Climate change is being fought by a few hipster millennials with flying machines
There have been many methods and attempts to battle climate change and its effects, none of them working to the extent needed. But now, a group of Canadians are working to quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In just this year, 44,647 wildfires have burned 5.6 million acres of land in the United States, and in Canada, 6,317 fires destroyed 10.34 million acres. Deforestation is a constant problem that has massive repercussions on both climate change and our health. According to Faisal Moola, professor of geography and geomatics in the University of Guelph, around 26% of annual greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the destruction of ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, and wetlands. Between 1990 and 2016, the Earth lost more than 500,000 square miles of forest. But now, those numbers are finally turning by the hands of the Flash Forest initiative.
Bryce Jones is the head of Flash Forest, which is a start-up with the unusual idea of deploying drones to bombard the landscape with tree seed pods. Their goal is to plant 1 billion new trees by 2028. With this innovative way of using drones, Flash Forest believes it can supercharge this effort. Jones founded the company with his brother Cameron and university friend Angelique Ahlström. “It struck me as something that could have the largest impact on carbon emissions, could be done right away and was the most scalable,” said Jones.
This 20-person Toronto company uses drones to rapid-fire seeds into the ground, with a rate 10 times faster than humans, especially useful in hard to reach or inaccessible areas, and often for less than $1 per tree. Flash Forest is mainly working in Canada but has pilot plans underway in the US and Netherlands.
There is some debate about the environmental benefit. Leading expert on deforestation Bruno Locatelli, claims that “If you plan to reforest with the sole purpose of carbon storage for mitigation or timber production, you frequently end up having negative impacts on biodiversity, water sources and livelihoods”. On top of that, too many dead trees from failed trials can worsen the problem because they release the carbon they’ve absorbed over their lifetimes back to the atmosphere.
Jones says the company’s seedpods are matched to the environment and will foster biodiversity. Its seed pod contains everything a seedling needs to maximize germination and promote survival, including nutrients, predator deterrents, and moisture retention capabilities. Flash Forest is focused on biodiversity; they diversify their seed pods so that they don’t just include a tree seedling but also other types of co-occurring plants that are biocultural (that have significance not just for biodiversity but also for cultural purpose), particularly for Indigenous people.
The company has federal and provincial funding as well as corporate sponsors. According to Jones, planting 1 billion trees until 2028 is just the beginning: “I envision the company planting on six continents — everywhere where our technology is needed,” he says. This company had made promising development, and might even be able to help defeat climate change in a way other companies weren't able.