Despite the tidal wave of environmental criticism directed at coal plants, a new study shows how emissions from coal and other fossil fuels have a huge benefit: they are greening the world’s most arid regions.
Indiana University researchers reviewed dozens of studies on the global greening phenomenon that’s been occurring over the last few decades and concluded it’s a result of increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere.
The study found a “consistent and statistically significant increase in the availability of soil water (11%) was observed under elevated CO2 treatments in both drylands and non-drylands, with a statistically stronger response over drylands (17% vs. 9%).”
For years, satellite images have shown vegetation expanding into the Earth’s drylands, including areas of the Mediterranean, Sahel, Middle East, China, Mongolia and South America. Indiana researchers considered other factors, such as increased rainfall and land use changes, but found CO2 is the only viable reason for the increased greenness.
“We know from satellite observations that vegetation is greener than it was in the past,” Lixin Wang, the study’s lead author and Indiana University Earth sciences professor, said in a statement. “We now understand why that’s occurring, but we don’t necessarily know if that’s a good thing or not.”