The Good News/Bad News on the World’s Trees

A groundbreaking study coming out of Yale University has provided us with interesting new information about the world’s trees – some of it good, some of it bad.

Let’s start with the bad news. Since mankind evolved to its current state, the number of trees in the world has gone down by 55 percent. That means humans have managed to clear over half of all forests on the planet. That’s a pretty industrious feat, but perhaps not too surprising considering that a booming human population has necessitated a need for more land to live, work and grow/raise food on, which in turn leaves less room for the trees.

The good news is that we still have far more trees than previously estimated: three trillion. In the most extensive scientific tree count ever, dozens of researchers from around the planet collaborated to study forestry data, satellite pictures and computer projections and have been able to ascertain the most accurate estimate of trees to date. Beyond an overall number, researchers also concluded that tropical regions such as the Amazon house the most (42 percent) trees and that the densest forest regions are located in the globe’s northernmost countries like Russia and Canada.

The findings are especially shocking when you consider that three trillion is eight times more trees than previously thought. The prior best guess, 400 billion, doesn’t even come close. Given how vital trees are to basically all life on earth, even scientists admit that it’s crazy that we’ve gone this long without grasping the magnitude of trees.

Tim Crowther, the academic who spearheaded the study, told NPR that he realized there was a gap in this knowledge when his friend wanted to initiate an environmental campaign to plant one billion additional trees around the world. From existing information, Crowther couldn’t figure out whether planting this many trees would be significant. Hence, he enlisted help to conduct the first exhaustive tree census.

“My fear is that a lot of people might think, ‘Okay, well there’s loads of trees, so who cares about the environment, there’s plenty left!’” said Crowther. “What I’d highlight is that it’s not like we’ve discovered new trees.”

His fear seems pretty valid. I know I already went through the “bad news/good news,” but can you handle a little more bad news? We’ve cleared 55 percent of forests, and we’re showing no signs of stopping. This latest tree research was also able to determine that humans continue to cut down 15 billion trees per year. At that rate, we’ll be down to just two trillion trees by about 2080.

We need trees. They’re one of the best tools we have to combat climate change, since trees are natural carbon capturers. Not only do chopped down trees release the carbon they’ve already trapped, they’re no longer able to pull new carbon emissions out of the air. Trees can buy us some time in figuring out how to transition to renewable energies, but not if we’re clearing forests at an alarming rate. Presumably, we’d be a lot better off with the help of the three trillion plus trees the human species has already taken a chainsaw to.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

59 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran1 years ago

noted

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Georgina Elizab McAlliste
.2 years ago

PLANT MORE TREES PLEASE!!

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Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell2 years ago

Thank you

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Debbie Wood
Debbie Wood2 years ago

Shirley, severe pruning of Crepe Myrtle is really bad for them. It sends them into shock, and may take a couple years to recover. I see a lot of people here in Florida doing that to those trees. Local agricultural agents think it is a bad practice. I have a few, I just let them grow, with small prunings to keep them in shape.

When I moved to my land 10 years ago, we had a 2.7 acre property with mostly pine and I fought vigorously to prevent cutting any trees not necessary to cut. I lost a couple of pines to lightning strikes and pine borers, but I now have even more trees. We planted oak and maple trees as well as having several volenteers come up. We have several hollys as well. I love my trees, every one. I will plant even more in future.

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chris b.
chris B2 years ago

Cut down (on) people, plant more trees.

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Dave C.
David C2 years ago

keep planting and protecting

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Kathryn Irby
Past Member 2 years ago

Heard the bad part on the news yesterday--ultimate loss of trees due to climate change. Thank you for sharing.

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Charles Wallis
Charles Wallis2 years ago

TFTS

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld2 years ago

Jan n.,
It is not wildfires that atd consuming trees. These have occurred throughout history, and are a vital means of forest regrowth. Granted, some can get overly destructive. As the article stated, we have been responsible for the loss iv trees. In some cases, the trees had vital uses, in others, they were cut because they were in the way. Trees play a vital role in forest life. They provide shade, protection, prevent runoff, and reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. In fact, many scientists estimated that half of the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide us due to deforestation.

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