Moos’ Blog

Bio­di­ver­sity Counts!
Obser­va­tions and opin­ions con­cern­ing zoos, evo­lu­tion, nature con­ser­va­tion and the way we treat/​support the ecosys­tems which are sup­posed to serve us.


Will Earth’s resilience off­set human stu­pid­ity and exploitation?

pub­lished 25 Decem­ber 2011 | mod­i­fied 18 Decem­ber 2016

Two recently pub­lished stud­ies show that it could be that Mother Earth’s resilience mit­i­gates some aspects of cli­mate change. In the online jour­nal PloS ONE researchers reveal that forests not only can increase and decrease in size, but can also increase and decrease in den­sity. And it seems to be cor­re­lated. In fact, the researchers iden­ti­fied that forests world­wide, while forested areas shrank, grew denser. This higher den­sity means that more car­bon can be stored in forests of the same size. This could mit­i­gate the effect of emis­sions and removals of car­bon diox­ide from land use, land-​use change and forestry. Espe­cially, because the study shows that in almost all coun­tries with a tem­per­ate cli­mate the loss and decline of for­est area is stopped, more or less. In addi­tion, another study which is pub­lished in the jour­nal PNAS shows that cli­mate change itself could alle­vi­ate the effect of emis­sions and removals of car­bon diox­ide by warm­ing up the soil. The warmer soil tem­per­a­tures, which are expected in the course of cli­mate change in sev­eral regions, stim­u­late the gain of car­bon stored in trees as woody tis­sue, par­tially off­set­ting the soil car­bon loss to the atmos­phere. For the first time this has been shown in this 7-​year field experiment.

Of course these are inter­est­ing results, but should it make us less anx­ious about the effects of cli­mate change on our future? I am not con­vinced. Although it is good to see that our planet still can sur­prise us with even more resilience than shown already, this is not enough evi­dence for us to stop wor­ry­ing. Because we must not for­get the well-​known fact that a warmer cli­mate also causes more rapid decom­po­si­tion of the organic mat­ter in soil, lead­ing to increased car­bon diox­ide emis­sion in the atmos­phere. And we don’t know any­thing yet about the bal­ance between soil car­bon stor­age and soil car­bon loss due to the soil get­ting warmer. If the bal­ance is in favour of car­bon loss we are still los­ing the fight. More­over, when we rejoice our­selves over forests grow­ing denser and decline of for­est area in tem­per­ate cli­mate seem to be stopped, we still have to worry about the absolute mad­ness of Brasil­ian Con­gress pass­ing a law that envi­ron­men­tal­ists believe will trig­ger another wave of Ama­zon destruc­tion. This law gives favours the eco­nomic inter­ests of the influ­en­tial farm lobby and will set back recent progress in reduc­ing destruc­tion of the world’s largest for­est. This law will pro­vide amnesty to many farm­ers who have ille­gally cleared land. For­tu­nately, the country’s Sen­ate still have to debate and pass this law before it will be effec­tu­ated, but the influ­ence and power of the farm lobby is enor­mous. Who ordered the mur­der of Jose Clau­dio Ribeiro da Silva, an activist from the Ama­zon state of Para who was engaged in the fight against ille­gal logging.

You might be a lit­tle bit less scep­ti­cal about the future, but our planet’s resilience does not off­set human exploita­tion, of which the Brasil­ian exam­ple is an embar­rass­ing one.

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Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.


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