Earth’s climate is regulated by the greenhouse effect. A greenhouse is a house made of glass, where sunlight shines in and warms the plants and air inside. This also means the heat is trapped by the glass and cannot escape. Our atmosphere acts like a greenhouse, where gases absorb and re-emit heat to warm the Earth.
Global climate change is a significant change in the climate system over long periods of time. It includes the interaction of all ecosystems on Earth’s surfaces — oceans, land, air, ice and biodiversity — due to natural processes, such as the sun’s energy, or human activity, like burning fossil fuels. Recently, due in part to human activity, greenhouse gases are building up in the atmosphere rapidly, causing a significant change in the Earth’s climate system.
One of the biggest contributors to climate change is carbon dioxide, which has increased since the industrial age. This leads to changes in climate patterns, which affect everything on the planet, including forests. The most important role that trees and forests play is taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. As they grow trees remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere and sequester them in their leaves, branches, trunks and roots. More trees can decrease the rate of climate change and help us withstand its effects, potentially resulting in less intense storms, fewer infectious diseases, a more stable water supply and fewer wildfires.
Did you know?
- Forests are the largest forms of carbon storage, or sinks, in the United States. Currently, plants absorb and store about 15 percent of the United States’ total carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation and energy sectors.
- One mature tree absorbs CO2 at the rate of 48 pounds per year.
- Over a year, an acre of forest can consume the amount of CO2 created by driving a car 26,000 miles, about twice the annual mileage for an average driver.
- Deforestation accounts for up to 15 percent of global emissions of heat-trapping gases.
References Environmental Protection Agency. Climate Change. Carbon Dioxide Capture and Sequestration. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ccs/index.html (accessed June 4, 2013).  http://www.ncsu.edu/project/treesofstrength/treefact.html (accessed June 4, 2013).  Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Forest Service. Trees Reduce Air Pollution. http://www.dnr.state.md.us/forests/publications/urban2.html (accessed June 4, 2013).  FAO. Newsroom. 2006. Deforestation Causes Global Warming. http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000385/index.html (accessed June 4, 2013).