In order to understand why planting a tree may not make a difference, it is important to look at the statistics. According to a 2015 Nature study, 15.3 billion trees are cut down every year, out of the approximately 3.04 trillion trees in the world. In 2016, Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that 7 million hectares of forest are lost each year, which led to an estimation of 3.5 billion to 7 billion trees cut down each year. Regardless of the exact number of trees or hectares cut down, reality suggests that the solution to deforestation is not to plant more trees, but to create a sustainable plan to preserve existing forests.
A large number of factors contribute to forest destruction, including but not limited to agriculture, timber harvesting, construction of roads and pipelines, mining, and drilling for oil. These activities are initiated by large corporations such as BP and Shell, rather than by individuals. The key to preventing deforestation is limiting the impact that corporate action has on the environment through social and legal action to preserve the environment on a massive scale. Of course, change this massive requires a shift in society's values to prioritize environmental preservation over business profit and urban development. It also requires a reframing of environmental destruction as a human rights issue, as the people most impacted by environmental destruction are often Indigenous, BAME, and working-class people who already have their rights frequently disrespected, particularly land rights. This reframing also frames the environment as a place where people live that is to be preserved and not a raw resource to be infinitely exploited.
Here are some actions more effective than planting trees:
This is not to say that planting trees has a negative impact. Planting a tree is an excellent idea to add beauty to a school or public place, provide a learning experience for young children, or even improve air quality in an indoor setting if a small tree is safely placed in a container. However, it is neither the only, nor most effective, thing an average person can do for the environment.