Close your eyes for a bit and imagine the year is 2090 and everybody is walking around, wearing oxygen masks because there are no trees around and the air is full of carbon dioxide. This might seem like a distinct possibility but the environment is on a steady decline and if drastic measures are not taken, the scenario I described might just happen.
Trees play such an important role in the ecosystem. It’s impossible to imagine planet earth without them. They absorb rainfall and produce water vapor that is released into the atmosphere. Soils are kept in place by trees. Without trees, soils become vulnerable to erosion or landslides. Erosion washes silt from soil down into rivers thereby affecting aquatic life too.
Trees serve as storage sinks for carbon. Cutting trees and clearing forests simultaneously reduces the amount of carbon absorbed by the forest and releases the stored carbon into the atmosphere. According to Greenpeace, about 300 billion tons of carbon are released into the atmosphere by deforestation.
Deforestation is a major catalyst to global climate change. It has a great impact on the global carbon cycle. Deforestation is said to be the second largest anthropogenic (human-caused) source of carbon dioxide to the environment. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Earth loses 18.7 million acres of forest, which is equal to 27 soccer fields, every minute. The WWF also reports that 17% of the world’s largest tropical rain-forest, The Amazon Rain-forest, has been lost in the last 50 years.
70% of the world’s plants and animals live in forests. When the forests are cleared, the animals are forced to leave their preferred habitats. Some species don’t do so well outside their habitats as they find it hard to cope with temperature changes, different predators, and strange foliage. Hence, they die out slowly.
Millions of people live in forests all around the world. They are referred to as ‘indigenous people’. The Amazon rain-forest alone boasts over 3,344 formally acknowledged indigenous territories. These people live in seclusion, completely oblivious of the outside world. These people are easy to wipe out because they have no immunity to diseases common to the outside world. Loggers, in an effort to encroach on their lands and clear their forests, have killed indigenous natives in the past. The government of Brazil, the country that accounts for 60% of the amazon rain-forest, is not a big fan of conserving forests. The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has extensive plans to tap into the economic potential of the rain-forests. If he makes good on his electoral promises, there will be an increase in deforestation and violence against indigenous people. Many of these indigenous people will be forced out of their homes and stripped of their means of survival. There is no telling the environmental damage that would be done if the Amazon rainforest is subjected to massive deforestation.
Increased human population is another factor that causes deforestation. Food is necessary for human survival. An increase in the demand for food galvanizes the conversion of forests to ranch-lands and farmlands to rear animals and grow crops respectively.
Replanting of trees on a large scale is a massive step in counteracting the problems caused by deforestation. However, it would not solve them all. Reforestation will not bring back the species that have been wiped out due to extreme deforestation. I read somewhere that we should switch to plant-based diet. The writer feels that this would tone down the need for lands to be cleared for agricultural purposes.
Effective government policies (especially not the Brazilian policies) should be put in place to combat deforestation. Forests can also provide steady incomes when left alone. That can be maximized to increase productivity and boost economic status.
Seeing the backlash that comes with deforestation, wouldn’t you agree that we just leave the forests alone and let the ecosystem thrive?
Aderibigbe Yusuf Olatunji.