GLOBAL - The United States added around 7.6 million acres of forests between 1990 and 2010 - but at what cost?
Darla Munroe, associate professor of geography at The Ohio State University suggests that the reforestation in the US may have come at the expense of some other country's forest, essentially defeating the object.
"There isn't any environmental gain for the world if we are saving trees here by simply getting trees for our paper products from some other place," said Professor Munroe.
This is just one example of how an increasingly complex, interconnected world makes it difficult to study sustainability and figure out who the winners and losers are, she said.
Professor Munroe studies how land is used in a global context, using concepts such as "telecoupling," which involves how humans and natural systems interact over long distances.
The rise of global agribusiness
Many of the issues that land-use researchers face have changed substantially in recent decades.
For example, a Chinese food company may need to buy large quantities of soybeans and evaluate three or four sources from around the globe before making a quick decision based on fluctuations in soybean prices.
The decision may lead to thousands of acres of forest being cut down in one country to make room for more fields and economically devastate farmers in another country that didn't get the contract.
"These corporate decisions can have huge environmental impacts and they are made very quickly. It is hard for research to keep up," Munroe said.
The rise of large multinational corporations may make it harder for land-use researchers to make sense of what is happening to the world.
Corporations are much less transparent than governments in making their data and decisions publicly available, meaning that researchers may struggle to get all the information they need.
"We used to think about local land-use decisions filtering up to global markets. But now the global is in the local. They are all related and the challenge for land-use scientists is to keep up with the change," Professor Munroe said.