Living through a pandemic, it is easy to forget about the physical world around you. While we seek to slow the rate of climate change, preserve wildlife and support billions of people, we can lose sight of the simple answers to our global problems. Yet the answers to all these questions can be: trees and forestry. Trees are a vital part of our existence for a number of reasons. They absorb the carbon dioxide we exhale but also trap greenhouse gases that humans emit. Deforestation, however, is widespread, and forests are disappearing at alarming rates. This is a large contribution to global warming, which is damaging and will continue to damage our lives on earth.
So, what are the causes of deforestation? The short answer is humans. In order to facilitate extensive rates of consumption, millions of kilometres of forest are being sacrificed for our short-term gains. Farming, grazing of livestock, mining and drilling combine to account for more than half of all deforestation. Forestry practices, wildfire and in small part urbanisation account for the rest. In Indonesia and Malaysia forests are cut down in order to make way for the production of palm oil, which can be found in everything from animal feed to shampoo. Logging is another ‘forest killer’, and countless trees fall each year to provide us with the wood and paper we use in our daily lives. Sadly, not all deforestation is intentional and, as we see on the news almost every day, forest fires from a combination of natural and human factors pose a threat to the surrounding life.
Deforestation can easily be mistaken as a single-issue matter, but it also affects people and animals where the trees are cut. For some of the 250 million people who live in forests and savannah areas and depend on them for subsistence and income, deforestation can contribute to the loss of income of people who are already amongst the poorest on earth. 80% of the earth’s land animals and plants live in forests, and forest destruction can threaten their habitats and even cause their extinction. Forests are also known to hold plants with undiscovered clinical properties. The loss of these habitats is likely to have detrimental impacts on our medical future. Finally, trees are vital to our global water cycle, as they not only help it function properly but can act as a method of flood prevention through the canopy’s umbrella-like style, which prevents the land from over-saturating. The soil acts as an absorption surface, another form of flood defence in a particularly wet or monsoon season. Without the water control of trees, greenery-stripped areas are prone to flooding.
Whilst the facts and figures surrounding this topic are daunting, conservationists see reasons for hope. A movement is underway to preserve existing forest ecosystems and restore lots of tree cover, alongside organisations and activists who are working to fight illegal mining and logging. In Tanzania, the residents of Kokoda have planted more than 2 million trees on their small island over a decade, aiming to repair previous damage done by deforestation. And in Brazil, conservationists are rallying in the face of ominous signals that the government may roll back forest protections. As a consumer you can do your bit by examining the products and the meats you buy, ensuring they are sourced sustainably. Buy recycled products and recycle as much of your waste as possible, support companies which are committed to reducing deforestation, and go as paperless as possible. And, you can PLANT TREES!
Amelia, Year 13 (Head of Poore Company)