Pioneer

Saving the world’s forests

Lauren Fletcher, Reno, Nevada, US

One of the most practical ways to combat climate change is planting trees.

Experts estimate that 15 billion are cut down every year – and even with trees being replaced, there’s still an annual deficit of 7-10 billion. With planting being a laborious process, surely the world’s woodlands are doomed? Lauren Fletcher, thankfully, thinks not. A former NASA engineer from Nevada, Lauren, 51, has been wrestling with this issue for years. “I went to a conference on deforestation in 2009, and it really emotionally hit home,” he says. “I understood what was driving deforestation – over-logging, the cattle industry and so on – but I couldn’t understand why it was so hard to put forests back. I found out that the technology to do it fast enough wasn’t there. I thought, ‘Hey, I work for NASA! Surely there’s a way’.”

“I love being out in the world, seeing the potential to repair damage”

His mission began, and Biocarbon Engineering was the result. Lauren founded the company, which uses drones to plant trees and restore ecosystems at an astonishing speed. “I design and build tech that you can wrap around a drone, which basically fires biodegradable plastic capsules into the earth using pressurised air,” he says. “We can plant two per second. Add in tech that lets two operators control multiple drones, and you can plant 400,000 trees a day.” Done all around the world in alliance with several governments (Brazil, for example, has made 20 million hectares available), planning ensures that a good mixture of different species are planted, encouraging whole ecosystems to grow simultaneously.

“It’s about making a bigger impact for the same money”

“My original pitch was to plant a billion trees a year,” laughs Lauren. “But people said to me, can you do 100 billion? We need those kind of numbers. But I’m optimistic it’s doable.” Lauren is now also focusing on a new project, which aims to protect exposed soil systems. It’s something that stimulates him every day. “I love being out in the world, seeing the potential to repair damage, and meeting the people who can really benefit. It’s about making a bigger impact for the same money, and using smarter tools. That really drives me on. We can’t wait 10 years for this, or for new technology. We need to be getting on with it now.”

Photography by Ken Hermann