I live in Washington, and travel around the Pacific Northwest often. It's a beautiful environment, full of huge plains of grass with (virtually) nothing in them.

I was wondering if, in order to help combat climate change, I (and a lot of other people) engaged in "Guerilla Gardening". According to these pages, one tree sucks up ~12 tons of CO2 over its lifetime[1], and 1 ppm is equal to 2B tons[2].

By this logic, in order to go from 400 ppm -> 300 ppm, we would need to plant about 16B trees. While this seems like a very large number, you could have large numbers counteract it (e.g. rally 1M people over 20 years). The problem is where to go about it - this is where guerilla gardening would come in.

What if whenever I saw one of these huge plains, I stopped, jumped out of my car, threw 20 (locally flora appropriate) seeds in the ground, and drove on. Would that work? Would that violate some property/state/federal issue? Would it help?

[1] http://learn.eartheasy.com/2014/01/10-carbon-storing-trees-and-how-to-plant-them/

[2] https://www.skepticalscience.com/print.php?r=45

  • 7
    Those grass plains probably have lots of stuff in them. They are prairie ecosystems, and store lots of carbon in root mass & soil humus. There are probably good reasons why they don't have trees already, such as insufficient ground water, grazing, &c, so dropping a few seeds is not going to do anything much. After all, many tree seeds have mechanisms that enable them to spread for long distances.
    – jamesqf
    Jul 14 '15 at 18:12
  • An interesting separate question would be if (and what kinds) of forest store more carbon than grasslands. Also if there's a biome that reliably sequesters carbon for a longer timespan.
    – mart
    Jul 15 '15 at 12:33

I think you're up against two three at least four separate problems:

  1. The scale: rallying 1M people to plant 16k trees apiece over 20 years is no way a "guerrilla" operation; it's a mass movement. It won't be covert: everyone will know about it, and landowners will probably object more or less strenuously.
  2. The distribution: if you have anywhere near 1M people randomly scattering seeds about, you'll find that there will be piles of seeds near the obvious places (highway rest stops, obvious side roads, etc) and nothing elsewhere. Without coordination, you'll never get the acreage covered.
  3. The planting: as noted by @jamesqf, prairies are prairies not just because they have never seen tree seeds, but because they're stable ecosystems. Without some tending, the trees are unlikely to get started, and even then they may not last.
  4. And, as noted by @jamesqf, disturbing a stable ecosystem that's been capturing carbon for a long time probably isn't a good way to rally against climate change.
  • 1
    I was reminded of this question not too long ago, and I agree with all the points EXCEPT #3. While this is the case for many plains, I think lots and lots of these plains are empty because of settlers who cleared them during the expansion of America in the 18th, 19th & 20th centuries. I'm not saying this undoes the other issues, but, in some ways, it is an opportunity to revisit what is "natural".
    – aronchick
    Mar 25 '20 at 21:07

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