Nature’s Secret Weapon – Super Trees from Carbon Fertilization
While fossil fuels continue to be turned into fumes and wealth, trees quietly live their exceedingly long lifespans, sheltering and feeding the creatures that live among them. Ironically, the very things we are doing to kill the planet are making our trees grow bigger and faster and store more carbon than ever.
Grant Brown, Founder, Happy Eco News
As a species, we know we are overshooting the planet’s ability to sustain us long-term. Even though we are not yet fully committed to correcting this problem, at least not on all fronts, thankfully, we will soon be making large strides towards net neutrality. But that is not enough. To prevent large-scale human migration and vast economic losses, we must go beyond neutral to net-negative – storing far more carbon than we emit.
Trees will help, and they are a major part of the path forward to net-negative. In a wonderful twist of irony and fate, it appears that trees are now growing bigger and faster than ever before. The process is known as carbon fertilization and results from the human-caused excess carbon in our atmosphere. Trees, as we know them, evolved to their current size, shape and climate tolerance based on thousands of years of relatively stable carbon levels in the atmosphere. But now, modern vegetation is about 20% to 30% bigger than it used to be.
According to a peer-reviewed scientific study from Ohio State University and the USDA, trees benefit from the carbon imbalance causing global warming and climate change. This is no small thing; in some species, the increase is up to 30%. When extrapolated across all the forests in the world, this makes trees an even more powerful tool to reduce carbon in the atmosphere and store it in wood and soil where it belongs.
The trees that showed the highest increase were in the temperate zones, where the local temperatures were warmer than closer climates where the trees were exposed to more cold-weather stress. The increases were very similar when comparing natural forests and those planted or reforested. Still, the planted forests had higher tree density overall and thus reported greater total gains.
This is important because most of the data used in carbon sequestration models are based on historical data from older forests. Using this new data, we might find that the path to limiting our global temperature increase to 1.5° is not as long as we expected – maybe even 30% shorter! It also shows that while natural forests are better for various reasons, including biodiversity and total volume of carbon stored, human-planted forests have a big role to play and can benefit the environment.
This is a significant discovery that has far-reaching implications. It does not mean that we can continue to pollute our atmosphere indefinitely but further reinforces the notion that nature has a huge tenacity to protect itself. Nature has deep reserves of resilience in ways we never expected and the ability to regenerate and recover from the damage we inflict upon her.
It is wonderful to know that trees, the beings that have given so much to humanity, are there for us once again, this time to help fight climate change.
Take action and plant some trees!