Global Forest Area Has INCREASED 7.1% Since 1982, But The Media Won’t Report It

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Global Forest Area Has INCREASED 7.1 Percent Since 1982, But The Media Won't Report It
Image – Pixabay (PD)

Now I might not have believed this astonishing and highly controversial news, had I not seen it in one of the world’s top scientific journals – Nature.

However it is there, as plain as day: A 2018 study [1] analysed 35 years’ worth of satellite data in order to provide a comprehensive record of global land-change dynamics. But the result, like a tree that falls in the forest when no-one is around, seemed to make no sound…

It’s considered an accepted fact that deforestation due to human activity is causing huge loss of forest worldwide – and the fact that humans are cutting down large areas of trees is not in dispute, nor is the fact that clearcutting for cattle or cheap lumber products is an incredibly destructive waste of some of the world’s most diverse habitats.

But as with all things, in order to reach understanding, the full picture must be examined.

It turns out that the net loss in the tropics (60% due to direct human activity and 40% due to climate change) is being outweighed by net gain in temperate regions, leading to an overall net gain of 7.1%. Notably, these gains are attributed both to increased carbon dioxide (stimulates increased plant growth) and new forest forming from tundra in northern regions.

If you were to ask most people how much forest had been lost since 1982 they might estimate 25 or 50%. This study – and its lack of media coverage – completely overturns the prevailing view, illustrating how oversimplification, media bias, politicization and “the narrative” cause the public to develop views that are far from accurate.

How Many Trees Are There On Earth?

Recent estimates, utilizing “421,529 measurements from fifty countries on six continents” have revealed that the global number of trees is (2015) around 3.04 trillion, which is significantly higher than previous estimates. [2][3]

It is also estimated that approximately 15 billion trees are cut down each year and that the overall number of trees in the world is down approximately 46% since the beginning of human civilization.

The biggest forested areas in the world are the boreal forests of North America, Scandinavia and Russia is Taiga. These cover 6.6 million square miles (17 million square kilometers) – or 11.5% of the global land mass. [4]. Significant amounts of this forest are clearcut and then replaced with one species of tree. Major products created include toilet paper, newspaper and lumber.

The boreal forests are incredibly important to carbon storage. The Taiga stores huge quantities of carbon, more than the world’s temperate and tropical forests combined. Current estimates place boreal forests as storing twice as much carbon per unit area as tropical forests. [4]

Trees Act As A “Brake” On Global Warming

We are not saying ‘go ahead and clear fell as much as you like, no problem’. However it should be noted that forests can act as a “brake” on global warming. Further studies have shown that trees around the world are going through a “growth spurt” and are absorbing billions of tons of carbon dioxide, thus helping to restore equilibrium. [5]

The overall premise of this hypothesis is simple to understand; more CO2 in the air encourages plant growth, which absorbs more CO2. However it should be noted that this effect is not unlimited – and to balance CO2 levels would require that we maintain existing forests and plant new ones.

It should also be noted that the science is far more complex and nuanced than can be summarized in a few studies. There are even ways in which forests contribute to global warming! Forests have numerous complex and uncertain climate impacts that are rarely considered by policymakers, environmentalists and even scientists. Although trees do cool the planet by taking up CO2, they also emit a complex potpourri of chemicals including methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), some of which warm the planet. The dark leaves of trees also absorb sunlight, in the opposite manner that snow reflects sunlight – thus contributing to warming. [6]

In addition to damage from clearcutting, forests are prone to loss from insects, pathogens, forest fires and acid rain from sulphur pollution caused by industry.

References:

[1] Xiao-Peng Song et al. Global land change from 1982 to 2016. Nature volume 560, pages639–643 (2018)
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0411-9

[2] T.W. Crowther et al. Mapping tree density at a global scale. Nature volume 525, pages 201–205 (10 September 2015) https://www.nature.com/articles/nature14967

[3] “Global count reaches 3 trillion trees” – Nature (2015) https://www.nature.com/news/global-count-reaches-3-trillion-trees-1.18287

[4] Taiga – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiga

[5] https://www.nature.com/news/the-hunt-for-the-world-s-missing-carbon-1.17867

[6] How much can forests fight climate change? – Nature, 2019. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00122-z

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