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Nasa Says Earth Is Greener Today Than 20 Years Ago Thanks to China, India (forbes.com/sites/trevornace)
155 points by vanwilder77 on May 28, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 91 comments

Yes, India and China may be "greener". But, as the referenced article [0] states: The greening in China is from forests (42%) and croplands (32%), but in India is mostly from croplands (82%) with minor contribution from forests (4.4%). Main driver for greening according to the authors is an increase in food production.

It is not re-forestation as the Forbes' author wants readers to think: Both China and India went through phases of large scale deforestation in the 1970s and 80s, clearing old growth forests for urban development, farming and agriculture. However, it is clear that when presented with a problem, humans are incredibly adept at finding a solution.

The hubris!

This means we actually observe net deforestation, globally, but also in China [1] and India [2] if you look at tree coverage indicators from Global Forest Watch. Global Forest Watch also uses satellite images, from a very similar timeline, so it should be comparable and raise serious doubts on the positive message of the Forbes article. To preserve biodiversity and combat climate change, we need more forests, not just more "green" land.

[0] Nature article: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-019-0220-7

[1] China Forest Watch map: http://bit.ly/2HGOXtI

[2] India Forest Watch map: http://bit.ly/2qT4e0g

(edits to improve formatting)

A valid critique of the article. Though, to get a well-rounded view on this matter, take into account the per capita carbon footprints[1] also - which tells a different story than mainstream media:

Saudi Arabia: 16.85

United States: 15.53

Australia: 15.83

China: 6.59

India: 1.58

[1] https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/sc...


This NASA article points something out that is missing from the Forbes article based on the same research: 82% of increased greening in India and 32% in China is due to intense agricultural activity — harvesting multiple crops per year. This does not increase biomass as much as by reforestation. Forests support rich ecosystems and do not use up groundwater unlike intensive farming.

These kind of article raises more questions than answers. Leaving aside politics on this, I need to know more.

How does this "greening" help? Is it more due to agriculture or forests? If it's due to agriculture, what are the unintended consequences?

While this article is positive in its tone (which I appreciate) I can't help but feel that it's shallow. It's green so yayy! But what comes next? Increased greenery due to agriculture can probably never have the same positive effects as a forest, at least for the surrounding ecology and biome.

China has a lot of reforestation projects, the most notable of which is the "Green Great Wall," which is intended to hinder the growth of the Gobi dessert. The benefits of this project are questionable because the trees soak up a lot of groundwater in an already very arid area. Also, the forests rely on a few species of trees, so it's very vulnerable to disease.


I had seen a video somewhere that the Green Great Wall was failing and in constant threat of collapse because of the arid wind and pretty much non-existent water table causing the trees to die off faster than they can be planted.

The footage had interviews with a group that tries to keep it watered.

EDIT: It might have been the initiative in Africa (Sahara). I tried finding the video and am met with similar initiatives on both continents.

How much of these "reforested" areas are of eucalyptus plantations, used to fabricate paper? I don't think that we can point a big exogenous monoculture can be considered "greener".

This is a good counter-argument with some evidence that China and India are not the toxic hell hole that sometimes pops up in media.

The thing that isn't mentioned in the article and is in the paper is that the majority >80% of the greening is due to cropland instead of the forests.

I don't know if it is a counterargument, you can fill your countryside with trees while also burning a mountain of coal.

It depends on how you're burning the mountain of coal.


Greenhouse Gas Emissions Per Capita (Metric Tons of CO2e Per capita):

China: 8.49 India: 2.28 United States: 19.9 Japan: 10.55


Is your point that the US is worse?

Because, yes, the US absolutely needs to lower its carbon output immediately and drastically.

Note that there are lots of other democratic countries doing far better than the US and China.

yeah, and none of those are remotely anywhere the size of the above mentioned countries.

Isn't the purpose of looking at "per capita" numbers that it allows you to compare countries of different sizes?

What now? I make of it a weak counter-argument at most. If you have say, more forests and toxic hell holes of cities, is that a counter-argument?

And the cropland, if its desiccated and over fertilized?

China and India's commendable efforts aside, the whole earth has been affected by global environmental change: Nature Climate Change volume 6, pages 791–795 (2016)

"We show a persistent and widespread increase of growing season integrated LAI (greening) over 25% to 50% of the global vegetated area, whereas less than 4% of the globe shows decreasing LAI (browning)."

"CO2 fertilization effects explain 70% of the observed greening trend, followed by nitrogen deposition (9%), climate change (8%) and land cover change (LCC) (4%). CO2 fertilization effects explain most of the greening trends in the tropics, whereas climate change resulted in greening of the high latitudes and the Tibetan Plateau. LCC contributed most to the regional greening observed in southeast China and the eastern United States."

I think its very important to engage with the fact that this is something China can do because of what we in the west deem unacceptably "authoritarian" governance. This effect isn't entirely due to people's starry-eyed conservationism: the government arrests people and closes factories that violate these ecological goals.

By way of example, this happened a few weeks ago and is very difficult to find coverage of in english speaking media: https://nationalpost.com/news/world/china-makes-arrests-shut...

And what about India? As far as I know it doesn't have an authoritarian government. Europe is also democratic and has been a world leader in environmental policy. It's really just the United States that has the problem.

I don't think the key difference is authoritarian vs. democratic, but "prudent" vs. "proudly ignorant". America has some deep, deep-rooted cultural problems that are really at the heart of our environmental failings. Nearly half of our country still thinks global warming is a conspiracy. Some here in the south modify their trucks to produce more pollution as some kind of twisted badge of honor. You see them belch smog across the freeway like it's 1920. It's really a very specifically American complex.

You make a very good point, and I upvoted it.

That said, ixtli has a very salient point on the subject of how implementing these things is a whole lot easier when you start shutting down factories and arresting scofflaws. But you probably don't necessarily need government as authoritarian as China's to do those things.

Ya I’ve said to another commenter that I just don’t know enough about Indian post-colonial government to be able to comment effectively.

Extremely multi-leveled and complex. Democratic. Corrupt in many places. Idk how you measure authorotarian-ness, but it certainly isn't totalitarian. Ie, A central national authority does not exercise a lot of power over people's lives. As you move down the power ladder to local scale, there is a lot of variance and there are pickets of totalitarian power... not the kind of power that'd be implementing environmental policies though.

I'd say more similar to the west than china, in terms of stuff pertinent to the thread.

More generally still, I don't think the high-level system is a driving force. I think it's mostly pretty straightforward.. environmental issues have become a thing people care about more in china and India, governments and publics.

Right- law and order when it comes to corporations are what's needed, which isn't incompatible with democracy. It is incompatible with the values held by much of America, unfortunately.

Don't forget the new trend of purposefully parking their trucks in EV parking spots to deny EVs the ability to charge.

Unfortunately, it looks like the US are exporting this "proud ignorance" - see the recent victory of Jair Bolsonaro, who has been dubbed the "Brazilian Trump" because of his similar views on gun control, the environment (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jair_Bolsonaro#Environmental_p...) and general firmly populist right-wing attitude. Maybe India, China and others will be able to offset the increased rate of deforestation in Brazil, but still, a planted forest is not the same as an untouched tropical rainforest...

For various reasons the American mindset is more common in less-developed countries. To a degree that's natural - when you're just trying to get your economy off the ground, it makes more sense to get out of the way of business, as opposed to when you have the world's largest and most impactful economy.

The United States is a country that started out in that situation and never totally grew out of it. It's culturally stunted, stuck romanticizing an earlier stage of development instead of growing up. It's a fifty-year-old that refuses to stop acting like he's twenty-one.

Of course, the UK right now is a counter-example to this way of looking at things.

Well, yes, but India and China are less-developed countries too. I know all developing countries can say "you cut down your forests centuries ago, why can't we do the same thing now?", but at least some are trying to develop without making the same mistakes...

It won't take a dictator to plant trees, just government spending. In fact the EPA has done a lot without eliminating democracy in the US.

....And it’s currently run by a fossil fuel lobbyist.

While I’m not arguing for the US to not be a democracy, it’s important to accept that democracies are not perfect, have many flaws and require constant vigilance to ensure the knobs of State power don’t end up in the hands of incompetent idiots (as they are in the current administration).

I think most of us accept that democracy is imperfect. There’s a reason for the popularity of the quote that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

The main, perhaps only, advantage of democracy is that it is resilient. A dictatorship can easily decide to plant a ton of trees and shut down dirty factories. It can just as easily decide to dump toxic waste into the rivers and shoot anyone who complains. A benevolent dictatorship is much better than democracy, this is pretty widely accepted. It’s better until the dictator dies or is overthrown, then you don’t know what you’ll get.

To quote Scott Alexander, “If you remember nothing else about the superiority of democracies to other forms of government, remember the fact that in three years, we will have a change of leadership and almost no one is stocking up on canned goods to prepare for the inevitable civil war.”

I suspect that instituting very strong campaign finance laws would get us 90% of the way towards solving this problem.

And not just _this_ problem.

I don't see why you couldn't have a fossil fuel lobbyist as a dictator, or even as a dictatorial appointment motivated by the same reasons that got the current EPA head appointed.

It’s a good question. Notably, most dictatorships are this way and rarely do we find benevolent totalitarian regimes (Park Chung Hee, Lee Kuan Yew etc).

The CPC is different in that at its core it still seems to a) believe in science and b) wants to uplift China. The bargain is that CPC will take China down a path of prosperity while suspending democratic freedoms. It’s entirely possible they don’t hold their end of the bargain, but it would likely lead to social instability on a massive scale.

>wants to uplift China

Why would they want to do that? To stay in power, presumably - the same as any other political organization. If they are ever faced with a situation where the best way to stay in power is to destroy China, they will take it; an option that US politicians might sometimes wish they could take, but are unable to because of limits on their power.

There are a million CPC officials, and 2200 elected representatives. The party claims 89 million members. I’d be critical of attempts to view it as a somehow monolithic entity that exists separately from “the rest” of China.

When joining the party is required if you want to get a job in your career field, you'll join the party.

require constant vigilance

i.e., y’all need to vote.

People keep voting, meanwhile nothing's getting better.

Who are you voting for in your municipal and/or state elections in November? Yes, this year. Do you know there are races?

Federal elections are incredibly important, but on a day-to-day basis, city and state elections will affect you just as much, if not more.

Here in Seattle, for instance, seven of our nine city council members are up for reelection, and the outcome will determine how $6 billion gets spent every year. It will help determine whether Seattle can keep pace with its huge influx of tech workers. It will determine whether housing affordability gets addressed.

And not that many people are really aware of these elections. Even fewer are aware of the primary that will determine who's on our November ballot.

So, if you've made a plan to be a voter in your forthcoming municipal elections, then bravo—I'm incredibly happy to hear it. And now get to work making sure that your friends and family members have up-to-date voter registration information on file, and that they have plans to be voters, too.

Vote Save America makes it easy to check if your registration is up to date: https://votesaveamerica.com

That's because people just vote once every few years on election day.

Vigilance includes actively following politics (not just the sensational BS headlines in TV news and newspapers, but the real deal), marching and demonstrating when needed, participating in your preferred party and making sure the right people get its nomination, and so on.

Don't just "write your congressman" about issues, for they could not care less. Write online, influence others, organize, and make them care (whatever your politics, this is just so the politics are closer to what people want, not so that the politics are "the right politics", which doesn't exist).

It's true. Australia just had a federal election, and re-elected a party running on an anti green, pro-coal energy strategy. Voting here is compulsory

What were the voter turnouts in the last presidential election (which had the most people vote in recent memory)?

What about the most recent mid-term, off-year elections?

People don't vote. Well, old people vote. But that's about it.

democracy is not a spectator sport

has done, not is doing

That is one of the reasons why we have the Electoral College.

How does the electoral college prevent this problem?

"the government arrests people and seizes factories that violate these ecological goals"

Why isn't this a good thing? Shouldn't people who ignore ecological laws be punished? And anyway, how do you propose to fix climate change without massive, centralized planning, including punishment of those who subvert such a fix for personal gain?

Also, in your link, the plants are closed, not seized.

"the government arrests people and seizes factories that violate these ecological goals"

But near human slavery in factories with working commiting suicide, that does not violate any goals.

So it says greener today than 20 years ago. How Green were they in say 1960 and 1970 and 1980, etc. I take it since the article says 20 years, then 30 years ago the space was a lot greener before then?

Yes the US needs to pick up on green space, but remeber when you look at the map the south west (Cali to Texas, is not exactly good for trees.

I don’t understand. Why would central planning be required to fix climate change? How about just charge greenhouse gas emitters so that there are no longer externalities?

I don’t see any reason to turn to central planning, unless one just uses that term to refer to any regulations involving the economy.

One example when I was there in March: I saw no 2-stroke ICE scooters, everybody is riding electric scooters. AFAIK, it was a decree by the central govt, and a very effective change since 2-strokes are notorious polluters.

I think a lot of right wingers in North America would say that regulations such as taxing carbon, or providing government incentives to solar or wind farms would be considered a socialist centrally planned catastrophe. I mean, that's what the 'Green New Deal' is all about, and apparently American right wing nuts think that's communism.

The Green New Deal is a mishmash of left wing talking points, not a coherent proposal.

It may unfortunately be the only way. We live in a capitalist society where the only reason any sort of enterprise occurs is because there's a profit to be made. The US government just doesn't give a shit to correct negative externalities via smart regulation because it's in bed with all the big actors in most industries.

I don’t quite understand the argument. Since the US government is in bed with big industry, it should take over the entire economy instead of regulate those big industries?

>How about just charge greenhouse gas emitters so that there are no longer externalities?

There will still be externalities, but they would be properly priced in and accountable.

I don't see the US government (for one) having the teeth or even really desire to enforce any regulations absent a huge change.

Oh I hoped it was clear that I think it's a very, very good thing that we should do here. Also v good point, they are closed. (However I would bet that they'll be reopened under new management. Definitely my western bias saying 'seized.')

I edited my comment to say closed.

> And anyway, how do you propose to fix climate change without massive, centralized planning, including punishment of those who subvert such a fix for personal gain?

Tax tax tax. Price in the cost of externalities and let the market sort it out. Market forces allow society-wide coordination without heavy-handed central planing.

Obviously you'll still need to prosecute tax cheats.

On the other hand, India is more federated and much less centralized (nor authoritarian) and they’ve achieved progress in this area too!

Yes, it definitely appears this way! I just know a bit about china and nearly nothing about india so i don't really comment :)

It is worth noting though, that just planting trees all over the place isn't the same as building and sustaining a complex forest/jungle ecosystem. They may be planting a lot, but the habitat destruction is still a serious concern.

And it's not just an India/China thing too. The US also paves over new and moderate growth forests so they will never develop into old growth ones.

"I think its very important to engage with the fact that this is something China can do because of what we in the west deem unacceptably "authoritarian" governance."

I disagree.

Check the article again:

- Canada has been responsible for 40% as much 'man made greening' as China.

- Canada is 3% the population of China.

- Canada has provided 1500% 'more greening per capita' than China.

- Canada is obviously a decent modern democracy.

In 'per capita' or 'per square km' terms, or even in 'per GDP' terms, there doesn't seem to be a much of a story here.

So I don't think this is at all about 'authoritative power', in fact, arguably just the opposite.

FYI I think the 'real' story is in the opposite direction - a large country like Brazil which is currently having problems with deforestation.

I know this is a somewhat controversial statement, but I sometimes feel that Democracy is ruining our chances of survival as a species.

Long-term project planning and execution is very difficult when administrations, and their inherent focuses, change so quickly compared to the length of time necessary to achieve massive projects.

If we want to "fix" climate change by terraforming our planet, it'll take multiple lifetimes. Same with substantial space engineering projects.

It flies in the face of my liberal demeanor, but I think the only form of government with the ability to stick to plans for hundreds of years would be a Monarchy, strict dictatorship, or something similar. In theory, we could get lucky and they would be benevolent.

We could also just embrace the plausible AI "singularity" and ask the machines to take care of us and tell us what to do. It just takes faith that an AI would be more reliable over hundreds of years than a succession of different people. It also takes faith that it wouldn't decide to just throw in the towel and remove the people to save the planet.

>I sometimes feel that Democracy is ruining our chances of survival as a species.

The cynic in me believes that the point of environmental alarmism is to convince the public that giving up their democratic way of life and their rights is the only way to save the earth and humanity from certain destruction. Those who believe that dramatic action is necessary to stop certain extinction will stop at nothing to take power in order to enact their plan. After all, the very survival of the species depends upon them, doesn't it?

What actions do you propose in order to "engage with" this "fact"? Are there factories in Western nations that would be seized by more "authoritarian" governments? Can we write some letters to get those factories shuttered without buying into more authoritarianism too?

In fact it seems quite normal that polluters would be punished. When the authorities charged with environmental enforcement are accountable to the populace, polluters are punished for that reason. When they are not accountable, polluters are punished for other reasons, which reasons are probably more closely aligned with the interests of those authorities than with those of the populace. It's great that China no longer imports trash, and it's great that they've closed down some polluters, but they're pretty late to this party. Far freer nations managed to accomplish this a long time ago. Maybe China should copy them instead?

It is authoritarian, but so is every government intervention. Authoritarian actions aren't inherently bad...it's just dangerous and often suboptimal to resolve issues by force.

This is effectively "infrastructure spending," which is the thing China has done best, and very few people in the US and Europe actually oppose. The complaints against infrastructure spending don't tend to be that they represent government overreach, but rather that they tend to overspend and do a terrible job (see California bullet train).

This resonates with what happened in Eastern Europe. Until the fall of communism nature (by and large) thrived. Despite some bone-headed industrial projects, hunting sprees of the ruling class, etc., a remarkable level of biodiversity was preserved and there was no widespread poaching or deforestation. In comparison, the wild capitalism of the last 30 years and the opening up of the market to (more efficient) international players meant a death-penalty for forests and wildlife.

EDIT: downvoters, please argue for the opposite if you disagree.

The forests of Europe in general have all grown considerably denser since WW2. In eastern Germany, the forests are still sparser than their western German counterparts.

Yeah, they are the chief sources of CO2, which plants are known to be quite fond of.

Anyone has a link to read the underlying study?

i think we'll see this more and more as China shifts its manufacturing over to Africa (currently huge investments going on).

It doesn't really solve the problem, you just get to point at someone else who's now holding the ball instead of you when it all goes up in flames.

Uh..... no.

If China/India adopt and perfect green tech and export it to Africa, fucking awesome.

America is sadly too busy with infighting on stupid issues (Abortion, Gun restrictions , Voting rights... all important, stupid in that there still isn’t general consensus that these are all good ideas that should be adopted widely ASAP) while the rest of the world moves on.

Any post critical of USA is universally panned on this site, careful now.

The point of my post is their not pushing green tech to Africa, they're pushing all the dirty industries they no longer want/need to tolerate on-shore.

And so the cycle of the industrial revolution goes, wrecking every country in its wake ....

I agree that seems likely, but the cost effectiveness of solar tech, mass transit etc. make me hopeful that Africa will take a different path to economic development.

It's almost too bad, because instead of decimating one area and driving 50% extinction in one ecosystem, the global economy is doing a grand tour that will curbstomp every ecosystem in turn.

For sure! I'm not saying democracy should be abandoned. I'm saying that

1) china might not actually be quite like its depicted in the west 2) what we call authoritarian is often just counter to our ideology that people should be able to deploy capital however they see fit with little consequence.

Anyway your point that it just takes correctly allocated capital to solve this problem is 100% salient.

(And before anyone jumps on #2, yes, the CPC does not allow some types of political dissent that we are allowed in public in the west and that should be criticized. But we need to criticize it for the right reasons, as opposed to blindly asserting that nothing horrible has ever happened due to what I would call free speech fundamentalism.)

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20030438 and marked it off-topic.

“what we call authoritarian” is rolling over protestors with tanks. That’s for starters.

How about systemic criminalization of previously enslaved minority population so they’re unable to make any economic gains? Disenfranchisement so they’re unable to vote for leaders with their interests?

That sounds pretty authoritarian to me. The difference is simply that it’s cleverly hidden from plain view.

I see this argument a lot in China threads, "America has already used up the world's supply of crime, so everyone else is forced to remain innocent." Unfortunately, bad government is not finite, every country can manufacture their own.

I think we're in agreement.

Its ok to point out that the Chinese Government is authoritarian and does many things that Civilized people find reprehensible.

Its ok to point out that the US Government is democratic, but with many authoritarian tendencies, which have targeted minorities, Women etc. for a very long time which Civilized people find reprehensible.

Its not OK to use one incident of authoritarianism as a cudgel against another country like your own country hasn't done similar things. That is a recipe for jingoism, nationalism and other -isms.

Not every bad thing is authoritarian. Sometimes you have people powered plagues, such as racism and bigotry, which have been part of human nature for millennia.

Lawful discrimination against minorities (Jim Crow, Poll Taxes etc.) is by definition authoritarian. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authoritarianism

"But we need to criticize it for the right reasons..."

Sure, but no one is criticizing china for its conservation efforts. Their political assassinations and decimation of civil liberties however...

I'm all for changing the unsustainable and ecologially detrimental status quo among western liberal democracies-- but ecofascism or eco-state-capitalism are not a viable alternatives. Literally any government can plant trees and shut down factories-- let's not use this to defend unrelated horrors.

China has been disappearing students got the past several months for supporting labor rights...in a communist country..

THIS is a criticism of the CPC. Also, China is not a communist country.

Greening from croplands, that's really unimpressive. I'll take that too though, better than nothing.



If you want people to take your arguments seriously you should back it up with facts.

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