Ecosystem Renewal is the Closest Thing to a Win-Win Environmentalists Have

Most of the talk about climate change centers on fossil fuel emissions. But one new documentary, which debuted on BBC World, is all about ecosystems and how they absorb. The documentary is called "Hope in a Changing Climate," and it follows John D. Liu, founder of the Environmental Education Media Project, who spent 15 years researching ecosystem renewal projects in China, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.

Ecosystems impact the climate: plants cool the planet by absorbing carbon and releasing oxygen. People, on the other hand, release carbon by burning the oldest, most compressed plant matter they can find. In order to bring balance back to the system, we need to either prohibit emissions or encourage ecosystem growth.

Jonathan Halperin, Executive Director of the EEMP, hopes that Liu's research
will demonstrate individuals' power take matters into their own hands, even if it means carving life out of a desert.

Picture from

"Some of it can happen phenomenally quickly," Halperin said at a recent screening of the film at George Washington University. "To bring back 35,000 square kilometers in China over a 10-year period [is] relatively quick." He's referring to part of the Loess Plateau, where locals worked with the government to build a thriving ecosystem. Those 35,000 square kilometers now provide food and clean water to thousands of people, and they suck carbon out of the atmosphere. It's just a start, but Ohio State University's School of Natural Resources predicts that the accumulative potential for carbon capture in Chinese soil alone could offset 20% of the country's industrial emissions by 2050.

Now, even if that's true, this wouldn't magically restore the natural balance. No one approach can promise that. But we shouldn't be afraid to gamble on this when, at the very least, it can dramatically improve people's lives.

How do you move the Planet Forward? Tweet us @planet_forward or contribute to the conversation with your own story.