Ever since I was a boy, I have cared deeply about our environment. My family and I do everything we can to make personal choices that help reduce our impact on the planet.
There are plenty of cost-effective actions all of us can take to do our part, from reducing our consumption of single-use plastics to conserving energy in our homes, installing solar power, and recycling. But there’s one solution that doesn’t get enough attention—the significant role that trees and forests can play to reduce global warming emissions and help solve the climate change crisis.
That’s because trees, through the process of photosynthesis, absorb CO2 and sequester carbon, which reduces net greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. Forest Service has estimated that our nation’s forests offset nearly 15 percent of annual U.S. carbon emissions. They also provide critical protection for biodiversity, ensuring habitat for our animals and plants.
This is an area that I’m really excited about getting involved in. I’ll be joining community tree-planting efforts, and getting behind campaigns to help conserve and restore forested landscapes. So if you want help with these types of initiatives, hit me up at Outrider.
How we use our land has a huge impact on climate change, for better or worse. Globally, the land-use sector is responsible for 24% percent of greenhouse gas emission, according to the EPA. That’s more than all the planes, trains and automobile emissions.
Just as forests store carbon and keep CO2 out of the atmosphere, deforestation leads to increased carbon dioxide emissions. So protecting forests and planting trees, rather than clearing land for development, palm oil or grazing cattle, will go a long way to help address climate change.
But fighting climate change is just one major environmental benefit of forests. Another is providing habitat for countless species of animals and plants—an issue close to my heart as someone who loves wildlife. Preserving habitat is especially important now, at a time when biodiversity loss has hit a potential tipping point. In May, a distressing United Nations report found that one million plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction—perhaps within decades—more than ever before in human history.
The authors of the report listed the five culprits for this trend. No. 1? Changes in how we use our land and our seas. Rounding out the list were direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species. The report found that more than a third of the world’s land surface, and nearly three-quarters of freshwater resources, are now devoted to crop or livestock or fish production. On land, more than 500,000 species “have insufficient habitat for long-term survival” and face extinction.
There have been mass extinctions on earth before—like the one that killed the dinosaurs—but none have had the inside-job quality that we could be seeing in our lifetime.
This is truly alarming stuff, as extinctions will create stress on food chains and impacts on humans. The accelerating rate of extinctions “means grave impacts on people around the world are now likely,” the report said.
Even if you’re not into planting trees in your spare time, there are plenty of things you can do to help push the economy to better land-use policies. I’m a firm believer that little decisions we make can lead to big differences—and one step we can take is to reduce our consumption of animal products. Beef production is a huge source of deforestation in the tropics and takes an incredible toll on our natural resources. Making a quarter-pound hamburger, for example, requires a whopping 450 gallons of water.
What Are Natural Climate Solutions?
Project Drawdown, a respected coalition of researchers, climatologists, economists and other experts that has come up with 100 solutions to global warming, lists a plant-rich diet as the #4 solution—citing a study showing that greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced 70% with a vegan diet, and 63% with a vegetarian diet. Tropical forest restoration ranks number #5.
The primary driver of tropical deforestation is beef production, which is one of the reasons I gave up beef altogether and plan on becoming a vegetarian after my baseball career is over.
But you don’t have to be a vegetarian to make a big impact with your dietary choices. Simply eating less meat, not wasting any meat you do buy, and sourcing it from grass-fed, local farms are all great steps in the right direction. And you’ll have the added benefit of a healthier diet.
In the Brewers’ clubhouse, we talk about these types of issues all the time. Don’t get me wrong, there aren’t many vegans in professional baseball. But even my teammates who are climate change skeptics try to eat organic, locally-sourced food.
There are a lot of things we can do to help build a more environmentally sustainable future for humans and nature. Individual actions are really important and impactful, and I’m always looking for ways to do more. I hope you’ll join me.