Bundles of saplings ready to be planted

Indiana trees and the world’s climate challenge

By Cliff Chapman
Executive Director, Central Indiana Land Trust

As world leaders gather in Glasgow for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (Oct. 31-Nov. 12), it can feel as though the Earth’s fate rests in the hands of a few politicians. At the same time, it might seem like the areas where meaningful change can happen are far from home: rainforests, massive urban areas, the oceans, and so on.

Both of those statements are true, but they are not exclusive: Those leaders aren’t the only ones shaping the Earth’s future, and those places aren’t the only ones where a difference can be made. Each of us can make a difference, and we can do it close to home.

The fact is, we in Indiana are positioned well for impact, because we live in an area that does an incredible job of filtering carbon out of the atmosphere, and it could do even more.

How is this so? Trees.

Actually, all plants capture carbon and hold onto it until they are destroyed. Trees, being big and long-lived, capture a lot of carbon and hold onto it for a long time. And Indiana, with its ample moisture, great soils and moderate temperatures, does a great job of growing trees. Furthermore, we grow the right kind of trees: The deciduous forests that dominate the state allow snow on the ground and on tree limbs to reflect light, helping to cool the atmosphere. Evergreen forests, on the other hand, absorb heat in winter, adding to warming.

So, by protecting and adding to Indiana’s forested land, we fight climate change. Think about it: Each newly planted oak tree will scrub carbon from the air and lock it in for the oak’s lifespan—roughly 400 years. If you have a protected forest filled with such trees, you can capture and contain massive amounts of carbon forever.

And it’s not just about air. Forests also filter groundwater and help to prevent flooding. They provide homes to countless species of animals and native plants. They give us places to explore and enjoy.

All of this is why, when the Central Indiana Land Trust and our peer land conservation organizations across the state work to restore land, we’re not doing so simply for the sake of a particular piece of property. When we set out to plant millions of trees, we’re not doing it just to have more trees. And when we ask you to help us protect our state’s last remaining natural areas, we’re not doing so simply to save another chunk of Indiana from development. We’re doing it for the sake of the planet.

And you can help. Support your local land conservation organizations. Plant trees of your own. Let elected officials know that you want to protect and expand Indiana’s carbon-capturing forests. Because we’re all facing climate change together, and we’ll only solve it if we work together.

Of course, sweeping policy changes like the ones being forged in Glasgow are needed and can have huge impacts, but they also take years to enact, can be hard to understand and are frustratingly difficult to achieve.

That’s why it’s important to know that, regardless of what happens in Glasgow, Indiana’s land protection community will continue to work to enact change we can enjoy close to home, while also helping to ensure a more resilient future for the entire planet.

Cliff Chapman

Executive Director

As CILTI’s Executive Director, Cliff keeps CILTI’s focus on good science and stewardship. He’s mindful that the natural places you love took thousands of years to evolve and could be destroyed in a single day, and that knowledge drives his dedication to their protection.