Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Trees are the earth's lungs

Posted By on Tue, Oct 19, 2010 at 12:13 PM

We've known this for some time. In fact, when the subject comes up, people usually point to the Amazon's rain forest. But, even though we understand vegetation sucks up carbon and returns oxygen to the atmosphere, we seem to forget that fact.

Take, for instance, North Carolina's utility regulators deciding it is A-OK for power plants, like Duke Energy, to cut down trees and burn them — an act that returns carbon to the air — for fuel. That's how we used trees thousands of years ago. Eventually we learned our lesson and moved on to better technologies. But, humans have short memories ... so, here we go again. Tag this one as #dumbfuckery.

Something else to consider: We create massive amounts of carbon while cutting down trees. Eventually, the trees — the earth's lungs — simply won't be able to keep up and our air quality will suffer more than it currently does.

From DailyClimate.org:

U.S. forests offset roughly 11 percent of the nation's industrial greenhouse gas emissions, storing "significant amounts" of carbon that would otherwise pollute the atmosphere, according to new government data.

The findings, released last week, estimate the nation's expanding forests sequester an additional 192 million metric tons of carbon annually due to increases in both the total area of forest land and the amount of carbon stored per acre.

That's the equivalent of removing about half the cars on the roads nationwide, or almost 135 million vehicles.

But as emissions increase and the planet warms, that storage capacity could be compromised, scientists warn.

Warmer summers, changing precipitation patterns and a thinning snow pack are already "aridifying" Western forests, University of Montana Professor Steven Running said during a conference here last week. The combination imperils the health of vast swathes of the western landscape, he warned.

"We think of range as having a 'carrying capacity' - you put too many cows on a pasture and they all get skinny because they don't have enough to eat," he said at a meeting of the Society of Environmental Journalists. "It's the same principle for our forests."

Read the rest of this article, by Douglas Fischer, here.

Further reading:

Here's musician Rich Wyman on trees being the lungs of the earth: "I think we all have to be responsible."

Rhiannon "Rhi" Bowman is an independent journalist who contributes snarky commentary on Creative Loafing's CLog blog four days a week in addition to writing for several other local media organizations. To learn more, click the links or follow Rhi on Twitter.

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