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Planet Earth is Greener

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

The world is literally a greener place than it was 20 years ago, and the data from NASA satellites has revealed a counter intuitive source for much of this new foliage: China and India.

This surprising study shows that the two emerging countries with the world’s biggest populations are leading the improvement in greening the land, courtesy of ambitious tree planting programmes in China and India. In 2017 alone, India broke its own world record for the most trees planted after volunteers gathered to plant 66 million saplings in just 12 hours.

The greening phenomenon was first detected by researchers using satellite data in the mid-1990s, but they did not know whether human activity was responsible.

However, this insight was made possible by a nearly 20-year-long data record from a NASA instrument orbiting the Earth on two satellites. It’s called the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, and its high-resolution data provides very accurate information, helping researchers work out details of what’s happening with Earth’s vegetation, down to the level of 500 meters on the ground.

Taken all together, the greening of the planet over the last two decades represents an increase in leaf area on plants and trees equivalent to the area covered by all the Amazon rainforests. There are now more than two million square miles of extra green leaf area per year, compared to the early 2000s – which amounts to a 5% increase.

“China and India account for one-third of the greening, but contain only 9% of the planet’s land area covered in vegetation – a surprising finding, considering the general notion of land degradation in populous countries from over exploitation,” said Chi Chen of the Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University and lead author of the study.

India's other neighbour, Pakistan, recently announced its own 10 Billion Tree-Planting Initiative, hiring thousands of newly unemployed workers, using this 'nurturing nature' programme to help the planet and come to the economic rescue of thousands of its people.

If we could just put a stop to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest through the efforts of people like Eugenio Scannavino and his sustainable farming programme, things would look even rosier.

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