What really makes the world go round?

Graphic modified by me, from D. Lawrence (2014).

This week I want to emphasize the two most recent chapters of The Value of Biosphere Earth series, in this super short synopsis.

Above is the key graphic from Vegetation Controls Climate, part 2. In a nutshell it shows: Forests are the most significant land-based, infrastructure when it comes to maintaining Earth’s temperate climate. Forests interact with the atmosphere over land to co-determine global moisture flows, from the clouds down. All vegetation has an effect on the climate, but Tropical Forests are overwhelmingly the most stabilizing and temperatizing when it comes to global rainfall and temperature. Learn more in this science brief.

And the graphic below, from Vegetation Controls Climate, part 1, simply shows vegetative moisture circulation at the local scale.

(Chris Searles, 2021)

Healthy ecosystems circulate moisture at all locations in the biosphere. In warm climates and warm seasons healthy ecosystems self-create and self-maintain cooling, irrigation, and hydrology to the best of their ability. There is vast genetic intelligence involved in these processes, as well as biotic mutualism, based on billions of years of genetic intelligence. This life-support-system reality is perhaps best summarized as “biotic regulation.” Forests, because they have the most stomata (the most leaves photosynthesizing), do the most circulating. Read 5-minute science brief.

Forests contain the most water of any land-based ecosystem, it’s how they survive. IMHO we should think of every organism and ecosystem as a “water containers,” first. Cells, plants, humans, we’re all varying versions of sacks of water. Trees are hard to beat in volume and scale of water content. Healthy soils and grasslands, of course, contain a lot of moisture and are vital to life and hydrological systems but they are not as influential on the atmosphere as open waters and forests. Tropical Rainforests have the most concentrated influence, again because they have the most stomata receiving the most sunlight at the hottest / wettest parts of the globe.

Stomata are the tiny pores (think mouths) on leaves that open and close during photosynthesis. (Shutterstock)

“The Leaves Are Tiny Pumps”

I’m thrilled to share this interview with Prof. Deborah Lawrence, who was the lead author on a breakthrough study showing how Tropical Forests influence the global climate. Dr. Lawrence is a Guggenheim fellow, a Fulbright scholar, professor of environmental science and director of the Environmental Thought and Practice program at University of Virginia, an adviser to the State Department, and much more.

Prof. Deborah Lawrence, from our recent interview. Click to play.

A great teacher, in the first 15 minutes of this podcast/interview, with me and Jared Michaels, she explains all of the above. She makes numerous iconic statements about Vegetation and Moisture. Here are a few of those as one paragraph:

Tree cover stabilizes climate. As a people, we need to protect large, large patches of forest… The atmosphere is all connected. Forests move a lot of moisture through their leaves. That sets up a bunch of dynamics in the atmosphere that come out of the Tropics and ultimately have ripple effects across the globe... Our planet depends on leaving these forests alone. I feel it is simple, hard, and utterly important... The Earth is sustaining us and we need to remember that everyday.

Summing Up

These are some of the reasons the COP26 Forests Declaration is exciting and really matters for achieving a global climate solution this decade. Technology cannot replace the local to global scale climate stabilization services generated by life-rich ecosystems, especially forests.

COP26 got commitments for, IMHO, the two most important table legs required for a realistic climate solution: 1) Reversing Deforestation by 2030 & 2) a Global Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ). COP26 also set the stage for faster fossil fuel reductions, and it seemed to be grounded in a new culture— that for a realistic global climate solution: Indigenous rights, ecosystems, and social equity come first.

Thanks for reading!

Other content in this series

Chris Searles is founder/director of BioIntegrity (biointegrity.net) and cofounder/exec. editor of AllCreation.org (allcreation.org).