- Forests are a crucial part of mitigating climate change because they remove more than 25% of the carbon emissions added to the planet’s atmosphere each year, scientists say.
- In Brazil, three entrepreneurs have created a device designed to protect seedlings from invasive grasses and leafcutter ants.
- The device, Nucleário, could help restore deforested areas in Brazil’s rainforests, the inventors say.
- Brazil may be moving in the opposite direction with the recent election of Jair Bolsonaro as president.
- Bolsonaro’s planned initiatives could devastate the Amazon.
Forests are vital to fighting climate change, removing more than one-quarter of the carbon emissions added to the Earth’s atmosphere annually, scientists say.
But the rate of deforestation has increased in much of the world in recent years.
Several governments and charitable groups are taking steps to help restore the Earth’s forests. The Ray C. Anderson Foundation and the Biomimicry Institute, for example, launched a competition this year to address solutions to climate change, and a team of Brazilian entrepreneurs won the $US100,000 prize on October 20 for creating a device designed to protect seedlings from invasive grasses and leafcutter ants.
The Nucleário, which gathers rainwater for the soil and tree roots, was designed to be deployed in parts of the Atlantic Forest. The device’s inventors – Bruno Rutman, Pedro Rutman, and Bruno Ferrari – say it allows for more reforestation in less time, as field workers don’t need to focus on seedling maintenance and can plant more trees instead.
The inventors had participated in the Biomimicry Launchpad, an accelerator program for entrepreneurs to develop nature-inspired ways to tackle climate change.
Bruno Rutman told Business Insider that biologists and engineers were using sensors to test the device’s effect on temperature and other soil conditions. Until now, the prototypes were made of plastic, but the team will gather garbage like cardboard and food waste to serve as the raw material moving forward, he said.
Nucleário will need to stay in place for three years to help a seedling grow, Rutman said.
Generally, field workers need to maintain seedlings for three years after they are planted, Rutman said. This involves cutting invasive grasses, watering the seedlings, and killing leafcutter ants. The workers also use toxic agrochemicals throughout this process, he said.
“The biggest bottleneck of forest restoration is the labour around the maintenance of the seedlings,” he said. “To scale up forest restoration around our planet, we need to improve their jobs.”
Even with all this effort, about 30% of seedlings die in the first three years, Rutman said. With Nucleário, his team wants to make forest restoration faster, cheaper, and safer for the environment.
Brazil’s rainforests are shrinking, and there could be more deforestation under President-elect Jair Bolsonaro
Nucleário was created to help with large-scale forest restoration, Rutman said. While his team wants to help restore deforested areas globally, they are starting with Brazil, where 500 devices have been placed in test patches.
Along Brazil’s coast, Rutman said, there are about 42 million acres of land that can be reforested. That’s roughly the size of Florida.
“Nature needs human help to connect those fragments and create the forest corridors,” he said. “We need to do that as soon as possible.”
Climate change is a global issue, but Brazil plays a large role in mitigating it. Rutman said the country had taken significant steps to restore forests in recent years, including committing in 2016 to restore roughly 30 million acres of land as part of the international Bonn Challenge.
But Brazil’s government now looks likely to move in the opposite direction. The far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro won the presidential election over the weekend, and his proposals could put the Amazon and other forests at risk.
During his campaign, Bolsonaro pledged to withdraw Brazil from the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, though he later told reporters that Brazil would remain in the accord. He also appears to have stepped back from plans to merge Brazil’s environmental agency with its agricultural ministry after suggesting he would shut down the former, which oversees efforts to combat deforestation and environmental degradation.
Still, Bolsonaro’s initiatives could devastate the Amazon.Reuters reported that Bolsonaro had considered reducing penalties for people who violate environmental laws, and critics worry he will open up Brazil’s rainforests to economic interests instead of taking steps to protect it.
Research published last month found that the rate of deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon is still going up. About 210 square miles were deforested in August, three times the amount cleared in August 2017.
Rutman said that while the election was troubling, he remained optimistic about his team’s ability to help restore forests.
“Forest restoration is the biggest opportunity for climate change mitigation,” he said. “We will keep it going, with the politicians or without them. We can’t stay waiting.”