For many years scientists thought that planting trees could counteract the effects of climate change, but not anymore. A new report by a German institute has deflated that possibility to a large degree.
A whole industry has sprouted in the belief that growing trees and other kinds of biomass could turn the tide on climate change. Carbon credits are right now exchanged by countries who preserve forests or green spaces. These credits can be sold or traded to other countries. Companies do the same thing.
Several scenarios were played out and it seems that if we continue what we are doing right now our trees and forests could not absorb all the carbon dioxide that would be pumped in the atmosphere. Furthermore there would be harmful consequences on our food production.
Even if the levels of carbon dioxide are cut to reflect the Paris Agreement, tree planting alone is still not enough to reach the goal of keeping the average temperature of the planet under 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. It seems that far from being the main solution to absorb all the carbon, tree planting can only be one strategy among others.
If one adds to the fact that not all trees are equal in absorbing carbon emissions, young forests absorbing more than old forests, it is clear that the real solution is cutting the rate at which we emit carbon dioxide. No other way is possible.
A new study seems to indicate that vegetation has increased in Antarctica in the past decades due to the warming of the climate. And the trend seems to be for a greener continent. Vegetation exists on only 0,3% of the continent.
Few plants live in this frigid environment but the study of lichens shows an increased biological activity. In three areas of the continent lichens were collected deep under ground where they have been preserved for the past 150 years the analysis seem to prove that biological activity is much higher for the last 50 years.
The temperature in the area has increased about half a degree every ten years since the 1950’s. An increase in precipitations and stronger winds all point to a warming climate. With an increase in temperature the area will be more green in the future and we will see more glaciers melting away. The future of Antarctica is green, and that is not good for the planet.
It has been known for some time that carbon dioxide that is released in the atmosphere by man will have an effect on plants. But how great the effect and how they would be affected by global warming was unclear. Until now.
By looking at one chemical in the air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice scientists now know the effect on the growth of plants, and it is stupendous. Plants have been growing at a rate faster than at any other time in the past 54,000 years. They have been converting 31% more carbon dioxide into organic matter than before the Industrial Revolution.
Sine 1840 carbon dioxide has increased 40%. Scientists had always wondered how all those gases were affecting plant growth. They knew that there would be an effect but to quantify it was hard. And then they discovered that by concentrating on one compound called carbonyl sulphide they would be able to have a hard measurement. Plants draw in this compound and then destroy it. Only in Antarctica is the air so well mixed that the growth worldwide of plants is reflected.
What is incredible is that the pace of change in photosynthesis has increased by 136 times what it was in the past. As the plants take in this extra carbon dioxide they are cooling the planet. The problem is that current models show that at a certain point plants will not be able to absorb all this extra carbon. According to scientists we may see plants continue on this path for another fifty years but after that they will hit a plateau and they will no longer buffer us from the effects of global warming. Let us hope that we will have reduced the rate at which the earth is warming by then. And no, plants will not save us from climate change but they sure are giving us a helping hand in fighting it.