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Design & Nature Reimagined: Mass reforestation around the world

Today I want to talk about trees again, mainly because I love them so much and because I think planting trees is one of the most hopeful acts you can do.

A tree is a bet on the future, something that will be most appreciated after you've lived and died, and therefore something that you do for others. The power of the ecosystem also offers us such potential for mitigating the climate crisis.

A combination of kelp farming and simultaneous reforestation could help us naturally pull carbon out of the air more effectively. Kelp grows extremely quickly and, per square foot, captures more carbon than trees. Because kelp can only hold carbon for a few decades before releasing the carbon back into the atmosphere, if we start planting trees at the same time as we plant kelp, we're working more efficiently with the carbon lifecycle.

I've also talked about how we can reforest cities and towns, but now I want to look at what other countries around the world are doing, outside of the towns and cities that may come to mind, to help reforest the land.

An ingenious way to protect and plant seeds

A forest starts with a single seed. And in an area like Kenya, with open, arid land, one of the earliest risks a seed faces is being eaten by a foraging animal.

This is where Seedballs Kenya has come up with an absolutely ingenious plan. They coat their seeds in charcoal and distribute them by simply throwing them on the ground. Animals won't eat charcoal, so they leave the seeds alone. But charcoal is water soluble so when the rain comes, the charcoal melts away, exposing the seed to the earth and the water.

Recovering from the impact of deforestation and palm oil

There are a few products that appear in almost all of our packaged food in the U.S. we don't think about: wheat, corn, and soy. But palm oil is an even more pervasive product that shows up in our food, our cosmetics, our soaps, our detergents, and food processing. It's so prevalent that it's basically impossible to go a day without interacting with it in some way.

And its production is quite literally destroying the forests in Indonesia. The palm trees that are planted after the original forest is burned don't contribute to the ecosystem, meaning that the orangutans and other wildlife that depend on the forest die out because their food sources are gone.

But there are some organizations in Indonesia working on reforestation. The government hasn't done a good job of reforestation, so local communities have started restoring the areas on their own.

Indigenous land use and reforestation in the U.S.

There is not enough space for me to explain the devastatingly cruel impact that European settlers had when they murdered and stole land from indigenous tribes in the Americas (this includes what is now known as the continental U.S., Mexico, Central, and South America). The generational impact is still seen and being perpetrated today. It's hard to overstate the overall impact this had, so instead I'll share an account directly from the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians in Oregon.

Indigenous tribes have historically been better stewards and protectors of their land, and once the settlers started occupying it we've seen degradation and devastation on these ecosystems.

But we are starting to see more Indigenous efforts getting a tiny bit of the amplification and recognition they've deserved for so long. The Coquille Tribe of Oregon has been managing forests for thousands of years, and because of this, they understand the importance of biodiversity and protection for the area. The way they, and other tribes, care for the forests are better than western forest management, and better for the ecosystem by including not just biodiversity, but also controlled burns that help mitigate larger and more devastating fires.

By leaning in to and learning from all cultures and practices, I think we can come up with a more collaborative, gentle, and sustainable way to be a part of the world around us, rather than exerting our will over it.

A group of people holding charcoal covered seeds from Seedballs Kenya.

A group of people holding charcoal covered seeds from Seedballs Kenya.

This charcoal covered seed is sprouting and has big plans on becoming a tree!

This charcoal covered seed is sprouting and has big plans on becoming a tree!

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