Environment

China and India lead the way in "greening" the Earth since 2000

China and India lead the way i...
Satellite data has shown that the Earth has gotten 5 percent greener in recent years, but it's not all upside
Satellite data has shown that the Earth has gotten 5 percent greener in recent years, but it's not all upside
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Satellite data reveals that China and India have added the largest proportion of new greenery to the planet in the last two decades
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Satellite data reveals that China and India have added the largest proportion of new greenery to the planet in the last two decades
Satellite data has shown that the Earth has gotten 5 percent greener in recent years, but it's not all upside
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Satellite data has shown that the Earth has gotten 5 percent greener in recent years, but it's not all upside

Human activities on Earth generally have negative outcomes on the environment – we're pouring plastic into the oceans and melting the ice caps at alarming rates. But it's not all bad news. A new study of satellite data has shown that the Earth has gotten "greener" in the last 20 years or so, with the biggest contributors being China and India. Before we celebrate though, there are a few caveats to consider.

For the new study, researchers from Boston University examined remote sensing data gathered by NASA satellites between the years 2000 and 2017. Interestingly, the total amount of leafy green areas on Earth's land surface has gone up by about five percent in that time. That's about 5.5 million sq km (2.1 million sq mi) – the equivalent of the Amazon worth of new vegetation.

The researchers were surprised by the fact that the two countries leading the charge are China and India. According to the study, China alone is responsible for 25 percent of the global increase in vegetated land.

Satellite data reveals that China and India have added the largest proportion of new greenery to the planet in the last two decades
Satellite data reveals that China and India have added the largest proportion of new greenery to the planet in the last two decades

Given that plants are a huge natural carbon sink, a greener Earth can only be a good thing, right? That's true in theory, but in practice different plants play different roles in the carbon cycle, so the increased greens might not necessarily slow down climate change. New forests are good for carbon capture, but new croplands tend to release any captured carbon back into the atmosphere at harvest time.

The team says that 42 percent of China's new greenery is from forests, and 32 percent is croplands. In India, on the other hand, up to 82 percent of the increased greens is from crops, while just 4.4 percent comes from new forests.

Of course, more cropland means more food production. The researchers say that China and India have increased their production of grains, vegetables and fruits by up to 40 percent since 2000, thanks largely to improved practices like crop rotation, higher usage of fertilizer and irrigation.

The other big surprise of the study was that human activity was responsible for such a large increase in new greenery. Beforehand, the researchers assumed that rising CO2 levels would be the biggest contributing factor. These new findings suggest that human land-use practices need to be included in future Earth systems models.

The research was published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

Source: Boston University

7 comments
jgb
Obviously, someone hasn't seen the open cut mines and chemical filled rivers that populate the chinese countryside. Not to mention the wholesale removal of forests to build dams, power stations, and manufacturing facilities.
highlandboy
Through it’s one child policy China has cut its breading population by half in one generation. While we may not approve of its method to do so, It will result in decreased consumption even while increasing its standard of living. This is something that is an example in practical stewardship that other overpopulated countries could consider. While we in the first world are still over consuming, it is in the 2nd and 3rd world where consumption is growing most rapidly. Any country that cuts its consumption of natural resources by 10% through reuse and recycling appears on the right track until you realise that the saved 10% is consumed in 3 years of population growth.
Brian M
@highlandboy Spot on - Doesn't matter how much the 1st world tinkers with its CO2 use, the real issue is the unsustainable population growth that will just eat away at those improvements and other earth resources. China's one child policy might seem harsh but it really was the right thing to do. Maybe financial incentives would have been a better way to go and educating their population that having a girl as a first born was a good thing. Unfortunately environmentalist really haven't got to grips with the issue, solve the over population crisis and most of the other environmental problems will fade away.. Whichever way if we don't control our population sensibly then nature will, and worse it will be indifferent to the suffering caused.
Robt
This article neglects to mention that virtually all of the pollutive emissions increase in the past ten years has come from China and India, primarily the former. China continues to build coal plants while shutting down a few older ones here and there for propaganda purposes.
Nik
More CO2=More plant growth, simple! Plants cool the climate. So rather than reducing CO2, the world should be increasing CO2, as present levels are already far too low for optimum growth. Next step is to start on the essentially man-made deserts, caused by deforestation, and start reforesting worldwide. This will also fertilise the ground with leaf litter, and start to make it productive again. The cooler atmosphere, caused by the forestation will, in its turn, encourage rainfall. So the whole ecosystem starts to regenerate.
Howe
The earths population is still increasing, but it's slowing down, many estimates think it will peak at 12 billion, then begin a gradual decline. Either way, the Earth can support far more then those who live here (as far as food is concerned). Mining asteroids will be a big future industry, which will help out a lot. Also "greening" tells you nothing. I can spray paint my dogs sh*t blue, but that doesn't make it water.
aksdad
highlandboy and Brian M, ick. Just ick. Hopefully you're not as misanthropic as your comments suggest. Maybe you're just uninformed. But don't feel too bad, an awful lot of misanthropes going back to Robert Malthus (1766-1834), didn't know what they were talking about. The earth can sustain a much larger human population than we'll likely ever have. We may not even reach 10 billion, just 32% higher than the current population, according to recent estimates. Birth rate has declined to below replacement in most post-industrial countries and the only thing sustaining their growth is the increased life expectancy of people currently living. Which means, incidentally, that even as the global population has grown, the living standard of most people has also improved dramatically. Some of those countries with below-replacement birthrates, like Japan, are declining in population. Soon most will. Human ingenuity and technology is what has enabled more people to be able to live in better conditions than ever before in history while simultaneously managing environmental resources more efficiently and with less impact than ever before. Not every country is there, but almost all of them are headed that way.