Visualising the number of trees needed to offset UK’s carbon footprint
Did you know that each year, the average UK citizen adds over 8,000 kg of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) into the atmosphere? From eating, to powering and heating our homes, to travelling and staying entertained, our daily activities all contribute to global warming.
What you might not know, however, is that there are ways in which we, as a society, can collectively offset some of the carbon emissions we are responsible for, reducing our carbon footprint and ultimately helping the environment. One way to do this is to simply plant more trees. Quite incredibly, one single tree can remove as much as 10 kgs of CO2 each year. The problem is, as our recentVi-move campaign found, around 15 billion trees are cut down annually and the rate of deforestation around the world is actually increasing.
Here at Viessmann, this got us thinking - how many trees would we have to plant to actually make a tangible difference in our fight against climate change? To help you to visualise the issue, we've created a simple yet informative video that illustrates just how many new trees need to be planted per year in order to offset a selection of your daily activities.
In order to work out the number of trees needed to offset our selected daily activities, calculations were made based on the CO2e of each activity generated over the course of a year. All CO2e figures were then converted to kilograms for consistency, and we used the statistic that one single tree can absorb 10 kg of CO2 each year as an average to calculate how many trees were required to offset a particular activity. All CO2e data refers only to the actual operation of the named activity, not the production, transportation, or any other counterparts*.
What we found
While it’s certainly no surprise that our study found that more energy-consuming activities - such as driving a fossil fuel-powered passenger vehicle, using air travel and heating your home - produce more CO2 than other activities, how this data actually translates into the number of trees needed to offset the emissions caused is quite amazing. For example, we found that to power a low energy light bulb in your home for one year, one tree would need to be planted in order to offset the CO2 produced. While this may not sound very significant, just take a moment to consider how many light bulbs you have in your home, how many homes there are on your street, and how many streets there are in the UK - that’s a lot of new trees needed to offset the simple process of lighting our homes for a year.
Technology and travel are not the only factors that make up our carbon footprint. One of the largest parts of an individual’s carbon footprint in the UK is made up by food consumption. According to our study, in order to offset the CO2 produced by an average UK citizen’s food consumption in one year, 70 new trees would need to be planted. To put this into context, just 30 minutes of watching Netflix on your TV or device each day requires nearly 60 trees to be planted to become carbon neutral.
However, perhaps the most shocking finds came when we looked at collective CO2 production. Our study concluded that in order to offset the combined CO2 emissions generated by the UK’s coal-fired power plants, a mind-blowing 389,300,327 trees would have to be planted. Similarly, in order to cancel out the UK’s total combined carbon footprint, a whopping 35,150,000,000 (thirty-five billion, one hundred and fifty million) trees would be needed - that’s a lot of planting!
The benefits of reforestation
Although there is currently thought to be more than three trillion trees worldwide, this figure is dropping by the year. According to the The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the world is currently witnessing a net loss of around 10 billion trees annually, with deforestation and climate change the main culprits. To put this into context, if we continue at a similar rate without putting a global programme of reforestation in place, the world could be facing the prospect of the total loss of all trees within the next 300 years.
Reforestation, simply put, is the process of replanting more trees on a mass scale. As well as ultimately preventing the complete extinction of trees and plant life over the next three centuries, there are also a number of important benefits of reforestation that have more immediate impacts. These include:
As this campaign has helped to visually demonstrate, in the course of a tree’s lifetime it can absorb significant amounts of CO2, which helps control the rate of global warming. Indeed, recent research conducted at Swiss university ETH Zürich suggests that a worldwide planting programme could offset over 60 per cent of all the emissions from human activities that remain in the atmosphere today.
Aside from helping in our fight against climate change, reforestation allows us to promote a mixed and more balanced range of plants. By basing a programme of reforestation on research, we can help to restore endangered species and stop the decline of forest types that could be in danger of extinction.
Declining numbers in certain species of animal - including the likes of the Orangutan, the Sumatran Elephant, the Sumatran Tiger and the Indiana Bat - goes hand-in-hand with deforestation. Naturally, the antidote to this is reforestation. Planting more trees creates more hospitable land in which natural habitats can be formed.
If properly organised and managed, programmes of reforestation can generate a great number of employment opportunities, not only in the local area which is being targeted for planting, but also more generally. From professional tree planters and equipment operators to project managers and equipment manufacturers, reforestation can be good for the economy as well as the environment.
What are your thoughts on reforestation? Do you think a mass programme of planting more trees should be implemented in order to help offset the UK’s carbon footprint? Join the conversation using the hashtag #HowManyTrees, and check out our full results below.
*Unless otherwise specified