In my freshman year biology class I learned about photosynthesis and the carbon cycle. Photosynthesis taught me that plants extract their nutrition from carbon dioxide and water with the help of sunshine, and this played a role in the carbon cycle (where carbon dioxide would in term be stored within plants and sediments).
In ninth grade I took these processes for granted, they didn’t really interest me. However, a process that is linked to both is that of carbon sequestration, a key aspect of both processes that I find fascinating. Carbon sequestration takes place when carbon dioxide is synthesized into a plant through photosynthesis and turned into biomass (wood, leaves, soil, etc), nature’s ability of limiting the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
The carbon cycle and photosynthesis are foundational processes of nature, meaning carbon sequestration has since been around. However, as humans increasingly pump billions of tons of carbon dioxide (and other pollution) into the atmosphere, nature’s natural remedy struggles to keep up. Even worse, humans have also made it more difficult for the Earth to heal itself as we fail to protect “our” forests (although carbon sequestration occurs throughout the environment in plants and other living organisms that utilize photosynthesis).
Forests naturally play two different roles in the carbon cycle. If a forest is healthy and expanding that means that it is increasingly absorbing carbon dioxide, photosynthesis levels also increase to feed the plants and trees. However, when a forest decays (of old age or insect attack) or is being cut down and burned (the most common…aka human activity), the carbon dioxide captured in the plants and trees is once again released into the atmosphere. As of August 2019, more than 80,000 fires burned in the Amazon, an increase of almost 80% from 2018, National Geographic reported. Under the current president, Brazil’s deforestation rates have soared due to the increasing greed for land and resources. Unfortunately, the economic demand for wood and land provided by forests leads to mass deforestation all over the world.
Deforestation should be a crisis critically regarded by world leaders when enforcing policies on corporations. By destroying the forests, who act as “carbon sinks” that help lower alarming carbon dioxide levels, we not only release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere but also make it impossible for it to be recaptured in that area (deforestation also displaces animals from their home and endangers thousands of species…but that’s for another article).
According to a study published by National Geographic, around 30 percent of annual carbon emissions are captured by global net forest growth. Notice that forests alone play a crucial role in reducing carbon dioxide in our atmospheres, while the role that the rest of plant life (and oceans) also provides massive contributions to the effort.
The World Bank estimates that about 3.9 million square miles (10 million square km) of forest have been lost since the beginning of the 20th century. In the past 25 years, forests shrank by 502,000 square miles (1.3 million square km) — an area bigger than the size of South Africa. In 2018, The Guardian reported that every second, a chunk of forest equivalent to the size of a soccer field is lost. It is estimated that over 906 thousand hectares of forest within the Amazon biome has been lost to fires in 2019.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that in 2017, the United States emitted 5.1 billion metric tons of energy-related carbon dioxide, while the global emissions of energy-related carbon dioxide totaled 32.5 billion metric tons. Realizing that the annual 32.5billion metric tons are only from energy related emissions…it is clear that humans are going to need all the help we can get, and recognizing nature as an ally is a crucial step in the right direction.
References: https://www.livescience.com/27692-deforestation.html, https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/how-much-carbon-dioxide-does-united-states-and-world-emit-each-year-energy-sources?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation/, https://www.unece.org/forests/outlook/carbonsinks.html