Earth is a lot greener than it was 20 years ago. What sounds like a reason to celebrate should be taken with a grain of salt. Leafy green areas that have been added to the Earth’s surface since 2000 and were catalogued by NASA satellite MODIS appeared because of reforestation as well as agricultural activity.
Especially in China and India increased human activity has caused more areas to be covered with plants. China increased its green area by 17.8 percent between 2000 and 2017, while India added 11.1 percent. The EU, which the study counts among the eleven “countries” with the largest overall leaf-covered area, came in third. Scientists analyzing the data for a study published in the Nature Sustainability journal
found that in the case of China, 42 percent of added greenery was from new forests and 32 percent was from cropland. The country has recently invested billions in reforestation programs. India on the other hand had to chalk up 82 percent of its leaf increase to agriculture
. In Brazil for example, the increase in green cropland was still offset almost entirely by the disappearance of forests and savanna vegetation.
Overall, the leaf-covered area on Earth increased by more than 4 percent in the 18 years surveyed, two-thirds of the increase being from agricultural activity. Especially the use of genetically modified crops, multiple growth cycles, intensive irrigation and fertilizer use as well as farm mechanization has made agriculture more visible on satellite imagery, especially in developing nations.