Forests, Trees and Human Survival
Posted: October 4, 2011
The New York Times has a sprawling but insightful article entitled “With Deaths of Forests, a Loss of Key Climate Protectors” (Oct 1, 2011) that tells us that forests sequester (absorb) one-quarter of our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but this may not last forever. It’s a vicious cycle, because as CO2 increases, trees grow faster and absorb more CO2, but trees themselves may succumb to climate change themselves. The evidence the article provides comes for the Intermountain west where beetles are killing pines. Cold weather used to kill the beetles but with warming they stay alive over winter and damage trees. The other example the article gives is from fires. More fires because of climate change. Case in point – Russia lost between 10-30 million acres last year (wide range because of problems with data and who is reporting it). But if we say 15 million acres burned – that’s the size of our Pennsylvania forests.
The article goes on to talk about how our eastern forests are “among the most important carbon sponges in the world.” Yes we recovered "fortuitously" from almost total loss of forests at the turn of century to a now "green oasis". This green oasis has many problems and I fear for what our forest will look like in 20 years. Threats include deer, poor harvesting practices, sprawl, and invasive species. Even without climate change we in trouble. What to do? Plant more trees? A non option the article says because we running out of land. Southern and East Africa, by the way, is the last great place on earth for forest plantations. Another option: protect tropical forests, but who is going to pay compensation to locals not to cut them down to survive?
My favorite quote from the article:
“Experts are scrambling to understand the situation, and to predict how serious it may become. Scientists say the future habitability of the Earth might well depend on the answer. For, while a majority of the world’s people now live in cities, they depend more than ever on forests, in a way that few of them understand."
Anyway lots to chew on. This article is worth a read.