Forest Conservation Policy

Forests Play a Complex But Crucial Role in the Climate Change Equation

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Usually when we talk about climate change and what we can do to mitigate its impacts, we talk about ways to cut back carbon emissions through alternatives, or policy actions, or efficiency measures. We usually don’t think about the role that forests play in this equation. The fact is, forests absorb much of the carbon that our cars, and homes, and power plants emit—about a third of it, actually. That means that if we had three times as much forest as we do today, which, of course we did, not that long ago, we wouldn’t have that big of a problem keeping our climate the way it’s been for a long time.

Of course, forests take a long time to grow and we don’t exactly have millions of acres sitting around, doing nothing, that we can turn into forests. If anything, things are going the other way. Forests are continuously being turned into farmland to feed the growing population. The point is to recognize the important role that forests do play in this unfolding tale of our battle against time in the face of a climate that is becoming unstable.

The relationship is a complicated one, but it’s important that people understand it. Because of the vast amounts of carbon stored in forests, that means that all that carbon is slowly released when a forest is cut down, or very quickly released when a forest burns down.  One study found that deforestation was responsible for 8% of the world’s carbon emissions. Another interaction to consider is the fact that climate change is posing a significant threat to forests through warmer temperatures, droughts, and northward migration of insect pests, emboldened by the warmer temperatures. A recent report in the NY Times described a threat to the aspen trees of the American west, brought on by climate change-induced drought. Drought can also increase the likelihood of forest fires.

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