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Debate: Reforestation as a solution to global warming

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Should reforestation be a central strategy in combating climate change?

Background and context

Reforestation is the restocking of existing forests and woodlands which have been depleted, with native tree stock.
The term reforestation can also refer to afforestation, the process of restoring and recreating areas of woodlands or forest that once existed but were deforested or otherwise removed or destroyed at some point in the past. The resulting forest can provide both ecosystem and resource benefits and has the potential to become a major carbon sink. The concept of forests as carbon sinks has drawn attention around reforestation as a possible tool in the fight against global climate change. Because trees draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the process of photosynthesis, they can potentially remove this excess greenhouse gas from the atmosphere and help fight global warming. The main question in this public debate is whether reforestation should be emphasized in strategies to combat global warming. Subsequent questions include whether it can have a significant effect in reducing atmospheric greenhouse gases and offsetting current emissions. Can reforestation have an immediate, medium-term, and long-term impact in reducing emissions? Does reforestation have the effect of releasing methane gas upon the decomposition of forests? Is reforestation a competitive approach to combating global warming compared to the alternatives? Is there enough land for major global reforestation projects? Should this approach be emphasized in plans to combat global warming?

Contents

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Atmospheric C02: Can reforestation help cut atmospheric C02 levels?

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Yes

That sounds like a way of enhancing your yard and giving polar bears a future, until you dig a little deeper.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a two-person household in the United States is responsible for releasing 41,500 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air annually through the direct and indirect burning of fossil fuels.
To offset that entirely, you would have to plant 483 young trees and wait 10 years, the EPA says."
Govindasamy Bala, lead author of a 2006 Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory study on - "Our study shows that tropical forests are very beneficial to the climate because they take up carbon and increase cloudiness, which in turn helps cool the planet."[1]


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No

  • Increasing droughts impairs carbon sequestration by trees "Trees Won't Fix Global Warming". Climate Progress - "One researcher [of a Duke University Study] noted, 'If water availability decreases at the same time that carbon dioxide increases, then we might not have a net gain in carbon sequestration.' Well, climate change is projected to decrease water availability in many parts of the world, including the American West. If water availability decreases at the same time that carbon dioxide increases, then we might not have a net gain in carbon sequestration."


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Economics: Is reforestation economical and feasible?

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Yes


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No

  • Reforestation less cost-effective than reducing emissions Professor John Shepherd, director of Britain's Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, said in 2001, "Our view is that the argument is being diverted into what is really a rather unproductive area and people should get back to talking about carbon emission reductions at source by use of renewable (fuels) and whatever else they think is necessary."[3]
Ken Caldeira, a co-author of a 2006 study from the Carnegie Institution on reforestation and global warming - "Our study shows that preserving and restoring forests is likely to be climatically ineffective as an approach to slow global warming. To prevent climate change, we need to transform our energy system. It is only by transforming our energy system and preserving natural habitat, such as forests, that we can maintain a healthy environment. To prevent climate change, we must focus on effective strategies and not just ‘feel-good’ strategies."[4]
It had previously been suggested that rising concentrations of the gas would boost plant growth and, with it, the amount of carbon dioxide plants absorb.
But two US-based teams — led by Johan Six of the University of California at Davis and Peter Reich at the University of Minnesota — say this is a false hope.
Insufficient amounts of nitrogen gas, they say, will limit plant growth regardless of how much extra carbon dioxide is available.
Nitrogen levels, also essential for plant growth, are not rising as fast as those of carbon dioxide. This means there is a limit to how fast plants can grow, and therefore how much carbon dioxide they can absorb, say the researchers."


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Pro/con sources

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Yes


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No


See also

External links and resources

  • Adams, R., D. Adams, J. Callaway, C. Chang, and B. McCarl. 1993. “Sequestering Carbon on Agricultural Land: Social Cost and Impacts on Timber Markets.” Contemporary Policy Issues XI(1): 76-87.
  • Alig, R., D. Adams, B. McCarl, J.M. Callaway, and S. Winnett. 1997. “Assessing Effects of Mitigation Strategies for Global Climate Change with an Intertemporal Model of the U.S. Forest and Agriculture Sectors.” Environmental and Resource Economics 9: 259-274.
  • Cropper, M.L., and W.E. Oates. 1992. “Environmental Economics: A Survey.” Journal of Economic Literature 30: 675-740. De Jong, B., R. Tipper, and G. Montoya-Gomez. 2000. “An Economic Analysis of the Potential for Carbon Sequestration by Forests: Evidence from Southern Mexico.” Ecological Economics 33(2000): 313-327.
  • Dudek, D. and A. LeBlanc. 1990. "Offsetting New CO2 Emissions: A Rational First Greenhouse Policy Step." Contemporary Policy Issues 8: 29-42.
  • Karin Bäckstrand, Eva Lövbrand. "Planting Trees to Mitigate Climate Change: Contested Discourses of Ecological Modernization, Green Governmentality and Civic Environmentalism." February 2006


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