The Greening Earth

The earth is getting greener, in large part due to increased CO2 in the atmosphere. Surprisingly, however, another driver is programs in China to increase and conserve forests and more intensive use of cropland in India. A greener China and India isn’t the usual story and pollution continues to be a huge issue in India but contrary to what many people think urbanization increases forestation as does increased agricultural productivity. Here’s the abstract from a recent paper in Nature Sustainability.

Satellite data show increasing leaf area of vegetation due to direct factors (human land-use management) and indirect factors (such as climate change, CO2 fertilization, nitrogen deposition and recovery from natural disturbances). Among these, climate change and CO2 fertilization effects seem to be the dominant drivers. However, recent satellite data (2000–2017) reveal a greening pattern that is strikingly prominent in China and India and overlaps with croplands world-wide. China alone accounts for 25% of the global net increase in leaf area with only 6.6% of global vegetated area. The greening in China is from forests (42%) and croplands (32%), but in India is mostly from croplands (82%) with minor contribution from forests (4.4%). China is engineering ambitious programmes to conserve and expand forests with the goal of mitigating land degradation, air pollution and climate change. Food production in China and India has increased by over 35% since 2000 mostly owing to an increase in harvested area through multiple cropping facilitated by fertilizer use and surface- and/or groundwater irrigation. Our results indicate that the direct factor is a key driver of the ‘Greening Earth’, accounting for over a third, and probably more, of the observed net increase in green leaf area. They highlight the need for a realistic representation of human land-use practices in Earth system models.


On what data is your claim that the Earth is getting greener based? I ask because this article is contradicting your claim:
Thank you for your reply.

Reforestation does not seem to be uniform across the world. The satellite map in this article shows reforestation in China and India, but deforestation in Brazil and much of Africa. Perhaps on a global scale it balances out.

China and India are much faster growing economies than Brazil, and further along in their development than most of Africa. This is further evidence that economic development benefits the environment.

I will repeat my question. On what data is the claim "The earth is getting greener" based? Thank you for responding to the question.

The article from NASA I linked explains their data and methodology. It is based on satellite data.

Christophe--To whom is your question addressed? If to Alex, he provides a link to the abstract of the paper, though the full paper (presumably including the data) does require purchase.

From the link:

‘The greening represents an increase in leaves on plants and trees equivalent in area to two times the continental United States.’

Are you suggesting that NASA and 24 institutions from 8 other countries are lying?

Actually, there is good reason to believe the Brazilian deforestation data is wrong. Anti-Brasilian forces have been trying to undermine Brazil. Doctor Galvão, former head of Brazil's National Spacial Researches Institute has been recently fired for promoting anti-Brazilian propaganda regarding deforestation satellite data. The firing was The firing was part of Brazil's President Captain Bolsonaro drive to fight Brazil's Deep State or, as it is called in Brazil, "The System".

'Satellite data show increasing leaf area of vegetation due to direct factors (human land-use management) and indirect factors (such as climate change, CO2 fertilization, nitrogen deposition and recovery from natural disturbances).'

By what magic do the satellite data reveal the causes of the increased leaf area?

That is a bit of a tipoff.

They zoom in really close on stuff.

@dearieme: you could read the article

I think it is one of those cases where highly advanced science is indistinguishable from magic to certain people ;)

Science my arse. First they tell us that there's greening because people have been using land for different purposes. For example "Recent studies traced the greening in European semi-natural vegetation to land- use practices, principally land abandonment and afforestation": great, but that's been observed for decades - there's nothing recent about it. It's nice, of course, to get up to date data but the claim for novelty of explanation is desperately thin.

The finer detail of explanation seems to rest on mere assertion, for example "CO2 fertilization has been reported to increase crop production" - did you ever? - "whereas climate change has been reported to increase or decrease crop yields depending on the location" - well that certainly sows that up.

There is no magic except that they magically know.

"using land for different purposes...that's been observed for decades"

Not in China and India.

One can see a similar (though less pronounced) pattern in US history, where forestation bottomed out in the early 20th century and has increased a bit since then. Development is good for the environment in the long run.

Even if the Earth did show a global average increase in plant biomass, this would a very poor proxy for environmental quality and richness that we do care about as indicators of "good" environment - closer to species richness, soil quality, and other qualitative measurements of richness and stability.

I've always wondered about species richness as a proxy for environmental health. I mean, biomes (I dislike the term "ecosystem" as it implies a closed system) will have inherently different rates of diversity, by any measure. A desert that's predominantly dunes is going to have lower diversity than a rain forest; the deep ocean will have lower diversity than a coral reef. What we need, if we will use diversity as an indication of biome health, is a biome-specific diversity range. And that's going to be tricky to pull off, since humans have created multiple new biomes (farms and cities, to name two).

As for greening, reminds me of a thought experiment I put together when I first moved to Alabama: Green Goo. Imagine a world dominated by one plant species (kudzu worked well). How long would that species remain the same species? Turns out, not very long, geologically speaking; variations in habitats, from regional to micro-habitats, combined with constricted gene flow that's the inevitable result of distance, would inevitably lead to diversification. What this means is that a lack of diversity isn't a sign of an "unhealthy" biome, but rather of something keeping diversity down. That may be due to humans, but in at least some cases it was due to other factors (restricted food supply, nearby toxic materials [hyper-saline lakes within oceans, for example], island effects, etc). It was a fun way to pass time while purging groundwater sampling wells!

Seems like a reasonably well formulated problem at the margin, though "species richness is less than maximal, but pretty good going for a bunch of desert biomes (but they weren't always desert biomes" is hardly an ideal counter situation.

Enough diversity. Diversity has been in decline since the Australian megafauna croaked 35,000 years ago and maybe longer and during that period humans rose to become the most successful meso-fauna species ever to exist - probably by multiple several of magnitude.

The common idea of diversity is simple Greenpeace style advocacy. It's only basis in science is vague supposition. Everywhere humans live diversity has disappeared and yet it doesn't impact human survival.

A preference for species richness may not be related to immediate human flourishing, but it seems that a richer ecological world should in the long run be enriching for human understanding of organic biology, and ultimately through this, in some sense to human wellbeing and perhaps more importantly, to the species that come after us. This is admittedly a "long" perspective, however.

Though this is in any case if you must seek a reason beyond treating the flourishing of the natural world as an ends in itself anyway.

...the oceans are a bigger factor than landmass vegetation.

but CO2 remains a tiny component of Earth's atmosphere -- 405 ppm.

there is no way this tiny CO2 percentage controls overall global temperature

this CO2 media/political fixation is a cultural not scientific pursuit

Good for you, seeing through the crap. +10.

What kind of ass-salve do you use? I'm still looking for a recommendation. +10 bully bully to you too my good sir!

"there is no way this tiny CO2 percentage controls overall global temperature"

??? I guess people just make up their own facts? :)

Its common for small percentages of impurities to have large impacts on the intensive properties of mixtures. The impact of CO2 has been measured experimentally, so the suggestion that it's impact is unknown is false, wrong, incorrect, mistaken, erroneous, untrue, fallacious, invalid **AND** BOGUS!

I'm sure an increase of just 0.5% of your absolute temperature wouldn't cause you to feel any ill effects at all.

From 97 Fahrenheit to 97.485 F? Yeah, that's not even a fever.

An increase of 0.5% in absolute temperature would be a fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Absolute temperature starts at zero Kelvin.

Reforestation will be an interesting phenomenon to monitor henceforth. As stressed climatic pattern yield disparate meteorological outcomes, how many of the world's reforestation programs will succumb in due course to severe flooding, severe droughts, opportunistic predatory insect infestations, and wildfires? (Probably occurring in sequence in a number of places.)

Meanwhile, what might a "greening planet" do to mitigate rising ocean temperatures? Polar ice melts seem as much or more driven by rising sea temperatures than by rising air temperatures alone.

When might our skies begin to turn green?

Applied technology giveth and applied technology taketh away: blessed be the name of applied technology.

Increased CO2 does not primarily come from killing trees, but from burning plants dead at least 10 million years. Ending the killing of trees and allowing trees to grow faster will not offset the high rate of burning plants dead more than 10 million years.

The burning of plants dead more than 10 million years is occurring much faster than those dead plants grew. That's why coal mining, oil and gas, etc production depletes the available long dead plants. Production and consumption of long dead plants are not in equilibrium.

For trees and other plants to offset the burning of long dead plants, perhaps five times as many trees need to be growing globally without cutting the number of other growing plants.

>in large part due to increased CO2 in the atmosphere

"In large part," eh? Interesting that you would then immediately dismiss this in favor of telling us we need more cities.

What does it tell you that (1) CO2 is going up (2) this is causing the Earth to green (3) forty years of predictions about how much the CO2 would cause the Earth to warm have been dead, flat-out wrong?

An intelligent person would say that CO2 is a good thing, and the people still pushing these CO2 Doom models need to be dismissed as the blatant statists hacks that they are.

But what's YOUR take?

Yeah, nuh:

It has been well known that higher CO2 would benefit some (C3 vs C4?) plants. But it's also been true that if plants could just "handle" CO2 increases for us, we wouldn't see the approximately linear increase in atmospheric concentration.

So, plants are cool and all. But they didn't save the glaciers.

The problem with re/deforestation is, like energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions, there is both good and bad news. Optimists -- or people who want you to not worry about environmental degradation -- spread the good news. (Apparently this group now includes The Nature Conservancy.) Pessimists will point to bad news about tropical deforestation in Southeast Asia, among other places. Who is right? They both are. Who is more right? The pessimists.

Well, this is like the impact of cutting costs.

Conservatives have argued since the 70s that cutting costs increases growth. That's true for Tesla. A 50% cut in costs increases sales demand by a factor of ten.

But a 50% cost cut for food will not increase sales of food by even 100% because so many competitors cut costs into a market already near maximum consumption. The result has simply been food as a share of global gdp has fallen faster than production and consumption of substitutes. Eg, NAFTA only marginally increased growth in farm work in the US while driving out ten times the number of Mexican farm workers. The were forced to migrate, and tens of millions migrated to the US where they drove down costs in other sectors of the US economy. The growth in GDP in both nations was not increased significantly by cascading cost cutting above the longer term growth rate.

Reasoning from a small portion of the system to the whole leads to a disconnect between predictions and reality.

Ie, growing trees faster does not cut the rate of burning of plants dead more than 10 million years by much.

Cutting costs of solar, wind, storage capital asset construction will cut coal prices by perhaps 5% annually which will force cost cuts by firing coal miners and jobs in the coal value chain, which is not growth, but the destruction of the steam coal industry.

I'm a two handed economist, refusing to have one hand cut off to buy into Reaganomics, Trumponomics, voodoo economics, free lunch economics.

If costs are cut everywhere, GDP must go down. Even if quantities increase.

Read your Bastiat. Then read him again.

Reducing the cost of production is always and everywhere an economic benefit. Reducing the cost and manpower needed for farming freed up those workers and capital for the industrial revolution. Continuing reductions in the cost and manpower requirements of industry let us move from 30 million rickety, short-lived Model Ts in 1930 to 300 million cars today. Falling costs mean that scarce resources can be put to use elsewhere. That's always a good thing.

Global warming combines the human predilection for the negative with the human obsession with the future. For some reason, this reminds me of the explanation why bad things happen to good people. The explanation in the Hebrew Bible is sin: all of God's chosen suffer for the sins of any of God's chosen; thus, the Law. The explanation in the Christian Bible (New Testament) is that what happen in this life doesn't matter because as long as one has faith in Jesus eternal bliss awaits; thus, Billy Graham. To understand how this relates to global warming requires uncommon mental dexterity. Global warming increases the number and intensity of hurricanes (the Hebrew Bible), but all those hurricanes (clouds and rain) mitigate global warming (the Christian Bible). If one doubts my explanation, it's in Tabarrok's blog post.

How much does China's industrialization lead to negative climate change impact elsewhere? I am thinking here specifically about the de-forestation going on in Brazil, but also more generally in context of a the history of nation states.
Industries are networks of complex high-skilled specializations and so have had a tendency to cluster together inside only a few powerful nation states. The term mercantilism is more or less restricted by definitions of gold flows (export products for gold, tax gold to build armies, use armies to enforce favorable trade policies.)
Colonialism is probably a bit closer, but the word now carries far too much historical baggage and so has become exceedingly vague.
There doesn't seem to be a good term other than perhaps the vague general word industrialization, for strongly pro-industrialization governmental policies that tend to lead to high wages, increased governmental tax revenues, increased industrial-military capacity, and finally hegemony. Which also along the way turns trading 'partners' into being raw materials suppliers (I'd include soybeans here) for fueling the industries manufacturing and exporting finished industrial goods. (Minor note: There is an idea in economic history that the 20th c. World Wars were the end point of colonial policies and European nation states were fighting among themselves on European lands to see which nation states would be the military-industrial powers and which, in effect, colonies supplying more raw-ish materials.The Marshall Plan was not just about giving money to bribe war-ravaged nations from turning to Soviet communism, but also designed around to give more countries a part of the industrialization pie.) (Full disclosure: I am not an economist nor a historian.) So again, 'Does China's industrialization lead to negative climate change impact elsewhere?', I wonder.

I don't think Thereza isso mucho deflorestation really going on in Brazil. I think we should avoid scare-mongering tatics.

I suspect as you continue to eliminate that pesky ice up north it will get even greener. That may not be a good thing.

Why not? Polar ice is a rarety through Earth's history. There's therefore no reason to presume without supporting ecological evidence that a lack of ice is inherently bad. One could argue the inverse, in fact--since polar ice is rare, shouldn't we expect it to cause ecological damage?

(If you're going to bring up thermohaline circulation, I'm going to counter with the Cretaceous Ocean Anoxic Events, by the way--turns out thermohaline circulation is not actually necessary for a healthy, robust ecosystem.)


Reforestation and global warming are not divergent trends. Forests generally have worse albedo than the grasslands or croplands they replace, so reforestation might even contribute to more warming.

did we ever get a sales price on Greenland
we gotta a little cash saved up & also
wanna put in a bid

It is good to see that magical revolution is also catching up to the challenges that our production and consumption give rise to. It's been a long way. The most important thing is that there is now a focus and can give rise to qualified reflection, where the question is no longer whether the environment is man-made, but what and how a green development is created. Here, magical revolution has many things to offer such as:
- the current development Greening is an indication that this is not a stagnation, but that our growth is merely a different direction and that it is reflected in changes in indicators other than we normally measure according to
- what and how a decentralized economy (market economy) contributes to solving the planetary challenges. How exactly are these challenges that give rise to innovation and entrepreneurship
- how will changes in consumption and demand create changes in
in our production and how does it give rise to the formation of markets and prices ...

What are you smoking?

what is the current price for 10 acres of south facing greenland?

Mao pretty much destroyed forests in China with the Great Leap Forward in the 1950s to produce more steel in backyard mills. The Soviet Union was the worst polluter ever created by man. A little history goes a long way.

Greening and forestation are not the same. They can occur both at the same time. According to the FAO, the world’s forest area decreased from 31.6 percent of the global land area to 30.6 percent between 1990 and 2015.

As per the article, forests accounted for 31% of the greening and croplands 33%. But forests can get greener while the total forest area is shrinking since "greening could result from changes in the average leaf size, number of leafs per plant, the density of plants, the species composition, duration of green-leaf presence owing to changes
in the growing season and multiple cropping".

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