We can build new climate consensus out of wood
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In recent weeks, seeds of climate hope have sprung forth from America’s forests. That’s because the White House embrace of the global trillion trees movement, combined with new GOP-led action on forests and climate change in Congress, have created the opportunity to build new climate change consensus out of wood.

But this olive branch has not been accepted by all champions of strong climate policy. In response to this new GOP interest, some have even begun to lampoon tree planting and other forest actions as insignificant, characterizing them as a “distraction” from other actions to reduce greenhouse gases.

While this backlash comes from an understandable place of frustration with climate inaction, it risks breaking this olive branch before we see how it might change the climate conversation for the better. We cannot afford to pass up this vital starting place for shared, bipartisan climate action on a serious climate change solution.

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Let’s start with the facts:

  1. There is no published research or credible scientific leader suggesting that forests alone can solve climate change. We must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to be successful.
  2. There is also no scientific debate about whether forests are a significant contributor to slowing climate change—this is happening already. According to federal data, U.S. forests and forest products currently sequester and store almost 15 percent of America’s carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.
  3. Our forests have potential to do even more. Research led by The Nature Conservancy has shown that planting trees and other regenerative forest practices could potentially increase natural carbon capture as much as 40 percent above current levels. The U.S. Midcentury Strategy for Deep Decarbonization, led by the Obama administration, also found that reforesting millions of acres will be needed for America to reach our climate goals.

So let’s move past the suggestion that the trillion trees movement is not a legitimate piece of the climate change puzzle. The tougher question is why some climate advocates are not yet willing to accept “yes” for an answer and embrace bipartisan action on forests and climate change.

After all, when bills on this topic led by Democrats have been introduced this year, the response has been positive. In fact, more than 70 conservation groups, including my own organization, enthusiastically supported the Climate Stewardship Act that would, among other things, fund planting 16 billion trees to boost natural carbon capture.

There is bipartisan support behind two forest-climate bills introduced this year, the Reforestation Act of 2019 and the TREES Act. Both of these bills would increase funding for tree planting, one on our national forests and the other in cities.

Given these scientific and political realities, it is untenable to sweep away the new enthusiasm now coming from all quarters of the Republican Party, including the White House’s commitment to bring U.S. leadership behind a new trillion trees platform, 1t.org, which was launched by the World Economic Forum at Davos. If we come together as one nation behind forests for climate, we have the opportunity to make a serious dent in the problem and create potential for broader climate action together.

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Lost in the current political swirl is the reality that, in embracing forests for climate, many Republicans have spoken more publicly about the dangers of climate change despite push back from some within the party. This shows political courage, and represents a paradigm shift in the climate conversation with help from forests.

But naming the problem is just the start. We then need to agree on steps to solve it. Embracing forests for climate across party lines will demonstrate shared success in delivering climate solutions, and test the political consequences of coming together to meet in the middle. I am betting the nation will love political leaders for it.

The stakes are high and our trees are ready to stand tall in slowing climate change, if we will only help them. Our failure over decades to fully rally federal policies on climate change demonstrates that our democracy is not well-constructed to act quickly and at national scale on a problem that is so diffuse and complex. That’s why we need to do this together, starting with something simple like forests and letting the climate action momentum build with each step. Not a moment to lose.

Jad Daley is the president and CEO of American Forests, the first national conservation organization created in the United States.