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Posts Tagged ‘climate change

03
Sep

You may have heard by now that the Amazon rain forest has been burning this summer. The internet quickly filled with quotes about the Amazon being the lungs of the earth, providing the earth with 20% of its oxygen. This article by PBS Newshour does a good job of explaining why oxygen production and loss is not a primary concern when addressing the Amazon fires. In short, we have a huge reserve of breathable oxygen which is being replenished by marine vegetation. The most significant threats posed by Amazon fires are much more significant and dire: regionally the loss of biodiversity, and globally the destruction of massive carbon sinks.

Trees, and more broadly forest ecosystems provide countless ecosystem services, but the most notable are carbon sequestration, natural habitat, oxygen production, and water management. In healthy forest ecosystems trees ‘sink’ carbon, meaning they absorb more than they produce. The total of carbon processed during photosynthesis is more than the amount released through fires and decomposition. Carbon can be stored more permanently in wood products (think wooden houses, furniture, and more), but also in the soil, and the biomass of the forest itself (plants and animals).Healthy forests can have forest fires, even significant ones, and still sequester or sink more carbon than they release. The problem in the Amazon, and other forests, however, is that fires reduce the capacity for carbon storage. When a large tree burns, a certain amount of carbon is released, but the tree also becomes incapable of photosynthesis and stops sequestering carbon. In our National and State forests, trees reemerge naturally or are replanted, giving the land a chance to store carbon again. In the Amazon, these burned areas are likely to be replaced with pasture or crop land, significantly reducing their capacity to sequester carbon. Even in areas where trees are replanted, young, immature trees sequester much less carbon than large trees. Using the PA tree map we can see that a 20-inch London planetree (Platanus acerifolia) sequesters 630 pounds of carbon per year and has sequestered 1900 pounds over its lifespan. A 40-inch London planetree, however, sequesters 1400 pounds per year, and has sequestered 11,350 pounds in its lifespan. In short, the 40-inch tree sequesters almost as much in one year, as the 20-inch tree sequestered in its life to that point. For greater perspective, the trees we typically plant are 2 inches in diameter and sequester less than 20 pounds of carbon in their first few years.

The internet quickly filled with quotes about the Amazon being the lungs of the earth, providing the earth with 20% of its oxygen. This article by PBS Newshour does a good job of explaining why oxygen production and loss is not a primary concern when addressing the Amazon fires. In short, we have a huge reserve of breathable oxygen which is being replenished by marine vegetation. The most significant threats posed by Amazon fires are much more significant and dire: regionally the loss of biodiversity, and globally the destruction of massive carbon sinks.

Trees, and more broadly forest ecosystems provide countless ecosystem services, but the most notable are carbon sequestration, natural habitat, oxygen production, and water management. In healthy forest ecosystems trees ‘sink’ carbon, meaning they absorb more than they produce. The total of carbon processed during photosynthesis is more than the amount released through fires and decomposition. Carbon can be stored more permanently in wood products (think wooden houses, furniture, and more), but also in the soil, and the biomass of the forest itself (plants and animals).

Healthy forests can have forest fires, even significant ones, and still sequester or sink more carbon than they release. The problem in the Amazon, and other forests, however, is that fires reduce the capacity for carbon storage. When a large tree burns, a certain amount of carbon is released, but the tree also becomes incapable of photosynthesis and stops sequestering carbon. In our National and State forests, trees reemerge naturally or are replanted, giving the land a chance to store carbon again. In the Amazon, these burned areas are likely to be replaced with pasture or crop land, significantly reducing their capacity to sequester carbon. Even in areas where trees are replanted, young, immature trees sequester much less carbon than large trees. Using the PA tree map we can see that a 20-inch London planetree (Platanus acerifolia) sequesters 630 pounds of carbon per year and has sequestered 1900 pounds over its lifespan. A 40-inch London planetree, however, sequesters 1400 pounds per year, and has sequestered 11,350 pounds in its lifespan. In short, the 40-inch tree sequesters almost as much in one year, as the 20-inch tree sequestered in its life to that point.

If you repeat that millions of times over, replacing large trees with seedlings, or in the case of the amazon with no trees at all, huge amounts of carbon go un-stored. This is the opposite of the math in a recent study which showed that planting millions of trees could be a long-term solution to climate change. By replacing unplanted and unused areas with trees we can create long-term carbon sinks in more areas. Of course, the study didn’t account for the loss of the Amazon rain forest, and like all tree planting efforts it will take years, and millions of dollars in maintenance to bring enough trees to maturity to begin to see impacts. It is still most beneficial to preserve the remaining large trees we have, but we can always increase planting efforts.

14
Nov

“Nine out of 10 scientists believe that humans are causing global climate change, surveys suggest. But only about one out of two science-education facilities are discussing it at all”.

Two recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette articles explored the presence of climate change lessons in museums. Some people are concerned that nationally, museums are not addressing climate change with their audiences. One expert estimates only about half of facilities around the country are addressing the issue “one way or another”. Some institutions explain that facts in this category are controversial and not conducive to creating science exhibits which often take years to develop. Others argue that the sponsors and funders of some museums are barriers to speaking candidly about climate change.

Everyone seems to agree that museums are able to reach large populations. Many see it as a responsibility of theirs to communicate about climate change.

At the end of the article, “Discussion of climate change is scarce at some Pittsburgh science-education institutions”, the Climate and Urban Systems Partnership (CUSP) is mentioned. For several years NMRWA has been part of this effort to reach more people with lessons on climate change. CUSP is a national project, funded by the National Science Foundation, with groups working in Philadelphia, New York, Pittsburgh and Washington, DC. Each city works to create a model of climate change education that can be used in cities around the country. Focusing on community issues, the group relates climate change back to their audiences. Many Pittsburgh area organizations, with a focus on the environment, come together to form CUSP.

NMRWA has been participating in discussions and activities of CUSP. This year, CUSP created a fun and exciting plan to engage kids and adults in learning about climate change. CUSP’s leaders assembled an impressive Climate Change Playground where anyone could learn how everything from daily activities to city planning can affect our climate.

You can read more about the Climate Change Playground in our blog post about ALCOSAN’s Open House where NMRWA staff participated in the playground.

CUSP focuses on creating activities that are fun and engaging for kids and adults. All of the aspects of the playground are hands-on and interactive, inviting kids to take an active role in their learning. Adults often become engaged through their kids. In every CUSP activity, participants learn what they can do to help combat the effects of climate change. NMRWA focuses on the green infrastructure activity where participants see how a rain storm floods a city and how green infrastructure reduces the amount of rain a city has to endure.  We are able to deliver the message that green infrastructure brings many benefits with it and it can reduce the amount of water coming into Nine Mile Run. We explain that with climate change, we can expected more severe weather events like large rain storms. Finally, we ensure participants understand that green infrastructure is accessible to them whether they purchase it for their home or advocate for its use in their communities.

NMRWA is excited to be part of CUSP and share what everyone can do to protect and conserve Nine Mile Run. CUSP collects data and information at each playground they assemble. They hope to continue to improve on their activities based on this information.  All of the activities are available for partner organizations and educators to use and will be shared with the CUSP partner cities, expanding the reach of the climate change lessons.

You can read the Post-Gazette articles here and here.

What do you think? Should museums offer more educational opportunities about climate change?

Check out some pictures below of the Climate Change Playground at the ALCOSAN Open House.

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