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Study: Planting trees won’t save planet from climate change

As climate change looms and carbon-emissions targets appear less and less achievable, some have suggested locking up carbon by planting trees in drylands.

Large-scale plantings have already begun in China, Saudi Arabia and parts of Africa.

But new research in the journal Science throws some shade on the idea.

Growing forests sequester carbon, but they also change how well the landscape reflects solar radiation.

In drylands, trees store and release more heat than existing groundcover, which offsets their carbon-banking benefits.

The authors found foresting an area roughly half the size of the U.S. would sequester just over 32 billion tons of carbon but add heat requiring almost 23 billion tons to balance.

The remaining carbon savings would offset less than 1% of emissions under medium and business-as-usual scenarios by 2100.

Dryland forestation can provide shade and protect soil, but can also threaten rare species and biodiversity.

The research includes an interactive map depicting the major results.

Nicholas Gerbis joined KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk in 2016. A longtime science, health and technology journalist and editor, his extensive background in related nonprofit and science communications inform his reporting on Earth and space sciences, neuroscience and behavioral health, and bioscience/biotechnology.Apart from travel and three years in Delaware spent earning his master’s degree in physical geography (climatology), Gerbis has spent most of his life in Arizona. He also holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and a bachelor’s degree in geography (climatology/meteorology), also from ASU.Gerbis briefly “retired in reverse” and moved from Arizona to Wisconsin, where he taught science history and science-fiction film courses at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is glad to be back in the Valley and enjoys contributing to KJZZ’s Untold Arizona series.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerbis focused almost solely on coronavirus-related stories and analysis. In addition to reporting on the course of the disease and related research, he delved into deeper questions, such as the impact of shutdowns on science and medicine, the roots of vaccine reluctance and the policies that exacerbated the virus’s impact, particularly on vulnerable populations.