The loss of Earth's forests may seem like we're simply losing some trees that would otherwise give us oxygen. But the truth of it all is that it's actually causing a chain of catastrophic events.

A relief of Romans felling trees for construction on Trajan's Column

A relief of Romans felling trees for construction on Trajan's Column

the reasons behind deforestation

Deforestation may seem so 20th century, but it's not. We have been deforesting this planet since we became agriculturists some 12,000 years ago. Half of Britain's ancient forests were lost to agriculture 4,000 years ago (long before Romans ventured there to fell more for infrastructure), and the fall of Easter Island's Polynesian population was due to deforestation that was caused by both the Polynesians and from rats that arrived with them. Deforesting trees can be done by humans or it can be done by pests, diseases, climate change, Saruman, or fires. 

The reason people chop them down today is for livestock, agriculture, timber, product ingredients like palm oil, urbanization and infrastructure, and fossil fuel extraction. How much deforestation is done for one of these reasons, compared to the others, depends on the region. For example, most of Canada's deforestation is done for agriculture, and the second most is for accessing fossil fuels. Whereas in the Amazon, the majority is for cattle ranching. The most deforestation is done in Indonesia, who has lost 39 million acres in just the last century. Globally, about 18.7 million acres of forest (kinda like the size of the country of Panama) is lost every year. Half of the world's tropical forests have been cleared, and now only 30% of the Earth is forested. In the next 30 years, we will have only 10% of rain forests left and in 100 years, they will be all gone. In fact, while I'm typing this, about 7 acres of forest have been cleared. 

The environmental value of trees

Aside from the practical, recreational, and emotional value of trees; living beings that can be older than anyone else you'll ever meet in this world, they can also provide so many environmental benefits. Like how they absorb and store carbon dioxide that would otherwise contribute to our global warming. Or that they are home to 80% of our terrestrial beings. Forests also regulate our water cycle by acting like sponges; they hold gallons of water and evaporate it out into the atmosphere through a process called transpiration or excrete water through their roots into the soil. In this way, they also filter out toxins from entering streams and groundwater. They also regulate temperatures and prevent storms from devastating communities with floods or high winds. Forests are also a huge source of the world's economic and medicinal value. Half of our modern medicine is derived from, or synthesized from, animals, plants, or microorganisms. But 86% of the world's species still have yet to be discovered and since so many call the forest home, think how many go extinct all the time before we even knew about them. Maybe one of them was a plant that could have cured cancer, or a chemical from tree frog dung that reverses Alzheimer's- who knows! Furthermore, as deforestation continues, and rapidly, there will be even more extinctions from the fragmentation it causes, and population density with less and less room to roam, as well as inbreeding. 

Forests also provide about 1.6 billion people direct necessities like: food, freshwater, clothing, traditional medicine, and shelter. And tropical rain forest deforestation is the direct cause of erosion where heavy tropical rains wash away the topsoil, that contains all the nutrients for plant growth, since there is no longer a root system to hold it in place. Soil erosion then leads to desertification where nothing can grow, not even food. The clearing of deadwood is also harmful to the soil, as it provides rich nutrients and microorganisms to the land, as well as a home for other beings. So, the more forests we clear-cut, the more damage we do to ourselves and to all the other beings, as well as to the health of the Earth. 


Sustainable alternatives

As destructive and harmful deforestation is, the harvesting of wood is a large part of our economy and a much more biodegradable option over plastics for our products. But there are ways we can prevent environmental degradation through deforestation across the world. The best thing we can do is to choose how to buy; like purchasing local wood and paper products that are post-consumer recycled material or made from medium-density fibreboard (MDF) with a low-to-zero amount of formaldehyde. We can also choose to buy products made with bamboo (but not as a textile) because it is a woody grass that grows anywhere between 12 inches to one yard per day; thus, a much better substitute! There is still an uncertainty on whether or not they absorb more carbon dioxide and produce more oxygen than trees, due to a lack of long-term scientific studies, but as a hardwood replacement, this product is more eco-friendly! Or choose hardwood products that are either certified by the FSC or the SFI, who practice sustainable forestry.

Sustainable forestry is the process of selective-cutting older trees distanced away from each other that allow the younger trees to develop nearby and maintain the health and cycle of the forest. It also involves careful observance and management skills to ensure the longevity of the forest, while many times replanting trees in the same forest that was harvested. Sustainable forestry also respects the rights of First Nations, the economy of the surrounding communities, and the environmental impacts of their operations. Monitoring their actions and procedures to ensure they do not result in species loss or degradation to the forest, or surrounding water sources, is how sustainable forestry runs. Remember, we have the ability to make changes and help reforest our Earth.