Doing what We Do Best: Saving Trees

New research has shown that saving trees could slow the onset of climate change. According to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), nearly 33 million acres of forestland is felled around the world each year, accounting for approximately 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere, or 20 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

If the number of trees cut down were halved, experts estimate that it could save close to 500 million metric tons of carbon annually and contribute to the 12 percent of greenhouse gas emission reductions needed to prevent the pernicious effects of global warming. Werner Kurz, a forest ecologist with Natural Resources Canada, believes that the impact of forest depletion on global warming is more harmful than the combined effects of all vehicle emissions. "What we are doing in these tropical forests is really a massive problem," said Kurz.Bruce McCarl, an agricultural economist at Texas A&M; University, argues that simple changes in forest management and agricultural practices could lower the risk of severe global warming much more rapidly than proposed technological solutions like carbon sequestration.

Some of these changes include the wider adoption of "no-till farming," a process that leaves unharvested crop stalks and other plant matter behind undisturbed to increase carbon storage in the soil. This practice provides dual benefits to the farmer: improved soils (due to higher carbon content) and reduced fuel use (since farm equipment such as tractors are not needed). Processes such as carbon recycling and generation, already in wide use by the pulp and paper industry, help minimize the amount of waste produced by businesses and could lower greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by close to "300 million metric tons on an annual basis," according to McCarl, when combined with sound forest management.

Kurz believes that forest management is key to any attempt to fight climate change in these sectors, a practice that needs to evolve with the times as the threat of global warming becomes more real.

"We need to understand the dual role of forests of storing carbon and providing carbon to serve society's needs. Choosing wood-based products has a much lower fossil fuel footprint than using some other building materials. The more we can prolong the storage of wood products in human structures, the longer the carbon is kept out of the atmosphere. When we do get rid of it, we should burn it to offset fossil fuels, part of a cascading system of multiple uses. Good forest management is typically also good carbon management."

::Scientific American: Combating Climate Change: Farming Out Global Warming Solutions

See also: ::Is Deforestation the Solution to Climate Change?, ::Deforestation Slowing According to United Nations, ::Global Forests Set to Return? Study Gives Cause for Optimism, ::Forestry--but Naturally, ::Forest Stewardship Council's New Program,

Tags: Carbon Sequestration | Deforestation

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