Wednesday 7 March 2018

Can Nature Save the World?

Warning - this is a long post with lots of links! 

Environmentalists tend these days to focus either on climate change and its impact on humanity or on nature and wild landscapes. Most tend to focus on climate change alone and very few tend to focus on both.

 Human activities have caused a 40 percent increase in carbon dioxide in the air since the industrial revolution. This has lead rightly to present concerns about climate change, which focus on changing the way we generate energy.  Renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean transport together receive nearly 30 times the amount of public investment than do  nature based solutions to climate change.

It is, of course, vital that we address how we generate our energy. However, human impacts not directly related to energy generation (including deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices) make a significant contribution to climate change (see this article on the Nature website).

According to a recent study published in the US based Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences natural actions, such as planting trees, could prove as effective in combating climate change as immediately ceasing to burn oil. Their results (also discussed in the previously mentioned Nature article) show that if implemented within the next 15 years, investment in twenty selected natural activities could cost-effectively reduce emissions by 11.3 billion tonnes of CO2 per year. This would account for 37 percent of the emissions reductions required to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius by 2030 — the benchmark outlined in the 2010 Paris Agreement.

Healthy forests and peatlands are particularly important as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Forests also help prevent soil erosion and regulate the water cycle. A recent study (see this article) led by researchers from Leipzig University and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), shows that many of these ecosystem functions perform better in forests with a larger number of different tree species. Their research shows that trees in more biodiverse forests grow faster, store more carbon and are more resistant to pests and diseases than trees in forests with fewer species of trees.

Healthy oceans too are vital as up to 90% of earth's CO2 is stored in and cycled through the oceans (see this report).

The UK Government Environment Agency has published papers on natural flood management, which you can read about here. Natural flood management includes such processes as restoring bends in rivers, changing the way land is managed so soil can absorb more water and creating saltmarshes on the coast to absorb wave energy.

The US Nature Conservancy Global Solutions website has an interesting section on natural climate solutions which you can read here.

Many of these solutions would fall under the umbrella of natural capital as described by Tony Juniper in his book What Nature Does for Britain (which I review here). There's also the much more (to me) controversial version of natural capital which defines nature purely in terms of its financial value, which is critiqued very well here.


Gwil W said...

No problem for the planet. We will destroy ourselves and also thousands of other life forms and bring on a nuclear winter but in some corner something will survive somehow. What will be the next to rule the world? Giant ants? Doesn't matter since we won't be here to find out.

RG said...

Good debate items!

Where I live, the large majority of people do not live in places where trees, wetlands, better estuaries and flood plains and other "nature-based" possibilities are near them or part of their daily lives. But using electricity and driving cars are and so that is where the opportunity for big improvement due to personal habits is.

Crafty Green Poet said...

That's a very good point, Rabbit's Guy. It does depend on what's possible locally and I'm not saying it's one or the other, just that too often the nature based solutions are overlooked

Gwil, that's remarkably pessimistic

Magyar said...

Too much rain in an open canoe, the canoe sinks. Our canoe is half full.

__ Something similar to what the Tunxis of central Connecticut may have said, during the seventeenth century.

RG said...

Well it does mean working harder and smarter to find how to make those nature items have value to the big city dwellers. It can be done, but not with our usual words and images and messages.