When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Earth's Expanding Greenery Has An Unlikely Hero

Our planet has actually grown greener. Really. You can thank yourself.

It's a green, green world after all
It's a green, green world after all
Benjamin von Brackel

MUNICH — Planet Earth is growing greener.

In Canada and the Russian hinterland of Siberia, coniferous forests crowd the tundra, where previously one could find only grass and shrub. In the U.S., beech forests have spread in the country's north. The Tibetan plateau is now covered with grassland. In the Chinese mountain region of Shangnan, pines and Norway maples blossom. Trees have sprouted in the south of the Sahara and rainforest cover has intensified in the tropics.

It sounds like a scenario from the future, one without mankind, when plants reconquer territory they lost. But it's actually our world today, according to results from a comprehensive survey researching the spread of vegetation on our planet. Scientists, explaining their findings in the journal Nature Climate Change, say this has happened not despite but because of human beings.

At the start of the new millennium, some studies showed that the growing season in the northern hemisphere had lengthened. Spring starts a couple of days earlier, autumn later. Satellites helped detect that the woods in Siberia, North America and northern Europe had grown. Botanists were excited — the chilly zones of the forest tundra is especially affected by global warming, and is therefore a precursor to worldwide trends.

Since the 1980s, satellites had the equipment to find out how vegetation evolves over time. While circling around the planet, they capture infrared rays reflected by Earth's surface. Rays that hit the surface of a green leaf are absorbed and reflected differently from those that strike soil. The wavelength can also determine the mass of leaves at a certain point. Technology can therefore etch out a world map of vegetation.

So why did it take so long to know how widespread our green cover is?

[rebelmouse-image 27090205 alt="""" original_size="1023x685" expand=1]

The green forests of Wisconsin, USA — Photo: Joshua Mayer

In order to make reliable assumptions on climate change, scientists need to collect data for at least 30 years. In April, scientists from the Chinese Academy of Science presented their results from the 1982-2009 period. According to their report, a new surface, twice as large as the U.S., has grown greener. Vegetation has increased in southeastern U.S., the northern Amazon, central Africa and Southeast Asia. Only 4% of our planet's surface saw its vegetation diminish.

What has caused this remarkable turn? Scientists fed factors like carbon dioxide, climate change and nitrogen content in soil into 10 computer models and let them run a couple of times, analyzing only one variable at a time. The results were clear: 70% of the greenery could be explained by the increase of carbon dioxide in the air after combustion of oil, coal and gas.

Climate change played a role in this. Eight percent of plant growth is due to a warmer climate and more rain. In northern latitudes such as the Tibetan plateau, plants now thrive because of rising temperatures. Human beings have also focused on reforestation.

But such efforts will not reverse climate change. Plants and soil retain about one quarter of the carbon dioxide that is released in the air. "The study helps us to understand where the carbon dioxide goes," said Sönke Zaehle of the Max Planck institute for biochemistry. "These are the regions that have become greener."

In the end, vegetation might adapt more efficiently than humans, who have to increasingly cope with extreme weather conditions like droughts that ruin harvests and dried up water sources. It seems that plants might actually win out by reconquering areas that people would have abandoned by then.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


Why The World Still Needs U.S. Leadership — With An Assist From China

Twenty years of costly interventions and China's economic ascent have robbed the United States of its global supremacy. It is time for the two biggest powers to work together, to help the world.

Photograph of Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden walking side by side in the Filoli Estate in the U.S. state of California​

Nov. 15, 2023: Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden take a walk after their talks in the Filoli Estate in the U.S. state of California

María Ángela Holguín*


BOGOTÁ — The United States is facing a complex moment in its history, as it loses its privileged place in the world. Since the Second World War, it has been the world's preeminent power in economic and political terms, helping rebuild Europe after the war and through its growing economy, aiding the development of a significant part of the world.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here.

Its model of democracy, long considered exemplary around the world, has gone through a rough patch, thanks to excessive polarization and discord. This has cost it a good deal of its leadership, unity and authority.

How much authority does it have to chide certain countries on democracy, as it does, after such outlandish incidents as the assault on Congress in January 2021? The fights we have seen over electing a new speaker of the House of Representatives or backing the administration's foreign policy are simply incredible.

In Ukraine's case, President Biden failed to win support for the aid package for which he was hoping, even if there is a general understanding that if Russia wins this war, Europe's stability would be at risk. It would mean the victory of a longstanding enemy.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest