Here’s some positive news – and observations of ways we can change to protect and actually enhance our home, planet Earth.
• • • • • • • •
NASA Happily Reports the
Earth is Greener, with More
Trees Than 20 Years ago –
Thanks to China, India
Feb 12, 2019
This research was published online
in the journal Nature Sustainability.
The world is literally a greener place than it was 20 years ago, and the data from NASA satellites has revealed a counterintuitive source for much of this new foliage: China and India.
This surprising new study shows that the two emerging countries with the world’s biggest populations are leading the improvement in greening on land. The effect stems mainly from ambitious tree planting programs in China and intensive agriculture in both countries. In 2017 alone, India broke its own world record for the most trees planted after volunteers gathered to plant 66 million saplings in just 12 hours.
The greening phenomenon was first detected by researchers using satellite data in the mid-1990s, but they did not know whether human activity was one of its chief, direct causes.
This new insight was made possible by a nearly 20-year-long data record from a NASA instrument orbiting the Earth on two satellites. It’s called the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, and its high-resolution data provides very accurate information, helping researchers work out details of what’s happening with Earth’s vegetation, down to the level of 500 meters, or about 1,600 feet, on the ground.
Taken all together, the greening of the planet over the last two decades represents an increase in leaf area on plants and trees equivalent to the area covered by all the Amazon rainforests. There are now more than two million square miles of extra green leaf area per year, compared to the early 2000s – which amounts to a 5% increase. Chi Chen of the Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University and lead author of the study, said …
“China and India account for one-third
of the greening, but contain only 9% of
the planet’s land area covered in vegeta-
tion – a surprising finding, considering
the general notion of land degradation in
populous countries from overexploitation.”
An advantage of the MODIS satellite sensor is the intensive coverage it provides, both in space and time: MODIS has captured as many as four shots of every place on Earth, every day for the last 20 years.
Rama Nemani, a research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center and a co-author of the new work, said …
“This long-term data lets us dig deeper.”
“When the greening of the Earth was first
observed, we thought it was due to a
warmer, wetter climate and fertilization
from the added carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere, leading to more leaf growth
in northern forests, for instance.
“Now, with the MODIS data that lets us
understand the phenomenon at really
small scales, we see that humans are
China’s outsized contribution to the global greening trend comes in large part (42%) from programs to conserve and expand forests. These were developed in an effort to reduce the effects of soil erosion, air pollution and climate change. Another 32% there – and 82% of the greening seen in India – comes from intensive cultivation of food crops.
The land area used to grow crops – more than 770,000 square miles – is comparable in China and India and it has not changed much since the early 2000s; yet these regions have greatly increased both their annual total green leaf area and their food production. This was achieved through multiple cropping practices, where a field is replanted to produce another harvest several times a year. Production of grains, vegetables, fruits, and more have increased by about 35-40% since 2000 to feed their large populations.
How the greening trend may change in the future depends on numerous factors, both on a global scale and the local human level. For example, increased food production in India is facilitated by groundwater irrigation. If the groundwater is depleted, this trend may change. Nemani said …
“But, now that we know direct human
influence is a key driver of the greening
Earth, we need to factor this into our
climate models. This will help scientists
make better predictions about the be-
havior of different Earth systems, which
will help countries make better decisions
about how and when to take action.”
The researchers point out that the gain in greenness seen around the world, which is dominated by India and China, does not offset the damage from loss of natural vegetation in tropical regions, such as Brazil and Indonesia. The consequences for sustainability and biodiversity in those ecosystems remain, but overall, Nemani sees a positive message in the new findings. He said …
“Once people realize there’s a problem,
they tend to fix it. In the 70s and 80s in
India and China, the situation around
vegetation loss wasn’t good; in the 90s,
people realized it; and today things have
improved. Humans are incredibly resilient.
That’s what we see in the satellite data.”
• • • • • • • •
Given that most news follows the “If it bleeds, it leads” alarmist orientation of mainstream media, used to gain more attention, it’s comforting to see a positive report. However, the “problem” – global warming and destruction of our ecosystem – isn’t totally solved. China and India still do have huge amount of pollution, which is leading to vast amounts of health problems.
And the so-called “advanced” cultures still haven’t turned the corner and many are still debating whether or not there is global warming or climate change induced by mankind’s activity. The comment I like most is …
“Once people realize there’s a
problem, they tend to fix it.”
I’m not sure, especially in the U.S., that everyone in leadership agrees that there is a problem. And, perhaps even more importantly, that the time to act is now.
I was recalling the film, “High Noon” …
Everyone agreed that the danger was real … gunmen coming to town seeking revenge. (Actually – not everyone, as some in town were friends of the gunmen.) And everyone knew when the danger would happen, as their train arrived at “high noon.” Then it became a matter of courage … walking-the-talk, not just talking-the-talk in safe environments of like-minded people. Gary Cooper, the lead actor portraying a sheriff who was committed to maintaining a high quality-of-life for the town, stayed the course.
In terms of sustainability …
Even people who agree that a problem does exist, and that the problem has been caused by humankind’s lifestyle, can’t agree on when. There is no train scheduled to arrive at noon, so we have a more difficult time holding any feeling of emergency or urgency. And the profit-making corporations most contributing to the problem – and controlling our political leaders – may be assuming that technological innovation will save the day and that, meanwhile, they need profits to satisfy their stockholders.
For example …
When a major storm is coming, everyone heads to the supermarket to stock up on food until the storm passes. But to tell people that we may have a food crisis due to global warming and climate change, and that empty supermarket shelves “might not be restocked in a few days, when the storm passes” – few will believe the forecast, and take action.
And that leaves us vulnerable.
If we can take action – concrete action, now – that:
- Doesn’t detract from our current quality-of-life, so there’s no downside, and
- Provides a better chance for long-term quality-of-life,
Then why not take action now?
This report features increases in trees. Each of us can add to that, without needing support from corporations or politicians. And we can take additional actions as well. Even the archives of these blogs provide many actions we can take to increase our ability to enjoy a future quality-of-life experience without deterring from today’s. So the question is …
How many Gary Cooper’s do we have among us?