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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.

Source:

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. . .

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. . .

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.  

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.

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Comment Preferences

  •  But It's Just Going to Recycle into the Atmosphere (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    salmo, FishOutofWater, Calamity Jean

    in a few years as it rots.

    Don't you have to harvest and bury it to get it out of the carbon cycle?

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 03:53:26 PM PST

    •  You can't keep adding CO2 to the atmosphere (4+ / 0-)

      at increasing rates and expect any natural process to remove it faster than you are adding it. First, CO2 emissions must stop growing. If we reduced annual CO2 emissions by 80% natural processes would have a fighting chance at pulling out the remaining 20%.

      look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening.

      by FishOutofWater on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 04:35:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  If you use the cut bamboo (0+ / 0-)

      to build furniture and buildings, and those items are built well enough to last for many years, you are at least sequestering the carbon for a period of time, maybe into the hundreds of years.

      "If you lose your sense of humor, it's just not funny anymore" Wavy Gravy

      by offgrid on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 05:11:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Yes bamboo is important (7+ / 0-)

    But the figures you quote are for tropical bamboos. It's very different elsewhere. I agree that bamboo is a vital resource, undervalued, underutilized. We have to create a market! Until the rich in the Global North start buying bamboo, it will be virtually invisible.

    "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." Sinclair Lewis

    by Evoculture on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 04:14:08 PM PST

    •  I have Timber Bamboo growing in my back yard (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      offgrid

      in Atlanta.  It shoots up very fast in spring, but that's all the growth I can see.  I'll have to experiment with harvesting and see how it grows back.

      If I had to guess at the rate of spread I'd estimate it doubles every year.  I've had mine for 4 years.

  •  most deforested areas are used for livestock (3+ / 0-)

    and for livestock feed (soy, corn) so first you have to reduce livestock consumption to even regain deforested land: then best to let it naturally regrow.

    Macca's Meatless Monday

    by VL Baker on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 04:40:36 PM PST

  •  Non native species are not a good answer (6+ / 0-)

    Anyone who has ever worked to eradicate a patch of Fallopia japonica (knot weed, which looks a lot like bamboo although it is not) would never advocate widespread planting of invasive species.  I am all for bamboo in areas where it is a native species, but our experience with non-native species suggests there are far more risks than rewards in their widespread distribution.

    •  In my yard I've surrounded my designated bamboo (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Oh Mary Oh

      area with a 36" hard plastic perimeter (buried).  The type I have, giant timber bamboo, only flowers every 130 years (not a typo) so the barrier should be sufficient.

    •  These may be a viable possibility (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Calamity Jean, Oh Mary Oh

      for Eastern North America:  Arundinaria.

      Apparently the former canebrakes are not only (formerly) natural but were essentially monocultures and very large...so I guess you could argue that a plantation of these things would also count as a significant ecosystem restoration if properly managed.

      No idea if they're invasive or not - they probably are if they could expand to form a canebrake.

    •  Knotweed is tuff. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      salmo

      1 application of Roundup wont kill it, the knotweed drops its leaves covered with Roundup and puts out new leaf shoots.

      You can do this 4-5-6 times year, and the knotweed will only be a smaller patch.

      .................expect us......................... FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

      by Roger Fox on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 06:19:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I have some friends who have a startup company, (0+ / 0-)

    Hot Bambú which will be making bamboo charcoal in Austin, TX that is carbon neutral and sustainable.  There is a fair bit of relevant information on how this can work on their website in the "About" section.

    He is currently making dinner but I will pick his brain a bit for specifics when he's done, or alternatively encourage him to sign up and post directly.

    Full disclosure - I recently gave them some money in a Kickstarter, so I suppose I have some interest in them to the extent that I will be getting some charcoal.

  •  Planting any species of bamboo (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PeterHug, badger, salmo, Oh Mary Oh

    outside of its native range is a very bad idea, unless there is a body of peer reviewed research to determine A) that it's not invasive, and B) that it has a net beneficial effect on the environment.

    Several bamboo species in the genus Phyllostachys and the genus Bambusa are already listed as invasives in the southern US.

    The booklet Nonnative Invasive Plants of Southern Forests, by James H. Miller takes more than 60 pages just to describe the worst invasives that are already here. Many of those plants were brought here with good intentions, or under the assumption that they would not reproduce. Our feeble attemps to stop these invaders cost billions of dollars annually in control costs and lost land productivity.

    The last thing we need is even more invasive plants being spread around the globe for some noble purpose. Generally speaking, the best species for a given area are the ones that are already there.

    Finally, this question: What effect would a monoculture of bamboo, planted on a "mass basis", have on native wildlife?

    •  I (naively) would expect that depends (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      foresterbob, Oh Mary Oh

      on whether the monoculture is itself native.  The wiki article on Arundinaria suggests that they are native to Eastern N America, and originally formed very large, essentially monoculture sites (canebrakes) that are now mostly gone (I presume for farmland).

      I don't know if recreating these would be a net benefit for the ecosystems involved, but it appears that it would in any case not be without precedent, if done with the original species.

      •  Native cane did form monocultures, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        PeterHug

        but the cane was wiped out by a variety of factors. When I encounter it now, it is growing in small patches underneath a forest canopy.

        On the other hand, when I encounter patches of invasive bamboo, it grows in dense stands that exclude virtually all other plant life.

        An argument can be made in favor of planting Arundinaria, since it is native. However, it does not logically follow that it is okay to plant similar-looking species from other parts of the world. We are asking for trouble if we do that.

        •  Iam not proposing that - (0+ / 0-)

          my thought is that if the Arundaria once did form large areas of monoculture (or near monoculture), a plantation of Arundaria itself would in any case be presumptively compatible with the rest of the Eastern N American ecosystem.

          I have no idea if such a crop would be economically viable.

  •  I must take issue with this statement: (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PeterHug, badger, salmo, DKBurton, Oh Mary Oh
    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.
    This would be true if nothing but bare earth occupied the space where the harvested tree once stood. In reality, several trees will replace the original one (to be thinned out over time by logging or natural processes), plus grass, shrubs, and other vegetation.

    Nature is far too diverse to make generalizations. But let's use the example of southern pines growing on private land. The owner harvests about 100 mature trees per acre, but will replant about 500. As the trees grow, they will shade out most of the grasses and shrubs. The new crop of trees will be periodically thinned to keep the site fully stocked.

    So...that one tree does not get replaced by one tree. The site will be fully occupied by trees and other plants that use CO2. There will not be decades-long empty spot waiting for a tree to grow large enough to cover it.

    As someone who has spend a lifetime in the woods, I can tell you that erosion is not a big deal on managed lands. It's the lands that are deforested and converted to other uses that are subject to serious erosion.

    •  We have met the enemy, and ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      foresterbob

      This is to second foresterbob's assertion about erosion on managed lands and to point out that there is a substantial body of research supporting his position.  Erosion, the movement of soil particles, is just part of the areas of concern for management of any land.  I am seeing problems associated with roads here in the Northeast (including woods roads), not so much with the cuts themselves, and certainly not with regeneration problems.  

      We are seeing far greater effects on aquatic ecosystems from migration of nutrients.  Again, there is a substantial body of work about that for foresters.  I have seen plenty of cuts that fail research based standards (as I am sure foresterbob has), but far more that reflect good professional work.  For example, I am part of a quasi-judcial board that recently fined a landowner for a small cut that failed every reasonable test, and applicable laws.  It was not professionally managed.  That mistake is the exception, a fraction of a percent of the total acreage cut in that watershed.  The biggest problems we have with nutrients come when land use is converted to subdivisions, golf courses, etc.  Pogo's observation is still true, our problems come not so much from some unnamed other but from activities in which the vast majority of Americans are a part, including me.

      •  The major sources of erosion (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        salmo

        are human activities related to our everyday lives: roads, building construction, runoff from paved surfaces, etc. Agriculture is next, but farmers are getting better at saving their soil. Logging is way down the list.

        Most states either have forest practices laws, or best management practices. You have college-educated foresters, farmers, soil scientists, and watershed managers making decisions about land use. This isn't the "bad old days" of 100 years ago.

        •  Resources out of place (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          foresterbob

          Codger that I am, I have recently begun spending winters along Florida's Indian River Lagoons.  Those water bodies have suffered a series of recent algal blooms associated with nutrients from what has been rapid development.  The grass flats have been smothered.  We read about manatee die offs and the like, which are consequences of those events.  Looking at construction sites in that area, silt fences and erosion control measures are the rule.  They have a handle on soil movement.  

          What is missed in regulation and best practices is the far more difficult problem of controlling nutrients - all that fertilizer on grass and gardens that have replaced the native scrub.  The problem here is, "How to control all those thousands of individual decisions about when, how and whether to fertilize the lawns and golf courses that now dominate the landscape?"  Where the remnants of those ecosystems are intact, they are a magnificent resource.  A few parks doesn't make up for the loss of that plethora of fish, shrimp, animals, birds, flowers, etc. where algae blooms.

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