North American Trees Won't Save Us From Dangerous Climate Change

The forests won't save us from climate change. robert cicchetti/Shutterstock

In fact, if the Paris agreement isn’t fully enforced, the climate will change so quickly that many trees are simply unable to adapt quickly enough, and many will die out as a result. Projected forest growth rates in some parts of the continent are up to 75 percent slower for the second half of this century. The forests of Alaska, Canada, and the Rockies are particularly negatively affected by increasing temperatures, and they will inevitably become poor carbon sinks.

Incredibly, growth rates only increased along a handful of coastal areas, mainly along the Pacific Northwest, Northeastern Quebec, and the Florida panhandle – nowhere near enough to make up for the drop everywhere else.

Worse of all, the authors note that as trees struggle to deal with soaring temperatures, they become more vulnerable to additional stressors, like droughts and wildfires. As a result, they may end up giving out more carbon than they absorb.

If there’s one thing humanity is best at, it’s changing the climate. Despite the best intentions of the pioneering Paris agreement, the world will likely breach its 2°C (3.6°F) warming limit by 2030 even with all signatories enacting it.

Make no mistake, we are set for a century of Arctic disintegration, agricultural failure, economic decline, an unprecedented refugee crisis, sea level rise, powerful natural disasters, and, as this study shows, shrinking forests – unless, of course, we step up our game and do something more about it.

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Looks like our best bet isn't to rely on nature to fix our own mess. Don Mammoser/Shutterstock

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