It has long been understood that forests are one of the most essential environmental elements to keeping CO2 in balance in our atmosphere. Covering almost a third of the planet’s surface, forests are the “lungs of the planet”, pulling carbon dioxide out of the air and returning oxygen to it.
“A single mature, leafy tree is estimated to produce a day’s supply of oxygen for anywhere from two to 10 people.”Russell McLendon, Mother Nature Network
For this reason, deforestation undestor caused by humans has been a central topic for protecting the environment and our climate. While the global forest cover has seen an uptick since the early 1980s, this is due to more tree growth in the “extratropics” than was possible in the past as these areas were too cold, even while we are seeing historic loss in tropical regions.
With this understanding, there has been a lot of focus recently on the impact of trees and forests, and how reforestation could be key to mitigating accelerated climate change. That focus, however, relies on planting new trees which are immature and require time to grow before they can achieve the desired result.
In a recent interview with Yale 360, William Moomaw (Professor Emeritus of International Environmental Policy at Tufts University) shared important new findings about the benefit of mature versus young trees for the emergent climate crisis.
“We’ve seen a lot of interest lately in planting more trees. And planting trees is great and it makes us all feel good and it’s a wonderful thing to do and we absolutely should be reforesting areas that have been cut. A recent paper talked about how we could plant more than a trillion trees on nearly a billion hectares of land and how much that would do to solve the problem. These are great things to do, but they will not make much of a difference in the next two or three decades because little trees just don’t store much carbon. Letting existing natural forests grow is essential to any climate goal we have,”Moomaw said.
In the interview, Moomaw goes on to talk about how this is an issue of forest management.
“…if we managed our forests and grasslands in a different way they could be sequestering twice as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they currently do. […] The most effective thing that we can do is to allow trees that are already planted, that are already growing, to continue growing to reach their full ecological potential, to store carbon, and develop a forest that has its full complement of environmental services,”said Moomaw.
This finding and approach are important for everyone to consider as we come together to address the increasing impact of climate change.
One way we can be protecting mature forests is to ensure that products we buy and use come from highly renewable resources and wood alternatives, such as bamboo. Encouraging companies in the furniture and building industries to do the same can also help.
We have the knowledge and understanding to do what is needed. We are grateful to be a part of the global sustainability movement that is facing this head on and ensuring we will have a livable planet for years to come.