Even With Deforestation, Earth's Vegetation is Increasing

While deforestation continues in too many places in the world, other areas are getting greener – so much so that total plant cover has been rising over the past 13 years. 

The Earth’s biomass has increased by 4 billion tons since 2003, offsetting about half the loss from deforestation, concludes a study published in Nature Climate Change.

Savannahs in Australia, Africa and South America have been expanding because of more precipitation (even as many areas are in drought), and forests have been growing back in Russia and former Soviet states on abandoned farmland, for example.

China’s Great Green Wall

The biggest increase in biomass comes from northern China’s Great Green Wall, called the largest ecological engineering project ever undertaken.  

China Great Green Wall
NASA

Every citizen over the age of 11 is required to plant at least three trees a year in an effort to hold back the Gobi Desert. An incredible 66 billion trees have been planted across 100,000 square miles since 1978. When the project is finished in 2050, it will stretch over 2800 miles along the edges of China’s deserts. It will increase the world’s forest cover by more than 10%.

Rampant logging and overgrazing are the cause of desertification. Sand blows into cities, coating roads and everything in sight. Sadly, just 2% of China’s virgin forests remain and more than 25% of the country is now desert.

Is this enormous planting project is a good thing? We have long wondered about tree planting projects. Which trees are they planting? Are they being mixed in such a way that they form ecosystems – or is this a gigantic tree farm? What impact does planting a forest have on land that is composed of grass and shrub?

It turns out our fears are correct. The Great Green Wall has been planted mostly with easy to grow non-native pines, poplars and eucalyptus – tree farms that are unsuitable for the soil, and prone to disease. One pest wiped out 1 billion poplar trees in 2000 – two decades of planting efforts, reports The Economist, and in arid areas trees aren’t even appropriate – they suck up the groundwater, killing grasses that bind the soil.

This mismanagement is hopefully coming to end – the government has begun to bring back native species instead.

Satellite images do show the forest is increasing the amount of stored carbon, removing it from the atmosphere. All told, the world’s vegetation is absorbing about 25% of carbon emissions.

A Great Green Wall is also being planted across the southern edge of the Sahara in Africa.   

Read our article, Some Good News: Forests Are Being Restored.

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