Thursday, 9 May 2013

Trees Offer Hope in the Climate Change Battle

I may have mentioned that I'm working on a new non-fiction project--rather vague at the moment, but having to do with time, roads and the traces that humans leave on the landscape.  At the moment, my reading is leading me into the woods, literally.

And one of the amazing research I've come across has to do with what reforestation can do to sequester carbon dioxide.  One group of researchers led by scientists at Stanford have found evidence that the decimation of Native North Americans after first contact with Europeans led to an incredible increase in forests cover, enough to account for part of the 16th and 17th century cooling called the Little Ice Age. 

Another group, also including Stanford scientists as well as some from the Max Planck Institute add that Genghis Khan's ravages in the 13th century also led to depopulation of great tracks of Eurasia.  When land that had previously been farmed grew back as forest, the carbon balance was substantially changed. 

Julia Pongratz, the lead author of the second articel, says the study has relevance for the world's current climate crisis: "Today about a quarter of the net primary production on the Earth’s land surface is used by humans in some way, mostly through agriculture. […]. In the past we have had a substantial impact on global climate and the carbon cycle, but it was all unintentional. Based on the knowledge we have gained from the past, we are now in a position to make land-use decisions that will diminish our impact on climate and the carbon cycle. We cannot ignore the knowledge we have gained." 

Plant a tree?  Maybe  a little study of this low tech option would help, along with stopping deforestation and decreasing reliance on fossil fuels.


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