Trees, Reforestation, and the Control of Infectious Disease

by Terry L. Maple

At the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Trump signed on to support the Trillion Trees Initiative, a global effort to reforest the earth with many tangible benefits.

Planting trees is one of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gases. An expert on carbon cycles and climate change, Dr. Thomas Crowther of the Institute of Integrative Biology in Zurich, Switzerland, acknowledged that there are 400 gigatons of CO2 sequestered in the current population of earth’s trees, but there is sufficient space for an additional three trillion trees to completely reforest the planet. The additional trees will eliminate ten years of emissions from human activities.

There are many partnerships that can be formed to advance this promising initiative. Organizations such as the Nature Conservancy have already committed financial resources to plant millions of trees, and nations such as Ethiopia have successfully reforested their entire countries. While volunteers are stepping up to carry out the burden of planting, technology is also being deployed for this purpose.

A startup Canadian company, Flash Forest, is using drones to hover over fields while they deliver seed pods of native pine and spruce trees at a rapid pace. They can plant 40,000 trees in one month with a goal of one billion trees planted by 2028. Other locations in north America, South America, and Australia are targeted for drone planting by Flash Forest and their sponsors. It is important to plant trees now so they can grow to sufficient size to effectively store high volumes of carbon.

Reforestation is also important in the restoration of biodiversity. According to Dr. Bill Karesh of Eco Health Alliance, deforestation has enabled pathogens to jump from host species to human hosts. Infectious disease is advanced by the loss of ecosystem biodiversity. For example, in the Peruvian Amazon, infectious disease experts from Johns Hopkins University found that 75 percent of the forest losses from 1999 to 2005 occurred within twelve miles of a road. The area that suffered the highest deforestation also experienced more malaria. To prevent future pandemics, reforestation is a necessary and urgent global priority.

Unlike draconian policies proposed by left-leaning proponents of the so-called Green New Deal, reforestation is a positive, entrepreneurial enterprise that will strengthen the world’s economy while protecting human health. Furthermore, reforestation should be well received by all citizens regardless of their political affiliation.

America needs bipartisan action on behalf of the environment, and future generations will continue to support protection of our maturing forests throughout the nation and the world. The Trillion Tree Initiative will receive strong leadership from the American government and corporate partners recruited to this cause by President Trump and leaders in Congress.

Terry L. Maple is Elizabeth Smithgall Watts Professor Emeritus at Georgia Institute of Technology, Professor in Residence at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, and Scholar in Residence at the University of North Florida. He coauthored Contract with the Earth (Johns Hopkins, 2007) with Newt Gingrich. Professor Maple was also the reform director of Zoo Atlanta for 18 years and CEO of the Palm Beach Zoo for six years. In 1999 he was elected Chair of the board of directors of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.