As the planet heats up, forests die. Pine beetles–formerly killed during harsh winters, thrive, turning much of Colorado a dirty brown. As forest die, they trap less carbon dioxide, causing the earth to get warmer still.
In Colorado and southern Wyoming alone, more than four million acres of forest are already under siege by beetles.
It’s a cycle that may be starting to spin out of control, reports today’s New York Times.
Across millions of acres, the pines of the northern and central Rockies are dying, just one among many types of forests that are showing signs of distress these days.
From the mountainous Southwest deep into Texas, wildfires raced across parched landscapes this summer, burning millions more acres. In Colorado, at least 15 percent of that state’s spectacular aspen forests have gone into decline because of a lack of water.
The devastation extends worldwide. The great euphorbia trees of southern Africa are succumbing to heat and water stress. So are the Atlas cedars of northern Algeria. Fires fed by hot, dry weather are killing enormous stretches of Siberian forest. Eucalyptus trees are succumbing on a large scale to a heat blast in Australia, and the Amazon recently suffered two “once a century” droughts just five years apart, killing many large trees.
Experts are scrambling to understand the situation, and to predict how serious it may become.
Scientists say the future habitability of the Earth might well depend on the answer. For, while a majority of the world’s people now live in cities, they depend more than ever on forests, in a way that few of them understand.
The Times reports that scientists have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done to prevent catastrophic global deforestation, but that funds and political will are lacking.
“Like any other scheme to improve the human condition, it’s quite precarious because it is so grand in its ambitions,” said William Boyd, a University of Colorado law professor working to salvage the plan.