The Value of Biosphere Earth, pt. 5: Vegetation Controls Climate
We need a wilderness-based, technological future. Here is some science.
The Value of Rich Ecosystems. Protecting and regrowing Earth’s nearly demolished wild ecosystems is our most realistic way of stopping and reversing the effects of climate change.[i] The rest of this paragraph will give a brief overview as to “why.” Unlike our technological solutions protecting and regrowing ecosystems not only absorbs and safely stores greenhouse gasses it rescues biodiversity, reduces extreme weather impacts, and helps secure our food system and the ongoing production of the ecosystem services we must have to thrive.[ii] Additionally, ecosystem stewardship and revitalization protects and restores two primary temperate climate system functions from local to global scale: cooling and irrigation. A cooler, less extreme, more stable climate could be attainable for Civilization within 5 to 15 years if we were to focus our vast resources on restoring lush, vegetated ecosystems on lands and in waters as fast as possible today.[iii]
Climate System Stability. Ecosystem quality is extremely influential over global moisture cycles.[iv](See graph top of this page.) Urbanized landscapes create heat and consume natural resources, but large, healthy ecosystems create natural resources and consume gargantuan amounts of heat, carbon, water, and other greenhouse gases to establish, regrow, mature, and persist.[v] Forests, which in this context can be thought of as giant plant systems, move the greatest volumes of moisture of land-based ecosystems: recharging below-ground hydrological systems, irrigating surface-level soils, plants, and animals (including humans), creating clouds, stimulating rainfall, and moving moisture via atmospheric river transport from coast to coast across continental interiors.[vi] It is well understood that without large contiguous forests, landscapes will drought within years.[vii] It is also likely that today’s rash of drought and wildfire events are being driven by forest fragmentation and the destruction of forest moisture cycling resources. Of the three major forest systems tropical forests are most influential on Earth’s climate, co-determining global precipitation regimes, weather quality, and temperature.[viii]
Tech Can’t Do This. Writ large, living ecosystems are constantly circulating moisture, across lands, under lands, over waters, and from miles below the ground to miles above.[ix] This moisture circulation benefit is an ecosystem service, which on land is driven nearly entirely by other life, from micro to macro. Science and practical experience (think urban heat island reduction) tell us that heavily vegetated ecosystems in hot climates create significant cooling in addition to creating beneficial moisture circulation.[x] Though Technology can help eliminate greenhouse emissions, it cannot replace the climate stabilization services provided by Earth’s life and living ecosystems. Furthermore, robust ecosystems help mitigate extreme drought, extreme temperatures, and extreme precipitation — protecting property, commerce, and lives in the human domain. The larger, richer, and more mature the locally appropriate vegetation is in an ecosystem, the greater our climate security.[xi]
Ecosystem services highlighted in this piece:
- Greenhouse gas absorption
- Greenhouse gas storage
- Biodiversity rescue
- Food system protection
- Ecosystem services protection
- Heat absorption
- Hydrological recharge
- Surface level irrigation
- Cloud creationPrecipitation stimulation
- Atmospheric moisture transport and circulation
- Local to global cooling
- Climate stabilization
- Extreme drought prevention and management
- Extreme temperature buffering and management
- Flood management
The next section in this paper will summarize current science on the carbon reduction potential of protecting and regrowing Earth’s land-based ecosystems.
Tomorrow’s negotiations for the global climate solution, COP 26, will be anchored in the idea that we need to reduce greenhouse gases as fast as we can via fossil-free energy and transportation. Yet, the climate change we’re already seeing is occurring predominantly because of Civilization’s of destruction of ecosystems.
Biodiverse, ecosystem infrastructure is human Civilization’s most basic requirement. The “biosphere”, Earth’s composition of life and living ecosystems, is our life-support system. This piece summarizes known science on the climate benefits of heavily vegetated ecosystems. No technology can provide a comparable suite of climate stabiliztion benefits.
Our climate solution and our way of life should be based in biospheric economics. Here are 5 priorities for biospheric advancement of our way of life, which mitigates and reverses climate change sustainably:
- Culture change, knowledge change, Indigenous empowerment — we all live in Biosphere Earth.
- Rebuilding wilderness infrastructure: Protect, Regrow, Reconnect, and Integrate natural ecosystems.
- Rapidly advancing resource efficiency, biodegradability, and cradle to cradle “circularity” to reduce our dependence on self-destructive economic models, e.g. fossil fuels, electric cars, plastics, and toxics.
- Mining landfills instead of ecosystems; sourcing copper and other metals, paper, bio-materials, glass, textiles, etc. for circular manufacturing and ecological restoration.
- Rapidly converting our food and waste systems to regenerative systems. Creating new, legacy industries that rebuild and enrich soil quality and thereby natural carbon absorption, drought tolerance, extreme weather resilience, biological productivity, biodiversity, freshwater containment, and other forms of ecosystem health.
There are more than 80 academic articles and studies referenced in the paragaphs above. View all citations here.
Other content in this series
- “Why” this series: 5-minute podcast
- 1: How old is Life? How old are Humans?
podcast, essay, science
- 2: What’s the most intelligent thing in the Universe?
podcast, essay, science
- 3: What’s the most valuable thing we have?
podcast, essay, science
- 4: Earth vs. the Universe
- Riffing on the New Paradigm:
A wilderness-based, technological future