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Tree-planting campaigns are gaining momentum. However, do they make a huge difference?

Last updated on November 12, 2019

The project, called #TeamTrees, provided the sort of internet-savvy campaign that will attain some virality.

But while reforestation efforts have been held up as a vital method to help mitigate the consequences of climate change, new research is demonstrating that the scientific advantages of prevalent tree-planting campaigns might be murkier than scientists initially believed.

It is heartening to find the overall public and noteworthy figures put behind climate attempts, but wider changes and policies have to be enacted to prevent climate change, stated Peter Ellis, a forest ecologist in The Nature Conservancy, an environmental nonprofit based in Arlington, Virginia.

“Reforestation has to be a part of this solution if we are going to succeed, but we will need to see that trees everywhere is not always such a fantastic thing,” said Ellis, who co-authored a vital 2017 research printed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concerning the advantages of reforestation and other all-natural climate solutions.

Nature’s filter

Forests are likened to the world’s lungs, because similar to the very important organs, trees absorb carbon dioxide in the air and breathe oxygen out.

This natural process is why tree-planting along with other reforestation efforts have been heralded as significant — and natural — methods to counter rising carbon emissions and combat climate change. And these attempts are a favorite method to inspire the public to do it.

But emerging study suggests that the efficacy of tree-planting campaigns may fluctuate, which the consequences of woods within the climate system are more complex, ranging from changing landscapes may change the delicate balances which exist in several ecosystems to greenhouse gases, such as methane, which could be mined from trees. Oftentimes, the long-term consequences of the outcomes are still unknown.

“It is difficult to tease out exactly what we ought to do at this time, and that I would be quite reluctant to upset the apple cart predicated on what we have. Nevertheless, we have to begin accounting for all these things if we are likely to direct successful campaigns with property administration.”

In 2013, a British ecologist called Sunitha Pangala journeyed into the Amazon armed with detectors that she attached to over 2,000 trees to quantify emissions of methane. She discovered these trees — especially in areas of the woods that flood and eventually become waterlogged — were to blame for roughly half the Amazon’s total methane emissions, together with every 100,000 square feet of tropical wetland releasing a few pounds of methane every day.

“That is a massive impact, and it is not accounted for.”

Pangaea’s findings have been printed in 2017, although more research is required, Covey said there’s evidence that in certain regions, the heating effects from methane emissions may cancel a forest’s capacity to store carbon dioxide. This is particularly true, he included, for tropical wetlands.

Potential drawbacks

Besides methane, trees may emit what are called volatile organic chemicals, which are not greenhouse gases, but can interact with different gases in the air to create ozone and photochemical smog.

These chemicals, that evolved as a stress reaction in trees and plants, continue to be actively studied, but some research has indicated they are more common with specific species — especially, pine trees.

“There is still a lot we do not understand, which explains why there’s a certain degree of inherent danger with reforestation,” explained Benjamin Poulter, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center at Greenbelt, Maryland.

Poulter co-authored commentary published Oct. 18 from the journal Science about a current study on the capacity of international tree recovery for a way for climate change. That study maintained that new forests may eliminate 205 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in the air, which makes it”our effective climate change solution up to now.”

Poulter and his colleagues argued that the analysis overestimated that missed and potential some unwanted consequences which reforestation efforts can have. For one, adding trees in certain areas can alter the way that soil absorbs or absorbs energy from sunlight. At high latitudes, like in areas of Canada and Siberia, snow-covered earth is much more reflective compared to darker, tree-covered places.

“The problem is when you start planting trees in which you’ve got snow, you are altering the color of the land surface and which makes it darker,” Poulter said. “Dark surfaces consume more energy than lighter surfaces, which means you are going to heat the surroundings “

An arsenal of climate options

However, scientists say there’s not any question that trees harbor tremendous potential for storing carbon, which preventing deforestation has shown benefits for the environment.

However, Chris Field, director of the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University, stated reforestation efforts can be challenging, and at times areas with the best possibility of such all-natural climate options are also areas where you will find weak institutions or authorities set up to enact these policies.

“You can not simply enter a region where they’re with a civil war and plant a lot of trees,” Field said. “When you find these optimistic amounts about what organic climate answers can lead, it is important to realize there is a theoretical possible. A good deal of complex, hard-to-change items would have to happen before we get near to realizing that potential.”

There’s scientific consensus, but the surest way to fight climate change is by handling the source of the issue: decreasing the total amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases which are discharged into the air.

“No matter how big our reforestation efforts might be, what is important is that we push ourselves off fossil fuel usage,” Williams, of Clark University, said. “We should not find this, or some other nature-based climate change alternative, as a silver bullet.”

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