Updated: Aug 18
What would a future without forests look like? What’s all this fuss about forests? Do we even need forests? Can forests really help to preserve life as we know it? Let’s have a closer look.
author: Keneisha Bennett
Progress vs Nature
Many have long theorized that the world is going to end but thought it would be as a result of a religious end of days apocalypse. Unfortunately, this ‘end of days’ might be real but for a completely different reason. This reason is humans. Our actions have contributed immensely to the current climate crisis and it seems we are our own worst enemy. Ever since the dawn of time, we have been cutting down trees but over the years the rate has drastically increased and so deforestation is now a huge problem that we must tackle head-on. We have been so focused on advancing society and maximizing profits that many of us have not really stopped to think about how our actions impact forests and the environment. This has resulted in harmful effects on the environment. It’s reported that “human impacts have already led to the loss of around 40% of the world’s forests.”
By cutting down trees and clearing lands, we are contributing to the climate crisis. The earth’s surface is getting warmer and the weather is also more unpredictable because of the “boiling and churning effect caused by the heat-trapping greenhouse gases within the upper layers of our atmosphere. With each increase of carbon, methane, or other greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, our local weather and global climate are further agitated, heated, and boiled.” There are those who wish to remain oblivious to climate change, usually for financial gains, but it is a very real and present danger. “Global warming can…eventually reach an extinction level where humanity and all life on earth will end.” I am not sure about you, but the thought of this scares me more than I can put into words. We must take stock of where we are and head down a path to regeneration. Forest restoration is an idea that deserves some real thought. Why should we restore forests? In order to understand the need to restore, we must first examine the benefits that are derived from forests.
Forests Have A Lot To Offer
Have you ever sat under or looked at a tree and thought “Hey, this tree is awesome!”? Perhaps not. I know I haven’t. But they truly are. Trees form a significant part of our ecosystems. Much like air, we take trees for granted and never give them a second thought, but they really do so much for us. Forests help to stabilize the climate. Trees release oxygen (O2) into the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis, and we know how vital O2 is to life. Additionally, forests act as carbon sinks and help with carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon sequestration is “the capture and secure storage of carbon that would otherwise be emitted to, or remain, in the atmosphere.” It is said that forests are the second biggest carbon sinks after the world’s ocean. Every year they sequester 19% of carbon emissions worldwide. CO2 emitted into the atmosphere is absorbed by forests and oceans. When forests are cleared the absorbed CO2 is released back into the atmosphere and so forest loss reportedly contributes to 10% of global warming. We need to protect and restore our forests, not destroy them.
Forests help to protect biodiversity and by removing forests, this is greatly impacted. It is important to note that deforestation not only affects the habitat of animals on land but also marine life. As the water temperature increases due to global warming, marine phytoplankton and surrounding ecosystems find it difficult to thrive in this altered environment.
Forests also influence rainfall patterns and affect the quality of air and water, as well as the amount of water available in the ground. When trees are around the quality of the air is good, water is better and crops also benefit from this. Restoration should be considered vital to the planet and all forms of life.
What then should we do? How can we salvage our future?
By looking at the benefits of forests, we can determine that restoring our forests will create a domino effect and result in positive impacts on multiple aspects of life. How can we then salvage our future? One key aspect of addressing the climate crisis is that global carbon emissions need to drop to net-zero by 2050 in order to stabilize the climate. How can this be achieved? Trees are a part of the solution. It won’t be easy and will require a collaborative effort from all nations of the world. Of course, I believe that the first step to achieving this goal is recognizing and understanding how our individual actions contribute to the global crisis. Being cognizant of this then creates more of a willingness by individuals to contribute to a global goal, as we’ve seen with the Green Ethiopia Project.
Restoring forests is not a fad and has been recognized as a viable solution to the global climate crisis. Initiatives such as The Bonn Challenge as well as the Paris Agreement recognized the need to restore the world’s deforested areas and to combat the global CO2 emission rate. In fact, between 1990 and 2015, EU countries reforested an area the size of Portugal. Now, imagine the impact it would have if we made a concerted effort at national, and global, levels and commit to reforesting areas. Think of the potential mitigating effects on climate change.
An essential component to salvaging our future is investing more in renewable energy sources and moving away from fossil fuel. Let’s look at Iceland for example, where “in 2014, roughly 85% of primary energy use in Iceland came from indigenous renewable resources. Geothermal sources...66% of Iceland's primary energy use.”How have they been able to get this far? It is something worth studying and attempts should be made to replicate their success in other countries. We have the power to make the change but some hard decisions must be made. “We must limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees and, on the road to doing so, achieve climate neutrality by 2050. This must be done urgently and cooperatively; a global project requiring the best efforts from all nations, all businesses, and all people.”
Another step that can be taken on an individual level, however simplistic, is a change in our diet. Why is this even a factor? This is because a lot of the land cleared is used for livestock, as well as for growing food to feed said livestock. Having said that, I cannot commit to a plant based diet but I can certainly limit my meat and dairy intake. This might be so minuscule in the grand scheme of things, but our actions add up. Our actions matter. I was listening to a TEDx talk, “Frontiers, Forests and Climate Change”, by Dr. Alexandra Morel from the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford, and it is estimated that we would need 3.1billion hectares less land if we all converted to a plant-based diet. 3.1bilillion hectares? I cannot even begin to fathom what that looks like but we know the benefits of this would be tremendous and would contribute to stabilizing the climate.
Reforestation Requires Thought
While replanting seems to be a safe solution, it may not be so simple. Reforestation must however be done the right way. Simon Lewis, ecologist and global change science expert, believes that planting trees is important but it is not always good. We must consider how the trees being planted fit into the local environment and where they’re being planted. “Large-scale tropical reforestation could make a huge dent in carbon emissions. Theoretically, we could offset about a third of global emissions from all sources by planting trees.” While restoring forests is not the ultimate solution, it is one aspect that should be considered as part of a bigger effort to mitigate the effects of the global crisis.
In Dr. Alexandra Morel’s TEDx Talk, she mentioned that some advocates have referred to the forests as “being equivalent to the lungs of the earth”. I want you to take a moment and try to imagine a life without your lungs to breathe. What would that look like? Not good, to say the least. So, let’s do what we can to salvage what’s left of our future. Let’s think of how our individual actions affect the environment, not just locally but on a global scale. Our sojourn on earth may be temporary but we have to think about future generations. So, I challenge you to think about small changes you can make in your personal life, as well as how you can get involved on a bigger scale and contribute to salvaging a future that seems to be in great peril.