How many trees do you think there are on the planet? … Yeah that's what I thought.
Previous estimates have put the number at around 400 billion.
According to a new analysis, we need to take that number and multiply it by almost 8.
A new study by an international team of researchers has determined that there are roughly 3 trillion trees on Earth. Published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, the study found that the global tree count is so much higher than previously thought by using on-the-ground data to enhance the accuracy of satellite imagery counts.
Ok, this is all very exciting, but there are some more details you should know. The researchers also estimate that around 15 billion trees are cut down every year (and maybe five billion are planted). They also determined that since the early days of agriculture-based civilization some 12,000 years ago, the number of trees worldwide has decreased by 46%.
How should you feel about this? Depends on how you view the proverbial glass—half full or half empty?
The more trees the better, no doubt. Trees play a critical role in the health of many local ecosystems as well as the overall well-being of the planet by taking carbon dioxide out of the air. As you may know, we have a carbon dioxide problem, it's called climate change. However, the addition of all these trees to the global count means that it may require that many more new trees to take carbon dioxide out of the air in the type of quantity needed.
"It's not like we've discovered a load of new trees; it's not like we've discovered a load of new carbon," Thomas Crowther, a postdoctoral researcher at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and lead author on the study, told the BBC. "So, it's not good news for the world or bad news that we've produced this new number."
To complete the study, researchers used about 430,000 ground-sourced measurements of tree density from every continent on Earth aside from Antarctica. It is the most comprehensive study on tree counts ever conducted, and it couldn't come at a better moment. As the international community grapples with selecting the best path forward to confront climate change, a number of recent studies have highlighted the negative impacts of deforestation and human development. A recent study from the World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Watch found that in 2014, the planet lost more than 45 million acres of tree cover—an area twice the size of Portugal. Another recent analysis from the Center for Global Development found that if deforestation is not curtailed a swath of forest the size of India could be removed from the planet by 2050.
Crowther told YaleNews that, as a general rule, tree densities tend to plummet in areas where human population is increasing.
“We’ve nearly halved the number of trees on the planet, and we’ve seen the impacts on climate and human health as a result,” he said. “This study highlights how much more effort is needed if we are to restore healthy forests worldwide."
"Europe used to be almost covered by one giant forest and now it's almost entirely fields and grasslands," he said. "Humans are absolutely controlling tree densities."
The study determined that there are approximately 228 billion trees in the United States. With a population of 319 million people in 2014, that means there's 716 trees per person. In Brazil, there were 300 billion trees and just over twice as many per person. China, on the other hand, has just around 139 billion trees, which is only 100 times more people than live in the country.
Trees are great and we always need more of them, even if they are "the most prominent organisms on our planet" according to Crowther. This study, while not necessarily changing the landscape of challenges existing in the big Anthropecene collision of humans and nature, is a reminder of one simple thing: go plant a tree, or 100.