Once Upon a Time, the U.S. Solved a Climate Crisis by Planting over 220 Million Trees

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It’s easy to feel a bit hopeless about the climate change situation. The planet has never faced an environmental emergency on this scale before, but it is possible for countries to rally to overcome climate crises. For proof, just look at history.

In the 1930s, the United States was stricken by an environmental disaster called the Dust Bowl. It was the worst climate crisis that the nation had ever seen, resulting in severe dust storms that claimed thousands of lives and caused over two million people to flee the Great Plains region. The dust storms got so bad that they sometimes blocked out the sun, and they ruined 35 million acres of farmland.

The Dust Bowl was a man-made disaster, caused by new farming techniques that ripped up drought-resistant grasses and ruined topsoil.

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The solution had to involve rebuilding the integrity of the soil by planting new greenery. So, President Roosevelt planted millions and millions of trees. He mobilized the U.S. Forest Service, the Works Progress Administration, and the Civilian Conservation Corps to create shelter belts of trees to stabilize the land and protect the topsoil. They also acted as a natural barrier to block the dust from sweeping across the plains.

In the end, over 220 million trees were planted. The initiative is now known as the biggest effort of the U.S. government to address an environmental problem in history.

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Today, tree-planting is one method that governments can use to combat the effects of climate change. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; in fact, they’re one of the few proven ways to do so. Some countries have already made enormous efforts — Australia plans to plant one billion trees by 2030, and the “Billion Tree” campaign by the UN has planted 15 billion trees since 2006.

It may seem nearly impossible for the U.S. to mobilize to that level now… But it probably seemed impossible during the Dust Bowl, too.

Let’s hope that the U.S. government takes a lesson from its own history book before it’s too late!