On the northern tip of Africa are the bordering countries of Ethiopia and Eritrea. They have been long-time enemies, leaving 100,000 persons dead and a million more displaced over the last few decades. When he assumed office recently, the new Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed decided to call his Eritrean counterpart. He asked a simple question: “I forgive you; will you forgive me?" Deeply touched, the Eritrean President responded, Will you come see me?

Things changed. The conflict was halted, political prisoners were released, diplomatic relations resumed. This past October, Ahmed received the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Prime Minister quickly undertook another bold initiative: a countrywide effort to plant 200 million trees. He wanted to restore Ethiopia’s landscape which had been ravaged by deforestation. Why am I telling you these seemingly unrelated stories? Both actions reflect something higher––a values proposition of being a good steward of relationship, of a nation, of the natural world.

We’ve also had a decades-old stalemate here in America over environmental security. Differences in rhetoric, framing, and tone engendered explosive disagreements between friends, families, and policymakers. Whether we call the problem “climate change,” “global warming,” or my preference of “climate volatility,” the bottom line is that Congress has finally stopped talking about how to define the problem and more about how to solve it.

One area of potential consensus––trees. While expanded carbon capture technology, conservation, mass transit, bikes, scooters, electric cars, wind, solar, biofuels, and even nuclear energy will play significant roles in reducing carbon emissions, trees are nature’s best way of cleaning out excess carbon pollution from the atmosphere. Trees can capture a metric ton of carbon at $20 or less a ton. Existing carbon capture technology captures at best $250 a ton. Trees create jobs, water quality, and improved soil.

Research out of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology shows that global reforestation is the fastest, cheapest, most sustainable, effective and scalable way to lower atmospheric carbon. Imagine this: A trillion-tree initiative in Congress. That’s music to our Nebraska ears. We are, after all, the home of Arbor Day, whose foundation helps communities around the globe in planting, preserving, and celebrating trees.

According to the Zurich researchers, to meet the trillion-tree goal, a lot of the tree-planting will have to occur in Asia and Africa, especially in the tropics, where trees grow quickly and suck up the most carbon. Still, the six nations with the most room for new trees are Russia, Canada, Australia, Brazil, China, and the U.S. The Mississippi Delta, the "Amazon of America," used to have 25 million trees. It now has five million trees. On marginal land in Nebraska, we can use conservation easements for forest cover––unleashing new income potential through hunting and recreation sustained by biodiversity.

In urban areas, a concept called nutrient banking is taking hold. Commercial developers receive offsets in exchange for planting trees elsewhere. A forthcoming initiative out of Congress would establish a target for increasing wood growth in domestic forests and increase the innovative use of wood in building materials.

As part of these and other efforts to increase urban green space and infrastructure, I recently signed onto The Residential Energy and Economic Savings (TREES) Act. According to research by the Department of Energy, shade trees strategically planted around a home capture carbon, reduce temperatures, improve air quality, reduce the risk of flooding by absorbing stormwater runoff, and increase private property values by improving residential aesthetics.

Naturally, we can't just randomly plant trees or plant the wrong trees for a bioregion. The effort has to be sustainable and involve proper forest management. Current legislation developing in Congress ensures that. After fossil fuel use and extraction, deforestation is the second leading contributor to excess carbon in the atmosphere. According to the Swiss climate ecologists, we can plant a trillion trees without impinging on farmland, cities, or persons.

Through reduced emissions and tree-planting, we are going to solve the problem of excess atmospheric carbon without throwing the world into another Great Depression or massively expanding state power. We will do so by calmly focusing on what works. That’s the Arbor Day Way. That’s the Nebraska Way. That’s the right way.

In other news

The air pollution in Beijing, China is so bad that it takes years off your life. Some days it looks like fog. As a service to the Chinese people, the United States Embassy implemented an air quality tracking monitor. The Chinese government was not happy.

Since its ratification more than 230 years ago, our Constitution has served as the basis of our system of government, framing the rule of law Americans live by today. The separation of powers among the three branches of our government – legislative, judicial, and executive – are specifically…

One of the bills that I introduced this session was LB 770. It authorizes a free lifetime park permit for disabled veterans. This past week, LB 770 was advanced from the Natural Resources Committee on an 8-0 vote, I designated it as my priority bill, and the Legislature gave it first-round a…

Nebraskans have made property tax relief their number one priority, and it’s my top priority for the Legislature. Senators are now one-third of the way through this year’s short legislative session, with about 40 days to go. Nebraska’s farmers, ranchers, and homeowners are counting on Senato…

The Legislative Session is one-third complete. This week we began to have debate and vote on some of the Bills passed to Final Reading. 15 Bills were passed and signed by the Speaker. Next stop—the Governor’s office. A number of Bills were advanced from Committees to General File. There is l…

As of adjournment on Thursday, February 6th the 2020 Legislative session is one-third of the way to completion. Each biennium in the Unicameral is made up of one 90-day session and one 60-day session. The first twenty days of this session have flown by and most senators have not yet chosen a…

It is the ultimate tribute to our enduring republic that no matter the tenor of the time, the state of the world, the politics of the moment, the President of the United States stands before Congress, Justices of the Supreme Court, and a rapt nation and delivers a State of the Union Address.…

Currently, 49 state senators serve in the Nebraska Legislature. Under the Nebraska Constitution, this number could be increased to fifty senators, but an even number of senators could result in a vote ending in a tie, requiring the Lieutenant Governor to cast the deciding vote. Speaker of th…

Prisons are often overlooked as part of government, but they play a key role in creating safe communities. For years, Nebraska underinvested in its prisons. During my administration, we have placed a renewed focus on managing them well for one simple reason: we want to keep people safe. To a…