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Nature can save humanity from climate catastrophe – but not on its own


Here’s what not to do: Deforestation and plant new trees so companies can offset their carbon emissions, says Girardine. “In the paper we provide examples of cutting down virgin rainforests so you can plant forests there to offset someone’s emissions from a flight,” she says. “It just doesn’t make sense. Or displace communities from the land that used them to live, again to plant forests for quick carbon gains. This kind of situation makes no sense at all.”

Peter Ellis, global director for climate science at Nature Conservancy, who was not involved in the new paper, agrees that single-crop trees to compensate for someone’s flight miles will not work. But returning the ecosystem to its natural state may prepare it better for surviving the climate change we have created. “More biodiverse ecosystems provide greater resilience in the face of future climate impacts,” says Ellis. “It also provides important co-benefits that people care about, which will help them preserve their investment in preserving these natural climate solutions.”

This is critical to getting support from people who depend on those ecosystems for food and clean water – explaining the immediate and local benefits of reforestation, not just the long-term benefit of the global community. “Unless you really talk about the benefits of water quality, that lots of trees provide, less malaria, or things that locals care about, it’s very difficult to get a community to buy,” says Daniela Mitiva, an environmental economist at Ohio State University.

Miteva is working on nature-based solutions in Northern Uganda and Indonesia. (She did not participate in this new work). Both countries grapple with deforestation, but each local case is unique, and hinges on historical property rights, for example. For example, a government may provide cash to families for not clearing a particular forest, known as “paying for ecosystem service.”

“Unless you can really talk about other benefits associated with carbon, accepting this idea locally is very difficult – at least this has been my experience,” says Mitiva. “There’s also this idea of ​​whites going to the South of the Globe and telling people what to do – the whole idea of ​​carbon colonization.”

An additional difficulty is that advocates are trying to spread nature-based solutions to an increasingly populous planet. The more people live on the land, the more land we need to feed everyone. “There is this tension between the desire to preserve the natural systems of biodiversity while preserving people and feeding people, and that’s a challenge,” says biogeochemist Rich Conant, who studies nature-based solutions at Colorado State University but is not involved in this new work. “Fortunately, I think a lot of the land that we use for agriculture is being used somewhat inefficiently, and so I think there is a lot of room to increase food production on the ground.” This can include strategies such as improving irrigation and diversifying crops to increase yields while using the same land area.

But it’s important to add that people can’t just fix ecosystems, sit back, and let nature do all the work. The same goes for relying on new technologies such as “live air capture,” which machines It absorbs carbon from the air And lock it under the ground. This is the moral hazard of climate change: a preoccupation with ways to trap greenhouse gases when we must do all we can to cut them off completely and quickly.

“People have the impression, ‘Don’t worry people, nature will save us,’” says Ellis. “This is the thing that keeps me awake at night. First of all, we are Be Nature, and we have to work in coordination with it. But we need to pedal on the metal and shoot all the cylinders if we want to pull ourselves as humans, and our fellow passengers on the spaceship, from this predicament in which we have put ourselves. “



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