Trees are going up in China even as they are coming down along the Amazon and in Indonesia’s Sumatran and Kalimantan provinces. Vegetation is increasing in Russia as abandoned farmlands regrow their forests. And because of increases in rainfall – grasslands have increased in Australia, Africa and South America.

Collectively, the carbon storage capacity of this biomass has increased by 4 billion tons since 2003, according to a recent study published in the journal, Nature Climate Change. And China is leading the way with its Great Green Wall project located in Northern China.

Since 1978, Chinese citizens have been planting trees to stave off the creeping encroachment of the Gobi Desert. Thus far, it is estimated that at least 100,000 square miles of forest have been planted in what is generally considered the largest eco-engineering project on Earth. When the Great Green Wall is complete in 2050 – this intentional forest will stretch from northwestern China’s Xinjiang province through several northern regions to the country’s northeastern part, Heilongjiang province.

But is this really a good thing? Not everyone is convinced. Since the trees do not naturally grow where they are being planted, some scientists question whether they will soak up large amounts of groundwater needed by more drought resistant grass and shrubs that offer better erosion control. The long-term viability of the trees – as well as their overall impact on the ecosystem – are all unknown.

"The ecological issues are complex, and long-term results are not clear," said David Shankman, a professor emeritus of geography at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, as well as a prominent critic of China’s Green Great Wall project.

Collectively, China’s wall of trees, along with the aforementioned unexpected re-greening of other parts of the planet, offset about 50% of the loss in carbon storage caused by tropical deforestation. That’s certainly a big step in the right direction. However, as the authors of the study point out, the best way to reduce the destructive impact of global warming is to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

In 1925, Henry Ford told a New York Times reporter that, "There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented. There’s enough alcohol in one year’s yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the fields for a hundred years." So imagine waving fields of hemp (as Henry Ford once did) that could not only sequester carbon but also provide fuel for industry – thereby killing two birds, so to speak, without ever getting stoned.

News summary by Laurel Airica

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