In 2017, faced with mounting evidence that global climate change was rapidly accelerating, Terraformation’s founder Yishan Wong began evaluating large-scale climate solutions. His goal was to find a plan that was practical, affordable, and offered the best possible chance to not just mitigate, but comprehensively solve, climate change.
Planting the seed
Through his research, Yishan found that native forest restoration outperformed any other known method of carbon capture by nearly an order of magnitude, and that restoration of up to 3 billion acres of degraded or desertified land should be theoretically possible.
Successfully accomplishing mass forest restoration at that scale would draw down enough carbon to meaningfully stabilize the climate, potentially closing the gap on a full-scale solution to climate change.
But he also found three large bottlenecks to large-scale forest restoration: land availability, freshwater, and seed. He established Terraformation to create and share solutions to those challenges.
Testing the solutions
In 2019, Yishan founded Terraformation’s first pilot restoration site---Pacific Flight---in the northern region of Hawaiʻi Island. Two centuries of unsustainable logging had destroyed the area’s native tropical sandalwood forest, and subsequent cattle grazing had denuded and desertified the land.
The arid environment, high winds, and degraded soils meant that if a team could restore a forest there, they could do it anywhere.
In the summer of 2019, Yishan’s team completed construction of the world’s largest fully off-grid, 100% solar-powered desalination system to supply sustainable freshwater to Pacific Flight. The system produces 34,000 gallons of water per day, enough to support several thousand trees.
Soon after, Yishan partnered with Jill Wagner, the Director of the Hawaiʻi Island Seed Bank, and a lifelong horticulturist (and now also Terraformation’s Head of Forestry), to reintroduce native plants at Pacific Flight.
Irrigated by the desalinated freshwater, the young native trees were finally able to re-establish themselves in a region that had grown inhospitable over the past two centuries.
Within six months, their team had successfully grown and planted several thousand trees, including a number of rare and endangered species, working at a rate approximately 5x faster than a typical restoration project.
Growing the future
The rapid restoration at Pacific Flight, supported by solar desalination technology, proved a replicable solution to water and land scarcity bottlenecks. Making freshwater available in areas previously deemed too arid for restoration unlocks billions of acres of new restoration opportunities around the world. Next came scalable solutions to additional challenges, like modular, off-grid seed banks that could process and store millions of seeds per year.
These technologies are just the beginning. The growing Terraformation team continues to tackle the biggest challenges to forest restoration with durable solutions that perform in project sites around the world.
As the cost of solar power continues to plummet, investment in worldwide forest restoration programs, aided by Terraformation’s open-source infrastructure, is not only affordable, but will now pay for itself many times over by converting relatively low-value land into thriving and productive ecosystems.
Today, Terraformation is expanding partnerships with restorationists around the globe who share our vision for place-based, community-driven, native ecosystem restoration. Terraformation provides technology, strategy, and training to support projects from seed to forest.
Stay tuned for more...