It is believed that if bamboo were planted on a mass basis it could completely reverse the effects of global warming in just 6 years, while providing a renewable source of food, building material, and erosion prevention.I’ve read a lot that’s exciting in environmental news lately, from new types of recycling programs, to rocket ovens that can help people in rural areas use firewood much more efficiently, to new types of solar cells that stick onto windows as a transparent, thin film. And this is no less exciting.
Bamboo, a type of grass, and one of the most common plants in the world, holds great promise for mollifying the urban world’s demand for wood for furniture, combating deforestation, and ameliorating global warming. And new techniques have turned bamboo into super-strong beams that can replace modern building materials.
Many people have championed soy and hemp, discovered to be uncommonly useful and in unusually many ways, as unappreciated plants that hold a lot of promise to improve the lot of mankind. Judging from what follows, they should have bamboo just as much in mind.
Trees used for conventional wood take 30-50 years to regenerate to their full mass. In the meantime, there is less oxygen produced, less carbon dioxide consumed, and more soil runoff in the spot where the tree was harvested - all producing harmful environmental effects.On the other hand--
Bamboo is clocked as the fastest growing plant on Earth. Some species have been measured to grow over 4 feet in 24 hours. . .Soil erosion can be a terrible environmental catastrophe. This is what happened to the dust bowlers in California in the 1920s, inspiring the famous novel The Grapes of Wrath. Deforestation or drought can lead to the topsoil used for agriculture and supporting forest to be lost. It can also lead to landslides. I saw a documentary recently that showed a village in Bangladesh where the villagers were shown racing to move their corrugated aluminum homes. They were built right on the edge of a river where at least a few feet of the riverbank can suddenly fall into the water during floods. I don’t know if bamboo roots could have prevented that, but it at least illustrates on some scale what is going on when soil is eroding and dramatizes the kind of effect it can have on people’s lives. You’re no less harmed if you lose all the topsoil you need to farm than if you lose your house.
Bamboo can be continuously re-harvested every 3 years, without causing damage to the plant system and surrounding environment. . .
During the time it takes to regenerate, the bamboo plant's root system stays intact so erosion is prevented. . .
What inspired me to look up bamboo and the environment- leading me to find this website- was remembering reading a Popular Science or Popular Mechanics article a year or two ago about a Chinese scientist who developed a new method of gluing planks of bamboo together to create beams. These beams are stronger than wooden beams and can even be used to build a small bridge that is as strong as a similar steel bridge.
So what can we conclude from all this?
At least, I think, that a good place to start with reforestation would be replanting bamboo in areas of the world that used to support it.
Ideally, the very best thing would probably be to replant deforested areas with native plants (and to replant those native plants in the right order- forests don’t naturally come back with just whatever plant a human would like to plant first, but with certain sorts of undergrowth first, and then bigger plants second, and so on. The first-returning sort of plants provide the shade and other sorts of protection the second-returning sort of plants need to thrive, and so on and so on).
And if the Amazon rainforest is really so important to fighting global warming, then the right thing to do might not be to replant it using non-native bamboo.
And remember bamboo’s tough root system that fights erosion so well- if planting bamboo and replacing native plants with it is a mistake, then all the tough roots left behind might make reforestation using the right plants all the more difficult and expensive.
However, where replanting with native plants is not practically or politically feasible, the quickness with which bamboo grows and its other strengths might make it a very good second-best measure, if not even the very best practical measure we can take.
Where fighting erosion and not really reforestation is the biggest concern, bamboo sounds great, as long as it won’t mess up ecologies too badly with any non-native qualities it has.
Creating a market for furniture built from hardy, greenhouse gas fighting, quickly re-growing bamboo instead of slow growing traditional timber would be fantastic. Perhaps this is a great argument for starting bamboo cultivation in some non-native areas, particularly ones that aren’t ex-rainforest. Outlaw the sale of furniture made from wood for 10, 20 or 30 years and subsidize bamboo furniture?
And then, I saw a map in a book about rainforests that designated all of Vietnam as formerly rainforest. Vietnam used to be full of bamboo. So some sorts of bamboo, at least, are natural rainforest plants. So could it be that bamboo really has what it takes to bring back any rainforest in any area of the world?
Then there’s the potential for bamboo as a building material. Not only could this help promote bamboo, but help protect other sorts of forests and other sorts of materials that are in limited use.
And what if bamboo could reverse the effects of global warming in 6 years? That quick and that huge a benefit might be worth having to switch bamboo forests over to other sorts of trees and plants later.
I think people and especially those with the clout to investigate it and promote it the best should start chatting up and looking into bamboo. It would be great if we could find within a year or two that the former range of a rainforest was well on its way to being totally replaced by bamboo, or if someday we could read headlines that say that scientists have concluded that global warming has been reversed by reforestation with bamboo.
Thanks for reading the Save The Environment diary.