61 Trees Per Person

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When I was younger, on drives through some of the lushly forested areas of the Great Lakes region, I remember wondering if it would ever be possible to count all the trees that I saw. I remember trying. Looking at a swath of land densely covered with trees is dizzying, as dizzying as contemplating the number of people in the world. Numbers that large are hard to fit into an individual's version of reality.

But, as Evergreen State College student Nalini Nadkarni recently found out, if you take those two vast quantities and divide the number of trees living on the planet by the number of people, the number you get is surprisingly fathomable.

Nadkarni used data from NASA satellites to estimate the number of trees at 400,246,300,201. That means there are roughly 61 trees per person here on Earth.

Think about your one little self standing next to 61 big trees, and it seems like we're in good shape. But then think about all the ways in which people use trees: home building, furniture building, all of the various forms of paper that most of us use each day. If you're like me, suddenly you'll start to feel a sense of worry in the pit of your stomach -- 61 doesn't sound like so many anymore.

And we are destroying the forests that remain at an alarming rate. According to this report from the WWF, for example, 55 percent of the Amazon's forests could be gone by 2030. These numbers represent not only the ruin of beautiful natural area and crucial wildlife habitat, but also the loss of vital carbon sinks that are no longer helping absorb greenhouse gases that human activities produce at staggering rates.

But, as bloggers Sheril Kirshenbaum and Chris Mooney at Talking Science note, now is the time to remember that trees are a renewable resource. All is not lost -- yet.

The way I see it, the very down-to-earth numbers produced by Nadkani's study could give us the opportunity to think of trees on a personal level – as a kind of bank account. We must plant trees and we much watch what we spend. Did the paper towel, paper grocery bag, cardboard pizza box, etc. I'm about to use come from one of my 61 trees? Or, if I recycle the paper products that I do use, is that like getting money back on my purchase? Better yet, can I protect my 61 trees by avoiding the use of new trees when possible, for example, by furnishing my home with vintage furniture or reclaimed hardwood floors? Having things in real numbers can help many of use feel a sense of connection that it's hard to grasp when thinking about the entire world's responsibility to save all of the world's forests.

In your lifetime, can you save 61 trees? Can you plant 61? And what other resources can you quantify on a personal level?

Photo credit: flickr/Wonderlane, Creative Commons license.


This is valuable information. It would put everything into context if I knew that I was losing 1 tree a year to my behavior, knowing that I might only have 60 years left. Can you point me to the source of the data? I am interested to know:
How many trees I had when I was born. 100?
How many trees I lose each year.1? 2?
How many trees I can save for each thing I do.

Posted by: 100 Trees? on December 8, 2008 3:41 PM

Remember that as our population multiplies at an exponential rate, this estimated information is subject to change. As creatures of logic and thoughtfulness or creatures of greed and carelessness, we all have the power to affect one another.
National Arbor Day is a little reminder that we can help by planting trees every year to clean our air and beautify our land. As the trees are here for us to use, so should we care for their replenishment.

Posted by: Derwinkle on March 15, 2009 11:46 PM

Simple and excellent.

I wonder if you were to look at increasing population, and decreasing forests, what the trend line looks like... Probably pretty striking...

Good opportunity for a follow-up story, no?

Posted by: jak plihal on September 20, 2009 6:20 PM

Fantastic. Congratulations! The study is an eye opener for many who waste papers in the offices , Universities and also to those who cut trees and runs factories and cars etc. Actually, our organization icipe, engaged in one such project since last 10 years to save the forest through commercial insects farming,( honey and silk enterprises) so that farmer's get additional income for their livlihoods and reduce the chopping of trees for charcoal making in the forest. In addition, we recommend the energy saving stoves to cut down the emission rate.

Thanks and good luck for your study.

Posted by: suresh Kumar Raina on October 14, 2009 4:36 AM

61 trees per person calculation is based on the human population ( 6.79 billion). How about domestic and wild animals CO2 emissions? If we assume equal number of animals on earth we require 122 trees and we have to plant them all for animals as well. SO right now we have only 28 trees per person instead of 61.

Posted by: suresh Raina on October 14, 2009 5:22 AM

Good dig people. Apparently relentless deforestation is the major cause of depleting green cover. There's huge Print/Paper industry that thrives on cutting forests.It takes 12 established trees to make one tonne of newsprint.The forest loss is 20,000 hectares per day, equivalent to an area twice the size of Paris. They'd need more paper to tell people about it!

Posted by: Mrityunjay on July 1, 2010 9:19 PM

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