Forests are the best nature-based solution to climate change. Annually in the United States, forests and forest products capture and store almost 15 percent of the country’s carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels. They have the potential to capture nearly twice as much if we plant more trees, use climate-smart practices to manage our forests and take other actions.
And we are not just talking about big forests in national parks and rural mountain communities. Trees in urban areas of the U.S. are responsible for 20 percent of all of the carbon emissions that forests in the U.S. capture and store. That amounts to nearly two percent of overall U.S. carbon emissions. They also shade buildings in the summer and block wind in the winter, which reduces the use of air conditioners and heaters — avoiding millions of tons of carbon emissions.
But climate change supercharges the traditional stressors on our rural and urban forests. Tree pests and diseases are prevalent and droughts are frequent, largely because of climate change. And uncontrolled forest fires are larger and more severe. In California, alone, more than 162 million trees have died since 2010, largely because of climate change-related stressors.
It’s now harder to harness the full potential of forests.
- Almost 60 percent of America’s drinking water originates from national forests — mainly the rivers and streams that run through them. Scientists predict that, by 2071, nearly half of the freshwater basins in the U.S. may not be able to meet the monthly demand for water, partly due to climate change-related deforestation and forest degradation.
- People benefit physically and mentally from being able to recreate and relax in forests — hiking, biking, skiing or simply sitting under a tree to read a book or meditate. A 2012 study in Chicago showed significant improvements in mood and memory after walking in nature, and a 2015 study found time in nature can reduce rumination, the pattern of repetitive thought associated with depression.
At this pivotal moment for our forests and the overall health of our planet, American Forests has stepped into a national leadership role to deliver forest-based solutions to climate change.