Bamboo and Climate Change

Trees and other plants are often looked at as important carbon sinks with the changing CO2 concentrations taking place today. However, many times these environments are cut down for human economic activity. There is, however, a new study on how one type of plant – not a tree – may benefit both people and the climate.

Bamboo as a source of carbon sequestering has been ignored by some studies, as the plant is not a species of tree (bamboo is a species of grass). New studies have shown that bamboo forests have similar sequestering effects to other major forests around the world. It is projected that in China, bamboo forests will store almost 40% more carbon within only 40 years (727 million tons in 2010 to 1,018 million tons in 2050).

Bamboo is a grass species (not a tree), but is often found in massive forests in places like China. The plant can be grown in many different climate zones and on multiple continents. This makes it very viable as a source for human-planted carbon sequestration, helped by the fact that bamboo can be used after only 3-6 years depending on the species and environmental conditions. Bamboo has been cut in places instead of tree species due to this growth speed. Bamboo harvesting can be increased by harvesting the plant as a perennial rather than clear-cutting, a process that also has less of an impact on the environment at large.

Bamboo has shown to be more resistant to climatic disturbances than trees. A strong cold snap in China wiped out large numbers of bamboo and Chinese fir, another fast-growing plant species. However, fir stands can take decades to fully recover from an event at this scale, while the bamboo grew back to a state similar to pre-disturbance in about three years.

In addition to planting solely for the purpose of carbon storage, bamboo also has great potential as an economic engine, especially for lower-income communities. Bamboo as a material source for construction, textiles, furniture and numerous other uses is often perceived as being weak. However, the material is comparatively favorable to other sources of timber. The industrial processing used to create bamboo products on an economic scale has very little environmental cost compared to other mass-produced materials (include toxicity and land use in addition to carbon emissions). This increases the viability of the bamboo being used widespread over multiple different countries.

The regenerative speed of bamboo means it can also be used as a source of energy (charcoal, cooking fuel, biogas and others). Charcoal is often used in poorer regions as a simple fuel source, but is often unsustainably generated by harvesting native trees. Bamboo has been successfully introduced and used in Ethiopia as an alternative charcoal source, taking pressure off of native trees and providing a more reliable source of energy. Bamboo burning produces fewer pollutants than petroleum or conventional wood.

Bamboo presents an exciting multi-use source for carbon sequestration, material resources and renewable energy, especially in poorer regions of the world. The plant presents a strong potential to be a major market demand in the future as other resources decrease.

Sources:
http://www.enn.com/ecosystems/article/48091
http://www.inbar.int/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2014/12/INBAR-Policy-Synthesis-Report1-WEB.pdf?7c424b

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3 thoughts on “Bamboo and Climate Change

  1. I find this super interesting because I knew little about bamboo. As it grows back in 3 years, I don’t see why regions where the plan grows aren’t using bamboo as much as they could. Forests take much much longer to grow back to full productivity, so bamboo seems to be a good alternative to wood and charcoal for bio-mass energy. I especially was interested in the fact that it is cheap and can positively affect rural and poor communities. After reading the second source listed, I learned that rural communities, local households and farmers in Ethiopia and Ghana will benefit from an alternative sustainable source of energy to meet their everyday energy needs, ultimately achieving energy security. Not only is it important that they have energy, but that it is affordable and far less polluting than charcoal. I wonder if bamboo could be used as energy on a larger scale?

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  2. Bamboo forests seem to be much more less complex than native forest systems. Carbon is best sequestered in mature, complex forest systems, if we’re talking about forests. Extending the lifetime of plants rather than resorting to short rotations seems more intuitive to me. Fast, pumped growth is highly intensive and uses more fossil fuels to be managed and to processed into a product. There may be many consequential issues of introducing bamboo at vast scales in regions where it is not traditionally found. Bamboo is also pretty invasive, once it establishes, there’s no stopping it without physical barriers. Interesting to think of bamboo in this light, but I don’t think it’s an answer per say.

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  3. Annie, I agree with your concerns. It is great that people are researching and considering alternatives for carbon sequestration but growing bamboo in areas that expand beyond their natural range sounds a lot like mono culture and will likely have a harmful effect on the land. In addition, you have to start thinking about the native wildlife and what value bamboo holds for them. This article got me thinking, are bamboo forests large and common in Asia, or are they popular because they are so rare? I tried to find a map of native bamboo forest but could only find Giant Panda ranges, I’m not sure if those ranges are one in the same.

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