Drones Are the New Johnny Appleseed, Can Seed-Pooping Animals Restore Degraded Forests? Maryland’s Climate Crisis & Education Act, Maine Startup Grows Kelp to Eat CO2

by | Mar 24, 2021 | Podcasts, The Climate Daily

Drones are the new Johnny Appleseed, plus can seed-pooping animals restore degraded forests? Maryland’s Climate Crisis & Education Act, and Maine startup grows kelp to eat CO2.



Back in 2008, my wife and I founded a non-profit designed to motivate school-age children to plant trees to save the climate. And it worked. We planted about 10,000 trees over two years. Back in 2017, I decided to get a license to fly drones. I already had a helicopter pilot license, and an airplane license too. I’ve even flown a blimp. So it seemed a natural progression for me to cop a drone license, too. What I failed to see as a natural progression, was the use of aerial drones to plant trees. The good folks at Flash Forest did.

Flash Forest is a Canadian reforestation company that uses UAV technology, automation and ecological science to regenerate ecosystems on a global scale. Why does an order of magnitude scaling up of tree planting matters? According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that’s an arm of the United Nations dedicated to providing the world with objective scientific information around climate change, one sure-fire way to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius– that’s the goal set in motion by the 2016 Paris Agreement is to plant 1 trillion trees over the next 10 years. That was back in 2015. We’re already over 5 years behind schedule. 

The average person can plant about 1,500 trees per day. So doing the math if we could recruit and organize about 12 million people every month to plant 1,500 trees, we could accomplish the 1 trillion tree goal in under five years. 

Until then, Flash Forest Co-founder and chief strategy officer Angelique Ahlstrom says, ” “I think that drones are absolutely necessary to hit the kind of targets that we’re saying are required to achieve some of our carbon sequestration goals as a global society. When you look at the potential for drones, we plant 10 times faster than humans.” She’s being modest. Her drones currently plant between 30K to 40K trees per day. That’s almost 30x faster than we Johnny Appleseeds. They also address another logistical challenge in planting that many trees: 1 trillion trees means about two and half billion acres of ground to cover. That’s equivalent to the land mass of the United States. And most of it won’t be flat. Drones can access rough topography much more ground What’s also important isFlash Forest is not just into indiscriminate, high speed, seed planting. They’re dedicated to full ecosystem recovery, so in every project, they plant a minimum of 4 and up to 8 different tree species at every site.I wonder if she’d let me fly one of her drones? After all I am a licensed drone pilot…

DEEPER DIVE: Flash Forest, Fast Company



 Planting seedlings or spreading seeds across lands are the most common ways to restore forests. But what about enlisting some fruit-eating, seed pooping animals to do the job for us?  

Reported by Mongabay, a new study reveals mammal and bird species could help restore degraded forests by consuming native seeds added to fruits at feeders, then excreting them across wide areas. Published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, the study emphasizes the importance of plant and animal interactions in order to restore the natural ecology of degraded or destroyed forests.  

In an interview with Mongabay, a plant ecologist at the University of Liverpool and editor of the study Cristina García described the process as simple, inexpensive and quite effective. García said, “instead of planting the trees, what you do is restore the ecological process that drives that natural regeneration.” Researchers are now developing a study to experiment the method over a larger landscape. And we look forward to following up to learn about their discoveries.

DEEPER DIVE: Mongabay, Inducing seed dispersal by generalist frugivores: A new technique to overcome dispersal limitation in restoration



Maryland legislators recently introduced The Climate Crisis and Education Act (CCEA). The bill sets a new statewide goal to reduce greenhouse gas-emissions by 60% by 2030, and for the state to be net-zero by 2045. It also will establish three separate funds for green infrastructure, household and employer benefits, and education in the state.

If passed, it will gradually increase the price of carbon pollution on a schedule. Such a schedule offers energy companies business and regulatory certainty for future planning. The bill also includes a no-pass through provision that protects consumers. That last part is significant because it guarantees low-income residents and consumers are not adversely affected by the legislation. In other states, in other well-meaning climate change laws, loopholes in otherwise well-intended legislation has allowed businesses to burden their customers by passing on the cost to de-pollute through to their customers. 

Said South River High School senior, Jessica Garbarczyk (Gah bar zhick), “This bill has a lot of potential for at-risk communities. I also admire the no-pass through provision, which punishes the culprits of climate change. Rather than punishing everyday people, we’re shifting responsibility to those who put us in this situation.” Getting Maryland climate action student buy-in was critical to crafting The Climate Crisis and Education Act into the commonsense, practical and robust climate crisis legislation it is.

Anjali Gulati, student at Morgan State University said, “Spreading knowledge through [legislated] education will really help the next generation combat this crisis in a way that we’re just starting to do now. This bill introduces an equitable solution to environmental injustice with the necessary market-based mechanisms to generate revenue to improve the quality of life and education for millions of Maryland families to come.”

DEEPER DIVE: ClimateXChange, Maryland.gov



A Maine startup aims to remove carbon from the atmosphere with kelp farms. Reported by Maine Public, the startup is an experimental project for Running Tide Technologies, a team of fishermen, engineers, software developers, oceanographers, data scientists, and other experts developing new technologies to accelerate and scale the naturally restorative benefits of shellfish and kelp.

Here’s how it works. The team begins by growing large amounts of kelp, then burying it at the deepest part of the sea where it will then sequester carbon. The kelp essentially becomes part of the ocean and can sequester carbon for thousands of years. The goal is to mimic natural processes that helped convert ancient plants into carbon-storing fossils.

This year, Running Tide aims to deploy roughly 1,600 buoys before hopefully scaling the project globally to millions. Running Tide is also on the pathway to reaching that goal as venture capital funds have already invested millions into the startup. 

DEEPER DIVE: Maine Public, Running Tide