China is busy preserving and increasing its forests, which is great news. And Michigan State University’s Distinguished Professor Jack Liu believes it’s vital that the country’s conservation efforts are integrated with other nations if we want to make the most of conservation opportunities on a global scale.
Chinese rainforest conservation in a joined-up world
China is vast, giving it a worldwide role in conservation. Liu’s study reveals how the country’s efforts to sustain their forests influence other countries, and how they can rebound. In his words, “For a long time, many scientists have focused specifically on one place to understand environmental impact, but that no longer is enough. Economic development and environmental conservation in one place are increasingly having substantial influence elsewhere, and spill over into places we don’t consider.”
Here’s an example. When deforestation eases in China, it pops up elsewhere as the countries that export wood and food to China deforest their own landscapes to meet demand. Liu uses the telecoupling framework, a new multidisciplinary research tool involving the minutia of ‘give and take’ phenomena like this by analysing socioeconomic and environmental interactions over long distances. Pattern-spotting way beyond basic connections, it factors in actions and reactions between nations, across seas, all over the planet. But there’s more to the equation than trade.
The global communications revolution
Liu’s research also reveals how increasing foreign investment in China means more homes, factories and infrastructure, all of which encroach on forests. And global communications mean that while environmental messages reach a wider audience than ever before, sharing information about new technologies has the opposite effect, resulting in more countries being aware of and investing in powerful, destructive machinery designed to harvest forests more efficiently. Telecoupling science also considers countries that indirectly contribute to the overall picture. They may not trade direct with China but they might make the machinery used to harvest and transport wood, or are used by smugglers to transport resources illegally.
As Liu says, “The days of simply looking at sustainability at one place are over. We need to understand how the world really works and acknowledge that the world isn’t as big and disconnected as we sometimes treat it. “