The greening of Europe and the consequences thereof.

Within the last 100 years, Europe has experienced two World Wars, the end of communism, the emergence of the European Union and a series of other transformative political and economic developments. A team of scientists has now been able to visualize the impact of historical events in maps that show the growth and decline of settlements, forests and croplands.

The map, shown above, is the result of a research project led by Dutch scholar Richard Fuchs from the University of Wageningen. Besides regional political and economic trends, Europe’s landscape was shaped by several larger developments of the 20th century, according to Fuchs.

“More than 100 years ago, timber was used for almost everything: as fuel wood, for metal production, furniture, house construction. Hence, at around 1900 there was hardly any forest areas left in Europe. Especially after World War II, many countries started massive afforestation programs which are still running today,” Fuchs told The Washington Post.

As a result, Europe’s forests grew by a third over the last 100 years. At the same time, cropland decreased due to technological innovations such as motorization, better drainage and irrigation systems: Relatively fewer area was needed to produce the same amount of food. Furthermore, many people migrated from rural to urban areas, or overseas.

Fuchs’ fascinating conclusion: Forests and settlements grew at the same time and Europe is a much greener continent today than it was 100 years ago. A closer look at different regions and countries reveals Europe’s recovery from the deforestation of past centuries.

Now, I’m absolutely all for more trees and greener continents, but correct me if I’m wrong here. Since plants give off carbon dioxide, wouldn’t more trees tend to explain more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Yes, I know plants take in more than they give off, while they are alive, but then they release it all again when they die.

During their lifetimes, plants generally give off about half of the carbon dioxide (CO2), that they absorb, although this varies a great deal between different kinds of plants. Once they die, almost all of the carbon that they stored up in their bodies is released again into the atmosphere. 

I don’t believe global warming is good science, given its complete failure as a predictive model, but if we were to assume for the sake of argument that global warming exists and if it is the result of the greenhouse effect, wouldn’t greener continents be one of the obvious factors, however minor? Or does logging in the Amazon and Asia counterbalance more trees in Europe and North America?