What not to do, says Girardin: Clean up forests and plant new trees so companies can offset their carbon emissions. “We give examples in an article about felling untouched rainforests so you can plant plantations there to offset someone’s flight emissions,” he says. “That just doesn’t make sense.” Or communities displaced from the land they used for subsistence, again to grow forests for rapid carbon gains. Such a situation does not make sense at all. “
Mono-pruning trees to offset one’s air miles will not work, agrees Peter Ellis, global director of climate science at the Nature Conservancy, who did not participate in the new article. But returning the ecosystem to its natural state could better prepare it for surviving the climate change we have caused. “More biodiverse ecosystems are more resilient to future climate impacts,” says Ellis. “And they provide important side benefits that people care about that will help them invest in conserving these natural climate solutions.”
This is essential to gain buy-ins from people who depend on these ecosystems for food and clean water – explaining the immediate local benefits of reforestation, not just the long-term good for the global community. “Unless you’re really talking about the benefits of water quality,” says Daniela Miteva, an environmental economist at Ohio State University, “which is provided by many trees, malaria reduction or things that local people care about, it’s very difficult to get a buy-in community. “
Miteva is working on natural solutions in northern Uganda and Indonesia. (She did not participate in this new work.) Both countries are facing deforestation, but each local situation is unique, for example, it depends on historical property rights. For example, the government may provide households with cash for not reporting a particular forest, referred to as an “ecosystem service payment.”
“If you can’t really talk about the other carbon benefits, it’s very difficult to accept this idea locally – at least it was my experience,” says Miteva. “There’s also the idea that white people are going to the global south and telling people what to do – the whole idea of carbon colonialism.”
Another difficulty is that advocates are trying to deploy nature-based solutions on a planet with a growing human population. The more people live on Earth, the more land we need to feed everyone. “There is a tension between conserving natural biodiversity systems while conserving and feeding people, and that’s a challenge,” said biogeochemist Rich Conant, who is studying nature-based solutions at Colorado State University but was not involved in the new work. “Fortunately, I think much of the land we use for agriculture is used relatively inefficiently, so I think there’s a lot of room for increased food production on earth.” This could include strategies such as improving irrigation and crop rotation to increase yields using the same amount of land.
But it is important to add that people cannot just repair ecosystems, sit and let work do nature. The same goes for relying on new technologies, such as “direct air trapping” machines vacuuming carbon from the air and lock it underground. This is the moral hazard of climate change: Dispersing ways to capture our greenhouse gases when we should do everything we can to reduce them completely – and quickly.
“People get the impression,” don’t worry, people, nature will save us, “says Ellis.” That’s the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night. “First of all, we they are nature and we have to work with it together. But we have to step on the metal pedal and fire at all the wars if we’re pulling like humans and our fellow passengers on Earth’s spaceship, out of this situation we’ve gotten into. “