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Native Shrubs and Why They’re Essential for Carbon Sequestration

Native Shrubs and Why They’re Essential for Carbon Sequestration

Sand prairie merging into shrubland in southeast Wisconsin. Credit: The Prairie Botanist


“Shrubbiness is such a remarkable adaptive design that one may wonder why more plants have not adopted it.” (H. C. Stutz, 1989)

In light of the newest IPCC and US climate change reports, coupled with reports of the ongoing declines of wild species—birds, insects—you name them, just so long as they aren’t human, I have turned to thinking about shrubs. It is precisely their adaptive characteristics that give shrubs their potential to be powerful players in soil carbon sequestration and ecosystem regeneration in certain parts of the world, such as the Midwest.

Although alarming, the reports are not surprising to anyone who’s been keeping track. The IPCC report says human global society has 12 years to reduce carbon emissions to 45% below 2010 levels if there is to be any hope of holding overall average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). The US report, searchable by region, adds fairly detailed, equally dire scenarios for this country. No place on earth will be immune to the destructive consequences of our failure to act.

Since the world has already warmed approximately 1 degree C, even if we are able to keeping warming to 1.5 degrees—an almost insanely optimistic proposal, given the array of forces, from active malice to blind inertia, all backed by money, power and influence poised against success—there will still be massive, destabilized weather patterns and disruptive, destructive weather events similar to and worse than what we are already experiencing. The resultant ecological destruction and human misery will only increase with each half a degree beyond 1.5 degrees until large parts of the earth are literally uninhabitable by humans. We are, right now, on track to warm roughly 3.3 degrees  by century’s end.
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