CO2 Generation

Story from the THE VERG

Plants are our best friends in the fight against climate change, and a new study shows just how important they are. From 2002 to 2014, plants sucked up so much carbon dioxide that they slowed the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere, even as human-made CO2 emissions were increasing.

The findings, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, show how important ecosystems are in regulating the carbon cycle, and also how little we know about the processes contributing to climate change. This information can help scientists and policymakers come up with solutions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.


“That’s a big issue because you can’t design an effective strategy if you’re using something that you can’t predict,” says study co-author Trevor Keenan, a scientist in the Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

We already knew that oceans and land plants remove about 45 percent of the CO2 emitted by human activities each year. And the amount of CO2 that’s removed has more than doubled in the past 50 years. With plants, which need carbon dioxide to grow, that’s because CO2 increases photosynthesis. So more CO2 in the atmosphere means plants also absorb more CO2. But that doesn’t mean we’re fine pumping the greenhouse gas into the air.

In fact, more CO2 means warmer temperatures, and warmer temperatures cause ecosystems — plants, trees, and even bacteria in soil — to release more CO2 back into atmosphere. So it’s a give and take.

But the study authors realized something they didn’t expect: between 2002 and 2014, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere wasn’t going up even though people were emitting increasing amounts of carbon dioxide. After analyzing climate measurements and simulations, they figured out that the “give and take” process had been altered.

The world will build an entire New York City every month for 40 years.

The world's building stock is expected to double by 2060, according to Architecture 2030.

Manufacturing the cement and steel needed for all that construction will emit a lot of greenhouse gases.

To solve climate change, we need to get to near-zero emissions on all the things that drive it, including making building materials.