The Carbon Neutrality Challenge, a joint project of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and numerous organizations, aims to test the feasibility of restoring local ecosystems to offset all of the state’s carbon emissions.

The group held its first proof-of-concept event on November 17 at Ala Mahamoe Cultural Garden and Forest near Tripler Hospital. At the event, six teams of volunteers from UH Mānoa and various student groups, local organizations and businesses joined together in friendly competition to plant a record-setting 1,000 trees in one day. At the end of the day’s competition, teams were ranked according to the number of trees planted, with rankings available at http://www.gocarbonneutral.org/.

The goal of the event was to demonstrate the state’s ability to scale up restoration, and plant trees by the number needed to position Hawaiʻi as the first place in the world to fully offset its carbon emissions via ecosystem restoration.

“The solution to climate change is staring at us. It is as simple as planting sufficient trees to offset one’s emissions,” said Camilo Mora, associate professor of geography in UH Mānoa’s College of Social Sciences and lead investigator in the project.

“The math is simple. The average carbon footprint of a person in Hawaiʻi is estimated at ~12 tonnes of CO2 each year. It will take 12 milo trees just below five years to remove all of that carbon. Or you can try three koas, or ~20 ʻŌhiʻas, or a diversity of other native trees that can do the job for you. We just need to go and put those trees in the ground,” added Asryelle Mora Rollo, a 6th grader and one of the project’s members.

While it may look daunting to restore all Hawaiian ecosystems in order to store the amount of carbon necessary to make the state carbon neutral, the group believes Hawaiʻi has the resources and manpower to do this – it just needs to put these parts together.

The group notes that, with a million people in the state, if each person plants just one tree, Hawaiʻi can easily have a million trees in the ground within a week. Scalability is certainly possible and, if successful, would create an environmental balance between nature and humans. The group hopes that the one-day planting event will inspire others to take on the challenge of restoring Hawaiʻi’s ecosystems by hosting similar competitions.

The tree-planting pilot event is part of UH Mānoa’s Carbon Neutrality Challenge, an initiative that aims to provide a mechanism for people to pay their ecological debt to Earth. It is based on the premise that climate change can be solved if individuals calculate how much CO2 they generate, estimate the number of trees needed to sequester those emissions and plant the required number of trees.

Volunteers digging up dirt to plant trees

Volunteers join together to plant a record-setting 1,000 trees in one day.