Drones that fire seeds into soil at one per second could help

Drones can plant hundreds of trees in a matter of minutes.

WHILE the Australian and New Zealand governments have each announced “ambitious” targets to plant a billion trees to combat climate change, the US is near to legislating the planting of a trillion trees by 2050.

Republican lawmakers say such a goal will address climate change by “sucking carbon out of the air instead of by cutting emissions”.

Last year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison talked up a project to plant a billion trees by 2050 as part of a new forestry plan the government says will help the country meet its Paris Agreement climate targets.

A sod-turning spree on that scale would contribute to the removal of 18 million tonnes of greenhouse gas a year
by 2030.

The New Zealand government has developed its One Billion Trees Program to increase tree plantings across the country with a goal to double the current planting rate to reach the program’s target by 2028.

The focus of the program is on making it easier to plant the right tree, in the right place, for the right purpose.

The proposed US legislation reflects an acknowledgement in the Republican Party of rising voter demand for action on climate change, even as it seeks to preserve the economic benefits of an historic drilling boom that has made the US the world’s biggest oil and gas producer.

President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly cast doubt on the science of climate change, expressed support for the idea of a massive tree-planting campaign during a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month.

“I’m working on legislation that would do just this: plant one trillion trees by 2050, with the goal of sequestering carbon and encouraging the use of wood products,” said Arkansas congressman Bruce Westerman, a member of the House natural resources committee, which is expected to unveil the bill.

Other elements of the plan, which will be released in additional bills over the coming weeks, will focus on sequestering carbon from power plants, recycling plastics and boosting “clean” energy, including natural gas and nuclear, according to congressional staff.

Democrats, including all the top presidential hopefuls in this year’s election, have made proposals for a rapid shift away from fossil fuels to help the US and other countries avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Environmentalists argue that focusing on planting trees while ignoring emission cuts from fossil fuels is counterproductive. They believe emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels are the main driver of
climate change.

But nature-based carbon removal measures such as tree planting have gained traction globally. Last July,
for example, Ethiopia set a world record by planting more than 350 million trees in 12 hours as part of a green campaign by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali.

James Mulligan, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute, said mass tree planting could reduce between 180 million and 360 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2040 if implemented correctly.

A drone that can carpet bomb 100,000 tree seeds a day is one likely answer to how these massive tree-planting targets are reached.

Developed by a former NASA engineer, it works with a sister drone to reforest areas that are difficult to reach. The first drone scans the landscape to make a 3D map and identify areas for planting, while the second follows this cartography and fires seeds into the soil at the rate of one per second.

Lauren Fletcher, who holds a PhD in physics and has worked on the International Space Station and Mars programs, is behind the drone technology at BioCarbon Engineering.

So far, the company has planted 38 tree species across Myanmar, Australia and the UK in temperate, tropical and sub-tropical environments. One of its uses is in mining restoration – replanting trees where massive quarries have finished extracting minerals and the environment can be rehabilitated with forests.