Human Dimensions of Global Warming

Land Use


Land use and land cover change affect our overall greenhouse gas emissions profile because some types of land use do a great job of pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it away while other types of land use have just the opposite effect.  Understanding how are decisions related to land use fit into the overall emissions profile helps us make informed decisions.

Just how big of a factor is land use?  Let's take a look.  

linegraph shows relative & cumulative contributions by gas type to global GHGs with land use. Land use increases emissions by ~5 gigatons
Global GHG Emissions per Type of Gas

As the FA 2019 semester began, fires raged (and continue to rage) across the Amazon.  While this problem is inherently complicated and tangled up in the politics of the region, it's also one highly relevant to the human dimensions of climate change.  Obviously, fires burn more in dry seasons.  This region isn't particularly dry right now (compared to recent years at the same time) and yet more fires are burning.  This is due at least in part to intentionally set fires to clear the land for agriculture.  As we're learning in this lesson, agricultural land isn't as effective at sequestering carbon, and of course agriculture carries with it its own set of emissions.  Additionally, the Amazon rainforest is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, and while that might not feel directly connected to climate change.  It's often the case that we see the human dimensions of climate change in the news throughout the course of our semester together, so I thought it was worth talking a bit specifically about the wildfires in the Amazon burning right now and how that relates to our changing climate (both cause and consequence). Here are some useful resources about the situation if you're interested (though they are not required reading for the course):

During the FA 2020 semester, we had several students enrolled in the course impacted by the fires burning across the western US.