Scientists: Nature best tool for fighting climate change

The North Hills of Missoula with the Rattlesnake Wilderness rising above. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

(CN) – Tree canopies and open grassland are some of the greenest means to combat air pollution and a new study says nature is also the thriftiest way to combat climate change.

Current technological equipment used to offset the amount of particulates that escape into the atmosphere are readily available, but a group of researchers posit that it is most cost effective to use a nature-based solution or defense.

Their findings were published on Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Particulates from industrial machinery, roadways, and other sources of pollution can find their way into households and other places where people live. The American Lung Association says nearly half of people in the U.S. live in areas with poor air quality which can exacerbate or cause health effects such as asthma, lung cancer or cardiovascular disease.

This September, urban forest initiatives were presented during the United Nations Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit. The U.N. aims to grow 90 forests across 30 cities to curb climate change and improve air quality. This would also stem the dreaded “heat islands” that tend to sprout in concrete-heavy urban centers.

Nature will restore ecological balance in the world, according to the study’s authors.

Maintaining tree canopies, existing forests and shrubland vegetation can take up the emissions put out by polluters, including the 27% average of pollution removed through county-level canopy cover, which intercepts particles and absorbs gaseous pollutants.

Nature-based solutions have been touted before, but researchers from Ohio State University, University of Leeds and The Davey Institute in New York compared annual data emissions in the U.S. across multiple counties and current land covered by forests, grassland and other vegetation.

They discovered that, in 75% of the counties analyzed, people got more bang for their buck if they used nature-based solutions to offset pollution emissions than if they tried to invest in technological interventions. Locations that did not fit with the nature model either lacked available land or technological costs were too low to beat than the cost of replanting trees and vegetation.

The method works in both urban and rural areas. There can be some negative effects from conversion. Planting a tree in one location may offset or disrupt another ecosystem that could then reduce habitat for other species.

It is a tricky equation, but the effectiveness of reforestation increases over time and is a viable long-term solution for pollution control, according to the study’s authors.