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.