The world continues to search for ways to fight climate change, and scientists are turning to forests for the answer. The belief that forests may hold the key to slowing climate change is based on the process by which trees survive; photosynthesis. This process captures carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and then stores carbon in plant tissue until the tree dies2, but deforestation threatens this.
The Role of Carbon Capture and Storage in Climate Science
Carbon dioxide is one of many harmful greenhouse gases building up in Earth’s atmosphere. Subsequently, these gases trap heat inside the planet. In turn, this results in temperature rise around the world. This is often referred to as ‘global warming’3. Carbon capture seeks to remove carbon dioxide from the air.
The main driver of increasing carbon emissions is human activity. We produce CO2 emissions from activities such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation4. Preserving forests by protecting against deforestation provides a unique opportunity to help reduce the impacts of climate change.
The Relationship Between Deforestation and Carbon Dioxide
In recent decades, growing demand for food, fuel and other resources has led to increased deforestation around the world. Tropical forests have been hard-hit, with the Amazon rainforest in Brazil losing about 17% of its land area in the last 50 years. That’s about 27 football fields a minute5. Much of this deforestation occurred to make space for cattle ranches, and the scale of these activities are only adding to the ongoing environmental issues.
This may seem harmless, or it may seem a novel way of meeting demand. The reality is, however, that tropical deforestation on this scale encourages warming. Felling forests decreases the number of living trees. This means less trees exist to absorb dangerous greenhouse gases. In turn, CO2 levels in the air increase and global temperatures rise6. Also, some deforestation does not aim to collect felled wood. Instead, burning of the wood clears the land. When carbon inside these trees is released back into the atmosphere, this also raises CO2 levels in the air7. To put this into perspective, global felling contributed around 7.5 billion tonnes of CO2 to the air in 2017. That’s nearly 50 percent more than all energy-related CO2 emissions in the USA for the same time period.8
1The Lungs of the Earth, CBN News
2What is Photosynthesis, Smithsonian Science Education Center, 12 April 2017
3Global warming and carbon dioxide through sciences, Environment International, 28 August 2008
4What is the Relationship Between Deforestation and Climate Change?, Rainforest Alliance, 12 August 2018
5Deforestation and Forest Degradation, World Wildlife Fund
6How Does Deforestation Affect the Air?, Sciencing, 16 May 2018
7Deforestation and Climate Change, Climate Council, 21 August 2019
8Earth’s forests are being cut down. And they are being cut down fast, The World Counts