Are trees the kryptonite of climate change deniers?

Many climate deniers don’t deny specifically the fact that greenhouse gases create the greenhouse effect which allows life on Earth to exist. They prefer to argue that we’re burning an insignificant amount of carbon to impact the climate of the planet. After all, how could we, little humans, affect the climate of a giant planet like Earth ? I would like to take a step back from the usual debate around climate science and talk about trees. I think that forests can show us in a very clear that we’re, beyond any doubt, capable of affecting and disturbing the planet’s climate. The burning of fossil fuels is a much more abstract process than the destruction of the forests and I think that most people can understand the role that deforestation plays in climate change in a more direct way than the role of burning oil and gas. Of course I’m not naive, people who deny that humans are disturbing the climate for ideological reasons are not persuaded by facts.

Trees are air-conditioners…

First of all, I don’t think think that anybody would dare to deny the effects of forests on the local climate. I cannot think of any honest way of doing this.  Whether you’re a climate denier or not, if you have been in a forest, you would know how different it feels to be under the shade of the trees and to be out in the open under the scorching sun. But trees do much more to affect the local climate than just provide shade. Forests play an absolutely essential role in the water cycle. Many places on Earth would be arid deserts if it wasn’t for trees who bring moisture from the oceans and create rain much deeper in the landmass. The water that is constantly evaporating through their leaves condenses into the sky as clouds.

Through a process called transpiration, a large tree in the Amazon can release 1,000 liters of water into the atmosphere in a single day…. hundreds of billions of trees in the jungle release as many as 20 billion metric tons of water into the atmosphere every day /source/ This process is so powerful and essential, that the biggest river on Earth is an invisible river that runs in the sky above the Amazon !

And we’re destroying them…

So even we ignore the fact that forests store vast amounts of carbon and that by burning them we release this carbon back into the atmosphere, we can all agree that cutting down forests changes the climate dramatically. Without  the water they transport inland the rainfall is not the same. Without trees many lush forests wouldn’t just be pastures, they would be arid deserts. Lets put all of this into perspective. since humans started to expand from Africa we’ve destroyed around half of the world’s forests. On a geological scale this has been the blink of an eye, especially considering that most of this deforestation occurred in the last 200 years. How could anyone argue that this is not affecting the climate ?

Many people would also argue that burning fossil fuels and releasing more CO2 in the atmosphere is good for the forests. After all CO2 is food for trees… The problem is that we’re releasing much more carbon than the trees can store, especially considering that we’re cutting down their ability to store it by devastating the existing  forests. Furthermore, the instability of the climate that we’re creating hinders the ability of the forests to function properly. We’re living in an era where we’re observing forest fires in tropical forests…

Of course, climate change is much more than deforestation, but I wanted to point out this aspect because I believe that even the most fervent climate deniers can’t deny the obvious link between the climate of the Earth, the forests, and oceans.

The sky is made by life…

By destroying life on Earth we’re inevitably disturbing the atmosphere. Let’s meditate on this fascinating quote from Carl Sagan :

“By one billion years ago, plants, working cooperatively, had made a stunning change in the environment of the Earth. Green plants generate molecular oxygen. Since the oceans were by now filled with simple green plants, oxygen was becoming a major constituent of the Earth’s atmosphere, altering it irreversibly from its original hydrogen-rich character and ending the epoch of Earth history when the stuff of life was made by nonbiological processes. But oxygen tends to make organic molecules fall to pieces. Despite our fondness for it, it is fundamentally a poison for unprotected organic matter. The transition to an oxidizing atmosphere posed a supreme crisis in the history of life, and a great many organisms, unable to cope with oxygen, perished. A few primitive forms, such as the botulism and tetanus bacilli, manage to survive even today only in oxygen-free environments. The nitrogen in the Earth’s atmosphere is much more chemically inert and therefore much more benign than oxygen. But it, too, is biologically sustained. Thus, 99 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere is of biological origin. The sky is made by life.

 


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