A multi-decade, high resolution study of the Earth’s surface has finally yielded some good news: the planet is a much greener place than it was in the mid ‘90s, and the source of this greening has surprised many.
The 20-year-long data record was produced by an instrument on board two satellites orbiting the planet and capturing up to four shots of every place on Earth every day for the last 20 years.
As a result, the data set is staggering in size, but positive in message: as a species, we have ‘greened’ an area equivalent to that of all the Amazon rainforests, at a rate of more than two million square miles of extra green leaf area per year (or a roughly five percent increase compared to the early 2000s).
And the unexpected source for much of this new greenery? China and India. In the late 80s, both global powerhouses noticed that soil and air quality was decreasing, and they would need to do something drastic to sustain their ever-growing populations. China began highly ambitious tree planting programs, and both countries launched intensive agriculture programs.
According to the study, 42 percent of China’s greening was due to conservation and reforestation efforts aimed at curbing soil erosion, air pollution and climate change. An additional 32 percent (and 82 percent in India) was due to cultivation of food crops to feed their massive, and rising, population.