Should we plant a trillion trees around the world to save the nature?

    14 Jul 2021

    In the previous article, we talked about how agriculture has a detrimental effect on ecosystems, especially the last steppes in Europe. Let us now dwell in more detail on some of the harmful practices of agriculture. Oleksiy Vasyliuk, a zoologist and chairman of the UNCG NGO, helps us with this.

    Pesticides

    There is an eco-movements to ban pesticides. 

    Pesticides used to kill insects in fields or forests can be viral or chemical.

    Viral ones are much more expensive and should only work on a specific species. It is complex; farmers can use them only when there is an outbreak of a particular species, and this drug will affect only this species and will not affect all others.

    Insect chemicals are, in simple words, poison. And all living things on the field are poisoned. That is, we humans are also poisoned. A person just needs a larger dose of poison. Why are all people who spray pesticides always wearing masks? Because they can also die from them.

    Pollution of the environment

    This phenomenon isn’t necessarily about plastic bottles and plastic bags. There is also animal farms waste. The same chemicals used to cultivate agricultural land can also be called “pollution.” Also, there’s transport pollution.

    Dust storms after the destruction of the soil

    Dust storms are now occurring not only in the Persian Gulf and the United States but also in Eastern Europe. Such a storm occurs under a difficult coincidence. First comes a long period of drought. The soil becomes completely dry at some depth. When there was no dew, when the ground is open enough, and there is no continuous vegetation, the wind gradually blows the soil. Each grain of sand knocks out the next. For the same reason, the Egyptian Great Sphinx of Giza now has no face (except for cannonballs fired by the army of Napoleon Bonaparte, of course). His face was simply wiped with sand for centuries. As a result, the sand rises to a height of two to five kilometers. The solid wall of sand begins to move.

    A dust storm in Europe consists of a displaced fertile layer of soil. This is not sand, as in the Middle East. The desert is where it has been, not where the wind carries the dust.

    Why is this problem related to climate change? Because the more climatic zones move to the north, the longer the dry periods become. Conditions for the dust storm are created when there is just a long period of drought, and there is a chance that a good wind will start to take the soil. And desertification, by definition, is the loss of a fertile layer of soil. Dunes from Africa do not migrate to Europe, bypassing the sea, not at all. Desertification rushes and its fastest way are dust storms.

    On a global scale, it is not a catastrophe. In David Attenborough’s film “Our Planet, One Planet” (2020), there is a whole section about dust storms. 

    When they settle in the world’s oceans, they fill them with organic matter. The ocean “lives”; life in it is reproduced due to dust storms.

    But if Europe did not have such intensive agriculture, dust storms would not take away the latter. In the case of Eastern Europe, they remove just the remnants of the soil after years of cultivation.

    The climate change clock knocked down

    As we mentioned in this article, climate change causes some European trees to bloom and insects to wake up in winter. These trees will no longer bloom in the spring.

    I liked the meme that “Birds have never made such a senseless flight to the South.” And this is really so! Many species that may or may not fly, such as the Great Egret, may fly from Eastern Europe very far to the south and may remain. In 2019-2020 the heron remained. Because it is a species that can modify its behavior depending on climatic conditions. For example, swans remain in autumn and winter in Eastern Europe until the ponds freeze.

    Those species that may not change their behavior so much may not survive one year due to climate change. In autumn, they will still be alive, but in spring, humanity may find them dead. And we’ll get to can know about it only by the fact. We cannot predict it and somehow prevent it.

    Do we need to plant a lot of trees?

    The world community is trying to fight climate change. The forums of international organizations have recently started saying, “Let’s plant a lot of trees.” Facebook now offers the ad “You can buy climatic tree plantations in Georgia” (in case if you have a lot of money, of course).

    But any business can be done wisely (and it will benefit) and senselessly (and it will harm). Unfortunately, this whole plan to plant trees poses a considerable threat. 

    It is necessary to ask the organizers of such events whether they will plant alien (introductory) species. After all, in Eastern Europe, you can plant acacia (a bad idea), and you can plant oak (a good idea, and then selectively), and these are significantly different effects.

    What kind of trees we’ve got to plant? This question is essential. Today, alien species are often planted in our forests. These are trees that usually grow in other parts of the world and have never been part of our forests but have appeared here through human efforts.

    One of the typical examples is red oak. In the post-Soviet space, foresters often plant it: it grows well and is almost not afraid of pests. However, it displaces native tree species, and this dramatically changes the entire ecosystem. Many species that lived here earlier disappear.

    So if a billion new red oaks appear in Ukraine, we can be sure that the problems will only increase.

    You can plant on a forest slope, where the last Red Book plants have survived, and you can plant where there was a landfill, and this way, you can restore the forest.

    The best decision is to restore native plantations where nature has been destroyed. If this idea is implemented qualitatively, it will be a great practice.

    Why the steppe should not be plowed, and ecosystems should be restored

    The steppe is a grassy ecosystem that exists on every continent except Antarctica. It is very much related to climate. On every continent, there are mountains by the ocean. In the case of Eurasia, it is the Himalayas.

    Warm moist air masses from the Indian Ocean cannot cross the Himalayas; they cause rain on their southern slopes. That is why India is so green and wet. But beyond the mountains the Gobi Desert, one of the driest places on the planet, lies. And then, in Russia near Lake Baikal – there’s the place of the highest atmospheric pressure on the continent. Thus, due to the imbalance between the wet atmospheric masses in front of the mountains and the dry atmospheric masses behind the mountains, the point of the highest atmospheric pressure on the continent is formed. Accordingly, the air needs to move somewhere. 

    For the last nine thousand years, the air has been moving from Baikal to the Danube Delta, and there are steppes in this area. There is a constant dry wind throughout the year in one direction. This causes dryness, and the trees need more water. That is why, historically, steppes were formed in Ukraine and Russia. 

    In them, herbaceous plants hide most of their living mass underground. This is very logical: in the spring, while wet after winter, they have time to bloom and then hid everything underground; and the steppe can, for example, burn at least until the end of the year. But they form a dense felt, tightly intertwined. In an arid steppe climate, it does not pass beyond this thin layer when it rarely rains. This is so that this rain, perhaps one per season, is absorbed completely. The plants have adapted to survive the dry season and make the most of moisture.

    Therefore, while there is a steppe, the soil – dead plant particles – accumulates indefinitely. It is necessary to plow this soil once, the first rain will wet it, and it will start to decompose.

    Therefore, there are international assessments of the impact on the agricultural atmosphere. Half a kilogram of carbon is released into the atmosphere from one square meter of cultivated land in one year. And this is logical – black soil is 50% pure carbon.

    Unfortunately, no international climate document such as the Paris Agreement is related to the soil. And it is difficult to calculate how much carbon humanity has released into the atmosphere through arable farming from a historical perspective.

    Thus, while in Eastern Europe, the steppe remains a steppe, and while in the northern regions, peat bogs remain wetlands, these ecosystems accumulate enormous amounts of carbon. As soon as they are occupied by agriculture, carbon returns to the atmosphere. We wrote about this in detail in this article.

    Along with the idea of ​​planting a trillion trees, there is a better idea suggested by the IUCN: we should not reforest landscapes but restore natural ecosystems. It can be forests too. That is, the first and second ideas can be competently combined. 

    But the emphasis must be proper: the landscape that was destroyed by agriculture must be made natural as it was before man came. This IUCN project has a website that has been joined by many countries, from developed to small islanders.

    Why we need to consume local products

    Let’s call to memory a simple example. There are world centers for growing bananas. A colossal resource is needed for their transportation. That is, we, humanity, are not just destroying nature by growing bananas. We also spend resources when we specialize part of the planet to produce something; we destroy everything there. And we also use fuel that is extracted elsewhere to move products from place to place.

    I’m not saying Europeans and Americans shouldn’t eat bananas. But remember, by increasing the number of locally produced or even domestically produced products, we are supporting an economy that needs zero transportation resources. Everyone, growing something for themselves, takes the right step instead of the wrong one, and that’s great.

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