A recent article published on NASA’s website (link) revealed that over the last 20 years the Earth got greener, mainly because of India and China. On the surface, this sounds like great news, but once we dig deeper into their findings we see that there is not so much to celebrate. Of course, many media outlets took that story and turned it into something that is supposed to make us feel great, or they spun it to suppory their own narratives. You’ll find a link to a ridiculous conspiracy article at the end of this post. Unfortunately, the real story is much less exciting.
First of all, NASA’s article talks about greening. When we think of green, forests and natural ecosystems come to our mind. But when we read the original article we find out that they are speaking about total leaf cover, which includes intensive agriculture. Apparently, 82% of the greening in India is related to the expansion of intensive agriculture. Some of this increase in agricultural output can be attributed to better agricultural practices, like crop rotations, but let’s not forget that over the same period of time the consumption of fertilizers increased significantly, by around 80 % (I’m not claiming that the two figures are directly correlated). (source)
Around 40% of the greening in China has been attributed to the planting and conservation of trees. This sounds really good, but once again, when we look under the surface of this fact we find an underwhelming picture. The Chinese government is actively subsidizing the plantation of new trees, but its policy has many flaws. The vast majority of the new trees planted in China are from the same species. Thus, the new growth looks much more like monoculture plantations, than a healthy forest ecosystem. It turns out the Chinese government failed to recognize the difference between a plantation and a forest. Animal and plant species are well “aware” of that difference. They have evolved to live in forests and this new environment bears little resemblance to their natural habitats and doesn’t provide them with the conditions they need to thrive. In some cases, people even destroyed existing forests in order to receive the money for planting new trees. (Source)
I don’t want to claim that no progress was made so far. Both China and India are planting unprecedented amounts of trees, and that’s great. It’s clear that when we are determined we can positively impact the environment on large scales. We have to learn from our mistakes, adapt and move forward. But, if you see that story circulating on the Internet don’t be fooled by the exciting headlines made by companies that care much more about getting clicks than reporting the truth in a serious manner (check out this horribly misleading article). Read the original article published by NASA and draw your conclusions.
Steve the Bartender