As a human species, we seem to be doing our best to overwhelm the natural balances of the earth: we waste about 1/3 of all food produced (and up to 40% in the U.S.), we cut down 46-58,000 square miles of forest a year, and scientists predict global temperature increases as high as 8.6° by 2100. Yet, despite ourselves, the earth is still trying to correct our mistakes.
Recent research published in Nature Climate Change shows that extended growing seasons in East Coast forests due to increasing temperatures actually increases the amount of carbon that the forests can absorb. Because the trees are “leafing out earlier in the spring” and holding onto leaves later into the fall, the forests have an extended time to undergo the photosynthesis process (which intakes carbon to make glucose, for those of us needing a 9th grade biology refresher). While increased temperatures also means increased respiration (a process that produces carbon dioxide), this study shows that the two processes together still create a net increase of carbon dioxide storage.
However promising this news may be, this research only accelerates the necessity to keep East Coast forests intact. Threats to our forests abound, including logging, biomass removal, fracking and natural gas infrastructure. The NOAA report on the study warns:
Forests may help reduce the growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide and slow future warming. But at the same time, climate change is increasing the vulnerability of many U.S. forests to fire, insect infestations, drought, and disease outbreaks. These disturbances raise the potential for large releases of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.
Protecting our forests, and forests worldwide, is critical to mitigate climate change and atmospheric carbon. Wild Virginia works everyday to preserve our Natural Forests, raising our voice against logging, pipelines, and habitat destruction. We’re anything but alone in this fight. Our friends at Dogwood Alliance are leading the charge against logging and biomass removal in Southern U.S. forests. Appalachian Voices fights against mountaintop removal coal mining, which strips mountain ecosystems in the Appalachian mountains. While our forests are doing their best to survive and adapt to man-made changes, we must ensure that these forests thrive.
The forests we protect, in turn, protect us.