It is often said that ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’, and although that may be true, this does not mean that trees don’t give us something that is far more valuable. A loss of trees affects wildlife, ecosystems, weather patterns and ultimately the climate. Since the beginning of time trees have supplied us with food, oxygen, shelter, medicine and tools, and now more than ever, because of increasing deforestation, they are being cut down and sacrificed for short-term gain, by people ignoring their long-term benefits.
Trees and greenhouse emissions
With the amount of greenhouse emissions entering our atmosphere as a consequence of increasing human activities, trees today play an even bigger role than they ever have before, and that is because of their ability not only to to absorb the carbon dioxide that we exhale, but also to absorb other heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. This is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.”
As trees alone can provide 23% of the climate mitigation needed over the next decade, Global Forest Watch Climate demonstrated that if tropical tree cover loss continues at its current rate, it will be almost impossible to achieve the goals set at the 2015 Paris Agreement.
More so, trees are so vital in neutralizing greenhouse gases, that according to the World Resources Institute, if tropical deforestation were a country, it would rank third in carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, behind China and the United States.
Why else do we need trees?
Beyond their role of ‘absorbents’, trees also hold critical cooling power, effectively regulating climate at a local level by moderating the effects of the sun, rain and wind. Specifically, leaves absorb and filter the sun’s radiant energy, keeping things cool in summer, they preserve warmth by providing a screen from harsh wind, as well as influencing the wind’s speed and direction. Trees also shield us from the downfall of rain, sleet and hail and their regulating power is so strong that every 100 liters of water a tree transpires, provides the equivalent cooling temperature of running 2 central air conditioning units for a day.
Every bit of a tree is important, from top to bottom! Leaves may absorb chemicals, create shade, influence winds and even enrich the soil once they fall and decompose, but a tree’s far reaching roots are just as important, as they hold soil in place and fight erosion. Trees also absorb and store rainwater which reduce runoff and sediment deposit after storms, which helps the ground water supply recharge, preventing flooding.
On a more visible level trees and their surroundings create homes for around 250 million people who live in forests as well ad savannah areas and who very much depend on them for subsistence and income. Also, 80% of Earth’s land animals and plants live in forests, with deforestation actively threatening numerous species including the orangutan, sumatran tiger, and many species of birds.
Last but not least, in our everyday urban settings trees are also a big part of our community, with streets, parks, playgrounds and backyards lined with them! Trees in cities immediately create a peaceful and pleasing environment, giving shade, creating breeze, providing habitats to different species such as squirrels, bees and birds, reducing temperatures and increasing quality of life. It is in fact a known fact that natural elements, green and trees help people relax, effectively contributing to reducing blood pressure.
According to the World Bank between 1990 and 2016 the world lost 502,000 square miles (1.3 million square kilometers) of its forests. That is an area larger than the whole country of South Africa! Although forests still cover around 30% of the world’s land, the fact that human driven deforestation is continuously on the rise, should be alarming to all of us.
About 17% of the Amazonian rainforest, one of the most biodiverse places on the planet and an area that is commonly referred to as ‘the lungs of the world’, has been destroyed over the past 50 years, with last year’s fires adding even more pressure on the region. Unfortunately 2019 wasn’t only a critical year for the Amazon, but for Australia too, as we imagine the heartbreaking images of koala’s searching for water, and wildlife fleeing for their lives, are still very much ingrained in all of our minds. It’s estimated that with 27 million acres destroyed, the wildfires that took place between the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, are one of the country’s worst fire seasons on record.
Why is deforestation happening
More than half of all deforestation is a consequence of farming, grazing of livestock, mining and drilling. Other causes include forestry practices, logging and, of course urbanization.
Although all these practices are intentional, there are also unintentional actions that lead to deforestation, these include wildfires and overgrazing, which may prevent the growth of young trees.
What can you do?
As always, make your voice heard! Avoid financing, directly or indirectly, industry’s that are causing deforestation. Cut down on products containing palm oil, soy, eat a vegetarian meal as often as possible and scale down the carbon footprint of your food choices.
Go paperless! Recycle and buy recycled products so as to not create a need for more items to be produced. Check the origin and the certification on wood and wood products that you purchase for sustainability accreditations.
Lastly, plant a tree! Whether in your own backyard, local school or park, or whether it’s by financing projects that are committed to planting trees worldwide, do your bit to repopulate areas with trees and habitats.
Planting a tree can not only be beneficial to all of us, but it can also be symbolic! Trees can help commemorate a life-changing event, from the birth of a child, to the passing of a loved. A simple gesture that will benefit your family and your community and that will be appreciated for generations to come!
When was the last time you planted a tree? Let us know!