Published Wednesday in Science Advances, the study is the most comprehensive to date that quantifies how much greenhouse gas emissions can be mitigated through “natural solutions” like better management of forests, farmlands, fields and wetlands.
The study, published with a web interface showing state-by-state results, found that proper handling of natural resources could effectively remove 1.2 petagrams of atmospheric carbon dioxide each year nationwide, equal to 21 percent of the current net emissions of the United States.
In Massachusetts, the gains could be even greater, says Laura Marx, a forest ecologist for the Nature Conservancy’s Massachusetts chapter, who was not involved in the study.
“Here in Massachusetts right now our forests and lands offset about 15 percent of the carbon emissions that we emit each year,” says Marx. “I think we could easily double that.”
Study co-author Christopher Williams, an environmental scientist and associate professor at Clark University’s Graduate School of Geography, cautions that the country will only reach the 21 percent potential, if officials take concrete action to get there.
“While there is significant interest, it won’t be easy to achieve that full 21 percent,” says Williams. “But it’s still important to recognize that this could be a meaningful part of the solution.”
More than half of Massachusetts is covered by forest, but the state loses about 7,000 acres of forest each year to development, according to a 2017 Harvard study. Better forest management includes curbing deforestation, planting more trees in urban areas, allowing more time between timber harvests to increase carbon storage and strategic thinning in forests to prevent the risk of huge wildfires.
Farming improvements, like cover cropping to store more carbon in soil, could also help. 11-15-18
Read more at WBUR