Does planting more trees really help cool down the earth?

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ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) – The idea of planting more trees to combat climate change has been around for years based on the understanding that plants will absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which would help reverse the effects of a warming planet. Yes, protecting current forests and planting new ones is beneficial to the environment. However, scientists are saying we shouldn’t place all of our faith in the trees to solve our problems.

What if our already warming climate was making it more difficult for plants to absorb the carbon dioxide from the air?

Evidence has shown that in a hotter and drier world, it’s much more difficult for plants to absorb carbon dioxide and will end up actually absorbing less as time goes on. This means we can’t rely on planting more trees alone to help fight the warming curve.

If plants need carbon dioxide, wouldn’t more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere be beneficial for the environment?

We know that plants need the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for its own survival in order to undergo photosynthesis. With this in mind, it can be easy to say that climate change from the increase in carbon dioxide levels can be good for the environment. In a controlled and perfect world this can be true, but the process is a bit more complicated than that.

A recent article by the Yale Environmental review (YER) stated, “Adding CO2 to the atmosphere causes climate change, which in many ecosystems includes more frequent drought, rising temperatures, and increased susceptibility to fire, all of which make it harder for plants to draw carbon from the air.”

Increasing the amount of CO2 available in the air can help stimulate plant growth, but a warmer planet only creates more unfavorable conditions for plants to flourish, and in turn creates more dead plants that can “fuel the fire” of climate change.

Changing soil moisture from an increase in droughts are causing more plants to die, and causing the plants that are alive to be “too stressed” to absorb CO2 according to the Yale review.

“Despite the negative impact of climate change, plants as a whole continue to take in CO2. However, the models used in this research indicate that that will change around 2060, when plants will have reached their maximum ability to absorb carbon.”

Photo courtesy: phys.org

All in all, trees are necessary to support life on earth as they help store carbon and help cool the earth, but their ability to do so is changing over time, just as the climate is. This means relying on plants trees alone may not be the one and only solution to reverse the effects already made on the planet.

Did you know? When carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, approximately 50% remains in the atmosphere, while 25% is absorbed by land plants and trees, and the other 25% is absorbed into certain areas of the ocean? Data from sos.noaa.gov.

Related Earth Day and climate change stories:

~Meteorologist Christine Gregory

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