Photo: Bentley

Bentley said last week it would be planting 100 trees around its England factory in the name of “sustainability.” Its VW neighbor Bugatti also chimed in this week that it’d plant over 4,000 trees to “offset the CO2 emissions from its Chiron hypercar, offices, and factories,” according to Motor Authority. Both of these efforts, I’m sad to report, are stunningly useless.

Bentley and Bugatti aren’t the only automakers interested in tree planting, they are just some of the latest to do so. Ford partnered with Zipcar to plant 20,000 trees a couple of years ago. Toyota has a more serious tree-planting effort in China, planting over five million trees over the past several years in a reforestation project in a region northwest of Beijing.

Advertisement

Indeed, almost every car company nods at sustainability and the environment in some way, but let’s focus on those trees for a minute since while 100 might be an obvious token effort, Toyota’s millions sounds a bit more serious. And it is, but the problem is that studies have shown that it would take hundreds of billions—and possibly even more—to only maybe, possibly turn the whole climate change thing around.

Take this from a NASA report last month:

[An] international research team, led by Jean-Francois Bastin of ETH-Zurich in Switzerland, used direct measurements of forest cover around the world to create a model for estimating Earth’s forest restoration potential. They found Earth’s ecosystems could support another 900 million hectares (2.2 billion acres) of forests, 25 percent more forested area than we have now. By planting more than a half trillion trees, the authors say, we could capture about 205 gigatons of carbon (a gigaton is 1 billion metric tons), reducing atmospheric carbon by about 25 percent. That’s enough to negate about 20 years of human-produced carbon emissions at the current rate, or about half of all carbon emitted by humans since 1960. The study attracted worldwide attention, as well as some criticism within the science community.

Is the concept of planting trees to help combat climate change really going out on a limb, so to speak, or might it take root? Sassan Saatchi, a senior scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, believes it has some merit. But while he says there’s potential for using reforestation as a climate mitigation tool, he cautions there are many factors to consider and that planting trees will never be a substitute for decreasing fossil fuel emissions.

“I feel there’s a strong possibility a significant portion of these lands can be reforested to their original forest cover,” said Saatchi, an expert in global forest carbon stocks and dynamics. “It’s definitely not a solution by itself to addressing current climate change. To do that, we need to reduce human emissions of greenhouse gases. But it could still have some partial impact on our ability to reduce climate change.”

And here’s from our sister blog Earther in July:

New findings were published on Thursday in Science show just how important a role they could play in climate mitigation efforts by calculating “Earth’s tree carrying capacity.” Right now there are estimated to be nearly 17 million square miles of forest cover on Earth, and there’s enough room to add another 3.5 million square miles of trees—a U.S.-sized chunk of land—to sequester even more carbon. There’s just one slight wrinkle: Climate change could make life in certain parts of the globe inhospitable for some of those new trees, particularly in the tropics.

Advertisement

You may wonder why it’s so easy for me to pull research on this subject and that’s because corporations planting trees as window dressing for undefinable “sustainability” is a trope at this point.

All of this is not to mention that any tree-planting solution presents its own complications, though could be part of a broader plan to suck carbon out of the sky.

Advertisement

And I don’t mean to belittle Bugatti, Bentley, or anyone else’s efforts to create a better environment, but let’s be honest at least with how we talk about this stuff. But that isn’t an exciting press release.