Deforestation: Fast-Tracking Our Own Extinction
Care2 Earth Month: Back to Basics
This year, Care2 decided to expand Earth Day into Earth Month, since there is so much to explore when it comes to the environment. Every day in April, we’ll post about some of the most important topics for the environment, exploring and explaining the basics. It’s a great tool to help you get started with helping the environment — or help explain it to others. See the whole series here.
Trees are one of the human race’s most valuable resources, and yet we cut and consume them at the rate of 3-6 billion a year. What other thing, natural or man made, can absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, clean the soil, prevent erosion and control noise pollution, using only free solar energy?
Somewhere in our quest for industrialization, we decided that we needed quilted toilet paper and daily newspapers more than we needed these free oxygen factories. Deforestation is one of the planet’s most dire environmental issues, and few people realize that by eliminating our forests, we’re actually signing our own death sentence.
The term deforestation refers to the slow but steady elimination of the Earth’s mature forests. There are many reasons for cutting down trees, but most are felled for profit or to make room for massive commercial agricultural operations. Depending on the species, it can take many decades for a tree to reach maturity. Clear cutting is a traumatic process whereby all the trees in a given tract of land are felled and removed. Although the area may be reseeded with young trees, it can take decades before those trees are absorbing carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen at pre-clearcut levels. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the 33 million acres of forestland that are lost annually around the globe are responsible for 20 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
- the destruction of buffer zones which reduce the severity of flooding by absorbing and holding water;
- the immediate removal of forest canopy, which destroys the habitat for many rainforest-dependent insects and bacteria;
- the elimination of fish and wildlife species due to soil erosion and habitat loss;
- the removal of underground worms, fungi and bacteria that condition soil and protect plants growing in it from disease;
- the loss of samall-scale economic opportunities, such as fruit-picking, sap extraction, and rubber tapping; and
- the destruction of aesthetic values and recreational opportunities.
As human carbon emissions continue to skyrocket, the need to preserve our global forests becomes even more urgent. Here are some steps you can take to reduce deforestation, and expose the industries currently exploiting this essential natural resource:
Buy Recycled: According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Forest Products Annual Market Review, the U.S is the world’s largest producer and purchaser of paper. Making a point to buy things made from and packaged in 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, as well as metal, plastic and glass uses less energy, creates less waste and decreases the need for new raw materials.
Go Paperless: In today’s digital world, there’s little to no need to for hard copies of anything. Buying ebooks or borrowing books from the library, switching to electronic billing statements, and opting out of junk mail and phone books are great ways to reduce the demand for paper.
Think Before You Eat: Raising meat for human consumption is one of the primary causes of deforestation. Humans consume an immense amount of meat, especially in the form of fast food burgers, so meat producers are always looking for a way to make beef cheaper. As a result, trees in the Amazon and other forests are cut down to make room for cattle herds. Reducing your meat consumption and choosing to buy only locally, sustainably-raised meat goes a long way in helping to combat deforestation.
Image via Thinkstock