About trees and the climate

The first living organisms appeared on our planet about 3.8 billion years ago and even then, some of them, although still very small and primitive, were already using sunlight to produce energy by the process of photosynthesis, of which the by-product, oxygen, slowly and slightly began to enrich the Earth’s atmosphere. A fundamental breakthrough in this aspect occurred after tiny, on-land, low plants, as a result of competition for light, about 380 million years ago, began to form large and even majestic trees, and later large, Carboniferous forests. Since then, there has been a significant increase in oxygen and decrease in carbon dioxide absorbed by plants, followed by the development of numerous groups of organisms, especially animals, including mammals. Trees have achieved many evolutionary successes, such as a record height of up to about 130 m, the incredible mechanical strength of their stems, or trunks, their longevity of up to more than 5,000 years, and an extraordinarily extended structure of branches and leafage of fundamental importance for the life of many animals, fungi and plants and for the proper circulation of carbon in nature, the compounds of which strongly influence the climate of the globe. They have taken over most of the terrestrial areas and there are about 80,000 species.

Apart from the burning of fuels such as coal, oil and wood, deforestation is one of the most important factors leading to the harmful release of carbon into the environment. There is still a decline in the world’s forest area, almost the size of Poland’s every year. It is estimated that increasing the planet’s forest cover by around 1.6 billion hectares could help in the fight against climate change. However, this is unlikely to happen at the moment, so reducing emissions while increasing forest cover will remain the most important human condition for preventing global climate change.

Forests and other tree clusters, together with bushes and herbaceous plants, such as mid-field and roadside vegetation, as well as greenery in built-up areas, play a very important role in shaping living conditions in our nearest surroundings. Among other things, they act as so-called biological filters by cleaning the air of toxic substances, mitigating the negative effects of extreme high and low temperatures, collecting and protecting water resources, maintaining humidity, counteracting droughts and floods and preventing soil erosion. Border zones of trees and shrubs at field boundaries inhibit the force of drying winds, reduce evaporation and benefit crop yields. They also provide many other environmental functions, especially in protecting biodiversity, especially when they consist of native forest-forming species.

By carefully selecting and planting trees, by not cutting down trees without important reasons and by not destroying spontaneously created clumps of vegetation with trees and bushes along roads, in fields, on uncultivated land and on our own parcels of land, we can actively support the climate by thinking globally and acting locally.
Prof. UPP Dr. Władysław Danielewicz, Department of Botany and Forest Habitat Science, Poznań University of Life Sciences
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