover.
- Amendment of soil so vegetation can return.
- Promotion of the health of grasslands and all types of ecosystems.
Global restoration is a very steep mountain that we have to climb, especially when it’s complicated with extreme weather events which can destroy a landscape within a few hours. The volcanic island of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai that exploded on January 15 was completely obliterated. All the rich tropical biodiversity has been lost forever. Extreme tornadoes and hurricanes level biodiversity in a blink. Years of biodiversity restoration can be erased in a few minutes.
Crowther appealed to viewers to join the action. “We need the whole ecology of humanity” to restore our global ecosystems and all its biodiversity.
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