A football field every 2 seconds

Deforestation, the emissions gap, and Bono

When I was quite young, my dad told me this story about Bono. He said that Bono once stopped a U2 concert – to the clear dismay of the audience – and began to clap on-stage, rhythmically and alone. After a good little while, thirty seconds or so, Bono leaned into his microphone.

“Every time I clap, a child dies of hunger,” Bono said.

“Then stop f**king doing it!” yelled a member of the audience in return.

According to the WWF, a football field of forest is cut down every 2 seconds. That’s the pace of a slow, perhaps sarcastic, clap. In the 90 minutes it takes to play a regulation soccer game, we lose 1,350 hectares of the stuff. 13.5 square kilometers. And that assumes the loggers take lunch during half-time.

The loss of forest is catastrophic for many reasons. Direct annual benefits of (standing) forests clock in at $130 billion. If you consider forests’ role in water provision, soil protection, carbon storage and climate regulation, the cost of deforestation is anywhere between $2-5 trillion annually. For estimates on the value of impacted wildlife, ecosystems, or undiscovered medicinal plants, one can only defer to Mastercard.

In our fight against climate change however, the true tragedy of our forest management is how effective forests could be in tackling the ‘emissions gap’.

The ‘emissions gap’ is essentially the difference between where we are, and where we should be, if we were serious about avoiding runaway climate change.

According to the UN, the global emissions gap in 2030 will be 14 GtCO2e. Put differently: in 2030 we will be releasing 14 billion tonnes of CO2 too much – every year – for us to limit global warming to only 2 degrees celsius.

How could forests help? Well, we are committing two huge faux pas: (1) we are cutting down too much, and (2) we are not planting enough – not so much a double-edged sword as Darth Maul’s lightsaber.

So what if we stopped deforestation? According to one source, we could shave 5 billion tonnes of CO2 off the emissions gap – over a third (and more than the EU’s total footprint). And what if we got serious about reforestation, and afforestation, on top? If we achieved the New York Declaration on Forests, which calls for 350 million hectares of restoration by 2030, we’d conservatively mitigate another 5 billion tonnes per year.

Suddenly, the emissions gap is down to 4 – just from giving a damn about the natural world. 4 billion tonnes is a lot of CO2 to stop every year, but it’s nothing a small price on carbon, the miracle of solar, or a pandemic, can’t feasible tackle.

I’ll talk more about all three of the above in future posts. And I’ll also dig into how Verdn will do its part to get more trees in the ground, by tying reforestation straight to consumer purchases online.

Until then.

Also, Snopes tells me the Bono story is false.