The planet is currently getting greener as I type this and as you read this. The reason for this is not despite our technological advances and economic growth it is because of it. About 20 years ago a man named Charles David Keeling measured the increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He noticed that the amplitude of change is increasing in carbon dioxide concentration; he also notice the increase in the winter rises more and more and decreases more and more over the summer. Charles Keeling believed there is increasing green vegetation on the planet while we are told there is less green vegetation and we are destroying the planet.
We have a satellite which circles the earth and measures the normalized difference vegetation index which is a measure of how green the land area of the planet is. It is very clear that over the last 30 years green land area has been increasing. Between 1982 and 2011, 20.5% of the worlds vegetated area got greener, while just 3% got browner so net the world has become greener. Ranga Myneni of Boston University has drilled down into the detail of the actual pixels of the planet and has found about half of the increase in greening is due to an increase in rain fall. Because the world is a little bit warmer we have more evaporation from the ocean which creates more moisture in the air, resulting in slightly heavier rain. The other half of the greening Myneni concludes comes from carbon dioxide itself, as we put carbon dioxide into the air we supply more fuel for plants to grow.
When there is more carbon dioxide in the air plants do not have to open thier pores as much so they do not lose as much water which helps plants grow faster. Roughly, per 200 million increase in parts per million of carbon dioxide we experience a 30% increase in plant growth. Because of the burning of fossil fuels we are making the planet greener.
How is this possible; the population has nearly doubled in my life time; during this time we have become much better fed, we are living 30% longer on average and we have 25% more food per head. Living longer and having more food has not come at the expense of the ecosystem, “there is something wrong with the model stating that economic growth comes at the expense of the environment”. So to this point in history, it is possible to have a growing ecosystem, economy and population.
Currently we use 65% less farmland to produce the same amount of food we did in 1960, which means we will not need as much farmland to feed the growing population of the world in the future. Currently we farm 38% of the worlds land to produce the food we need, if we used the amount we needed to produce food in 1960 we would use 82% of the worlds land. So thank goodness for nitrogen fertilizer which has made this possible, which is made from methane which is another fossil fuel.
We have now entered an era of land sparing by improving productivity of agriculture and other industries; the consequence of this is we can release land back to nature which has resulted in net reforestation in about half the world.