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Sun Jun 28, 2020, 02:25 PM

Afforestation falls short as a biodiversity strategy

An opinion piece in this week's issue of the journal Science comments on the proposal to address climate change by planting oodles of trees: Afforestation falls short as a biodiversity strategy
(Susana Gómez-González1,2,*, Raúl Ochoa-Hueso1, Juli G. Pausas3, Science 26 Jun 2020: Vol. 368, Issue 6498, pp. 1439)

I believe it's open sourced.

An excerpt:

The recent EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 (1) recognizes the importance of biodiversity for increasing our resilience to natural disasters and pandemics and, thus, for human well-being. Although it proposes ambitious measures such as reversing pollinator decline and controlling invasive species, it also introduces the ill-advised idea of planting 3 billion trees.

Massive tree plantation programs (2, 3) have been strongly criticized by the scientific community for their negative ecological and economic impacts and their limited role in climate change and CO2 mitigation (4–8). The specific number of trees proposed in the EU Strategy suggests a lack of a serious, science-based ecological assessment of actual restoration needs. Meeting such a target could threaten biodiverse treeless ecosystems (4, 6, 7, 9) and would waste an opportunity to implement ecologically sound management practices to restore fully functionally integrated mosaics of natural, seminatural, and sustainable agricultural ecosystems.

Massive tree planting could also substantially change the fire regime, especially given the increasing frequency of heat waves and droughts in an area with high population density (10). The probability of large intense fires that threaten biodiversity and human assets is largely influenced by the type, amount, and continuity of biomass...


I personally believe that biomass can play a constructive role in removing carbon dioxide, if, and only if, it is does so safely in an environmentally sustainable manner. Let's be clear, combusting biomass is neither safe nor sustainable, but there are many things to recommend using the large surface areas that biomass can accommodate in a setting of pyrolysis or steam reformation.

However biodiversity is important, and strategies like making monoculture palm oil plantations out of rain forests to generate "renewable biodiesel" doesn't cut it, nor does destroying the ecosystem of the Mississippi delta to make "renewable corn ethanol," nor does putting service roads through virgin forests to install and haul away wind turbines every twenty years with diesel trucks doesn't cut it.

Possibly the authors are on to something.

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Reply Afforestation falls short as a biodiversity strategy (Original post)
NNadir Jun 28 OP
kurtcagle Jun 28 #1
NNadir Jun 28 #2
CatLady78 Jun 28 #3
cstanleytech Jun 29 #4
NNadir Jun 30 #5

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sun Jun 28, 2020, 02:48 PM

1. True remediation is complex

And complexity is hard to sell and easy to corrupt. Surface remediation as a strategy is more palatable to corporations than simply not exploiting the resources in the first place because it's good PR that requires comparatively little investment while pushing off the bigger problems into the future (where they can be presumably pushed off to the social commons).

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Response to kurtcagle (Reply #1)

Sun Jun 28, 2020, 02:53 PM

2. I absolutely agree. I've been thinking and about direct air capture of carbon dioxide...

for several decades now, at an accelerating pace, and I understand the complexity of engineering task. I believe remediation is on the nexus of feasibility, but only if we wake up. There is no evidence that we are waking up.

In the political sphere, on the right but also among us on the left, there is a disgusting tendency to put the issue off until some nebulous (and ever changing) year (among us) or do simply deny it at all (on the right.) Neither attitude is just.

History will not forgive us, nor should it.

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Response to NNadir (Reply #2)

Sun Jun 28, 2020, 03:28 PM

3. Yep

I try not to be an eco pessimist and to go through the right motions myself at least. But I am starting to wonder if we will ever wake up to the gravity of the environmental crises facing us. Mostly I have a gloomy feeling that we won't do much beyond a few cosmetic changes...

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Mon Jun 29, 2020, 08:40 AM

4. Whats your thoughts for developing genetically modified kelp forests or some other ocean based plant

for locking down excess carbon rather than land based which is dependent on getting adequate rain?

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Response to cstanleytech (Reply #4)

Tue Jun 30, 2020, 07:07 PM

5. Genetically modified organisms have been piloted by a failed company, albeit in a desert.

It was founded by super genius Venture Capitalist David Berry of Flagship Ventures.

He gave a lecture some years ago at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, one of the first Andlinger lectures I attended, back when it was still held in the Friend Center, before the Andlinger got it's own building. It was when Emily Carter was still heading it.

(It was before I knew who Emily Carter was, in fact.)

Dr. Berry claimed they'd stripped all the metabolic functions out of some organism except those that made biofuels. Dr. Carter asked him if was biodiesel, and he said no, the product was alkanes.

That was around the time that I was coming to the realization that super geniuses could still advance ideas that were, um, to say the least, questionable. I'm kind of proud of having not bought into it for a New York minute.

The company Joule Unlimited said it was going to make 20,000 gallons/year/acre of solar biofuel. If you do the calculation, you can discover that to supply the United States with its petroleum consumption, one would need two or so Arizona's devoted to Joule plants.

(They did build a pilot plant.)

The company failed when it couldn't raise money, because dangerous fossil petroleum had become so cheap, at least according to their press release.

Biomass, in particular oceanic biomass, has some role to play, I think, but it's probably relatively limited.

I did a calculation here on Sargassum, which is undergoing explosive growth, and was disappointed with the result, to be sure:

The Very Modest Carbon Capture Potential of the Massive Sargassum Blooms.

I do have some elaborate ideas on this point, involving the interesting properties of supercritical water, but I'm not sure that they will amount to all that much, particularly after I made myself do the Sargassum calculation. I do believe that any attempt to recover carbon dioxide from the air will be most workable if seawater is the intermediate.

There is no way that cleaning up the atmosphere is a slam dunk. It is a very, very, very difficult problem, and I've seen nothing in the last twenty years, except in somewhat obscure academic groups, Christopher Jones at Georgia Tech for instance, that indicates we are taking it seriously.

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