Thanks to India and China, The World Is Getting Greener

New NASA data shows that the world is getting greener thanks to China, and to a lesser extent India, planting trees.

The research appears this month in the journal “Nature Sustainability“. Data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, system on two satellites orbiting the Earth has allowed scientists to build up a two decades-long picture, and the findings are impressive. Researchers at Boston University who were looking at satellite images from the mid 1990s first noted the so-called “greening effect”.

The greening effect that has occurred across the globe over the last 20 years has been the equivalent of the same coverage of the Amazon rainforests. NASA says they have observed two million square miles of extra green leaf areas every year compared to data from the early 2000s.

At first, the scientists thought that this was mostly down to climate change. Warmer, wetter conditions and the increasing amount of nitrogen and carbon dioxide in our environments would naturally be expected to produce a greening effect. That expectation was in some ways accurate, as this does make up a proportion of greening we are seeing in the world.

However, the MODIS system has allowed scientists to look in greater detail at where this greening is occurring and in what manner it is happening. They observed patterns over China and India that demonstrate human activity. In this case tree planting schemes and specific crop growth techniques have been a central driving force.

“Once people realize there is a problem, they tend to fix it,” Rama Nemani, a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center and a coauthor of the research, said in a statement. “In the 1970s and ’80s in India and China, the situation around vegetation loss was not good. In the 1990s, people realized it, and today things have improved. Humans are incredibly resilient. That’s what we see in the satellite data.”

The NASA data shows that India and China have actually contributed a staggering one-third to the greening effect, even though they only hold nine percent of the Earth’s vegetation-rich land. While China has notably contributed tree planting to this effort—approximately 42 percent from forests and 38 percent from croplands—India has contributed via a different means: multiple cropping.

Multiple cropping is the practice of growing two or more crops in the same piece of land during the same growing season. This age-old practice has fallen out of favor in the West for several reasons, one of which being that pest control is more difficult, but India has employed it with reasonable success using the rich soil it creates to support multiple crops across seasons.

India has managed to create a variety of crops—including grains, legumes and fruits—to support its growing population and to export to other countries. This has not been an easy process and requires careful management from national and state governments and policymakers, but one thing is clear: it is leading to a greener world.

That is critically important right now. The Earth’s vegetation is capable of absorbing around only around 25 percent of human-driven carbon output. While there are many factors that can affect the carbon cycle, planting more trees has proved to be an effective means of getting CO2 out of our atmosphere, thus limiting the warming effect that insulating gasses are having on our world.

Given that fossil fuel use is continuing to rise despite the scientific consensus that we need to halt our fossil fuel use in order to fight the worst of climate change, any increase in green cover that can directly help with removing insulating gas from our atmosphere is a bonus.

What this also shows is that, while China and India may be contributing a great deal to fossil fuel use at the moment, they are also looking at ways of mitigating that problem, something that sometimes is not apparent in media reports.

While the effects will be limited, this is a welcome bit of good news for environmental campaigners and a clear demonstration that, when governments take decisive action on environmental issues, the results can be impressive.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

74 comments

Peggy B
Peggy B21 days ago

Well done, China and India.

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Knud T
Knud Thirup23 days ago

Good to know

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Shae Lee
Shae Lee27 days ago

Thank you for posting

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Emma L
Emma L27 days ago

good to know

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Louise A
Louise A28 days ago

Thank you for this

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Carol B
Carol B29 days ago

Wonderful news! Good for China and India. What a shame the that U.S. is not leading in these efforts!

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Greta L
Greta L29 days ago

Thank you for posting

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Ruth S
Ruth Sabout a month ago

Thanks.

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Ruth S
Ruth Sabout a month ago

Thanks.

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Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan Hillabout a month ago

thanks

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