Importing food to China can allow more land to be returned to forest in China, yet when food demand from China becomes higher, farmers in other countries such as Brazil have more incentive to mow forests down or intensify agriculture by applying more fertilizers and pesticides.
Liu has introduces the telecoupling framework as an integrated way to understand how distance is shrinking and connections are strengthening between nature and humans.
Liu also shows there's more to this than trade. He points out how growing foreign investment in China has led to more houses, factories and infrastructure, all of which carve into forests. Even getting smarter and sharing knowledge and technology more freely can benefit or harm forests. Spreading the message of environmental protection can be a forest's friend, while spreading knowledge of technology can make powerful, efficient machinery available that harvests forests more efficiently.
And telecoupling science also allows scientists to consider "spillover" systems the countries that are left out of the direct equations of trade between China and its partners in food and forest goods, but who produce the machinery to harvest and transport timber, or process timber, or even are home to routes for smugglers.
"The days of simply looking at sustainability at one place are over," Liu said. "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."
|Contact: Sue Nichols|
Michigan State University