A recent study has warned that the American Southwest may be facing a massive tree die-off as a result of climate change. The study, published in Nature Climate Change, examined the effects of anticipated climate change patterns on the coniferous forests of the Southwest. Unfortunately, researchers found that if global temperatures continue to rise as anticipated by scientists, it could spell disaster for these breathtaking natural landscapes.
The forecasted tree die-off
Researchers simulated global temperature increases and examined their effects on trees. They simulated both an extreme scenario and a more moderate 2-degree rise in global temperatures, which is the current goal suggested by climate scientists to avoid catastrophic changes to the planetary ecosystem. Unfortunately, their findings showed that even if we do limit temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius, it will only delay tree die-off by about a decade.
The extent to which we may lose our Southwestern forests will be based both on the current drought that is plaguing the region and the temperature increases we’re expected to face. The Washington Post explains that the drought will cause plants to close their stomata in order to retain water, depriving themselves of carbon.
Plants can’t survive in a state of carbon deprivation, nor can they survive without adequate water. Scientists are anticipating that the problem will be detrimental to the health of the forests. According to the paper, 72 percent of Southwestern forests will die off by 2050, a mortality rate that is expected to hit 100 percent by 2100.
Why are trees important?
Trees are beneficial for both human health and that of the planet. A study published in the journal Environmental Pollution found that the presence of trees was responsible for preventing 670,000 annual cases of acute respiratory symptoms in the U.S. alone, primarily because our country’s trees absorbed 17.4 tonnes of air pollution. Based on that figure, scientists predict that investing in trees—particularly in polluted urban areas—could save the country about $7 billion in annual health care costs.
However, our own respiratory health isn’t the only reason we need trees. Trees, like all plants, sequester carbon … and as most of us know by now, we need as much help as we can get when it comes to keeping atmospheric carbon levels balanced. American Forests notes that a single tree can sequester 48 pounds of carbon each year. Considering that the earth is populated by approximately 3 trillion trees, that’s a staggering potential for atmospheric carbon reduction.
What can you do to help?
Unfortunately, the predicted tree die-off is bigger than any one of us. If we’re to prevent these kinds of die-offs from occurring, we need to focus on keeping global temperature increases under the 2-degree mark. Supporting reductions in carbon emissions, reducing our personal carbon footprints and making trees a priority in our communities is the best way to help. Here are a few ideas:
- Support policymakers who put climate change action at the top of their priority lists.
- Reduce your carbon footprint by using fewer resources in your own life, whether that means taking public transportation, upgrading your home to be more energy-efficient, or downsizing to minimize your household’s energy usage.
- Conserve water. The Southwest’s current drought is no joke. Conserve water in your own home and throughout your day.
- Get involved in your community. Development committees are responsible for deciding upon things like whether or not a new community will be dense and walkable or far-reaching and sprawly. The former reduces the need for carbon-emitting cars while conserving land for trees and wildlife. Your local community could also support the environment by planting more trees, encouraging sustainable landscaping and incentivizing the use of rainwater collection barrels or green rooftops.