Bamboo and Sustainable Development with Climate Change: Opportunities and Challenges
Bamboo, perhaps the fastest growing plant on the planet, has a very important role to play in restoring balance to the Earth’s climate system. Currently, the 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent produced each year by human activity are wreaking havoc on the global environment. Efforts to curb our CO2 emission are essential but much more needs to be done. Soon! Global efforts are underway to reduce our planetary carbon emissions below 1990 levels. That still leaves a lot of CO2 being put into the atmosphere each year by human activities. Bamboo offers perhaps the quickest way to remove vast amounts of that carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Each acre of bamboo sequesters up to 40 tons of CO2. The bamboo plant eats carbon dioxide, takes CO2 from the atmosphere and through the process of photosynthesis turns it into sugars. The bamboo plant transforms these sugars into the compounds that make up bamboo fiber. The carbon from the atmosphere is thus locked up in the bamboo fiber itself. When that bamboo fiber is used to construct buildings the carbon in it is sequestered for the 100-year lifetime of the building. Bamboo is only effective for long-term carbon sequestration if the bamboo plant is being regularly harvested and that harvest turned into durable goods or biochar. Left unharvested the sequestration rate of the bamboo plant levels off. By harvesting 20% of the biomass of the plant each year as 3+ year old mature bamboo culms, the high rates of carbon sequestration are maintain for the 50-75 year life of the bamboo plant. Unlike most trees you are not killing the bamboo plant when you harvest. Each year the mat of primitive roots called rhizomes is expanding, sequestering additional carbon for the life of the bamboo plant. Also unlike trees the bamboo plant produces microscopic plant stones that encapsulated carbon in silica and sequester an additional half-ton per acre of carbon for possibly thousands of years. Bamboos are among the fastest-growing plants, growing at up to a meter per day. Unlike trees, bamboos form extensive rhizome and root systems, which can extend up to 100 km/ha and live for a hundred years. Culms that emerge from the rhizomes die naturally after about 10 years if not harvested before. The rhizome system survives the harvesting of individual culms, so the bamboo ecosystem can be productive while continuing to store carbon, as new culms will replace the harvested ones. The lost biomass is usually replaced within a year. Bamboo can be an efficient tool for both climate change mitigation and adaptation, but there is a lack
of scientific knowledge and awareness of its potential Bamboos versatility and unique characteristics provide communities with options to diversify their economies and decrease their sensitivity to climate change. Increasing the cultivation and use of bamboos will help enable rural and urban populations adapt to the effects of climate change. Bamboos are relatively easy to grow and can provide additional food, energy and income security to the rural poor, as well as a range of environmental services and uses in their growing and harvested forms. Bamboo products such as houses and charcoal, can contribute to the livelihood resilience of rural and urban dwellers.