The Unnerving Effects of Deforestation

March 18, 2021

To our ancestors, the forests were a sacred and mysterious place. They were full of life and of grace. These were times where humanity used to understand the importance of nature, and to take when needed and to give back to it as well. In a time of mass production and technological advances, we have forgotten our roots. Our natural and inherent connection and balance to nature has been lost. Our ties severed, permanently to most of us. The forests are now simply crude factories, to produce to an ever needy population, and barely replacing what we take. Whether it be the greed of corporations or poor policies of governments we all take part in the act of deforestation even if we have not been the one to strike the axe through the tree. Therefore, it is everyone’s responsibility and duty to reduce our negative impact on the world. We cannot have healthy people and a dying planet all at once. It doesn’t work that way. Whatever we do to the forests, comes back to haunt all of us. 

Currently, around a quarter of the world is covered in forests. But that number is dwindling. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, humans have been cutting down trees at a rate in which they do not have time to reproduce. It is estimated that if we continue to go like this, in only around 300 years, we will lose all the trees on this planet. This is critical as all plants are the main contributors to the air that we breathe. We release CO2, and they release our oxygen through photosynthesis. No trees being left means we have lost the lungs to our planet, and that humanity too as well as most living beings will die. This is a serious situation. And this is the reality of things.  So why has it been so difficult to convince people to stop deforesting the forests? The forests which in our imaginations once were home to the divine and beautiful? Perhaps it is the lack of education, or it is ignorance, and greed, but if we do not act soon, we will all lose everything. This cannot be stressed enough.

Deforestation in and of itself can be caused not only for the production of wood and paper, but due to livestock farming (to pave way land for animals to graze on or for factory farming), drilling (for oil, especially), and mining (common items in technology such as smartphones contain at least a small percentage of rare metals that can only be found in forest floors). These methods account for at least 50%. The other 50% are a mix between some forms of agricultural farming (the most notable being that of palm oil which is in almost every product), housing (clearing forests to build homes instead of smart city designs), to wildfires (caused by climate change, dry weather, or intentionally). 

Regardless of reason, deforestation affects all of us, some more than others. The most obvious way it impacts our world is by being one of the largest contributors to climate change. As our fossil fuel intake increases we release more carbon dioxide,  the average car, emitting 4.6 metric tons in a year. As our livestock farming increases, we release more methane (which is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide). A single cow used for food consumption releases 70-120 kg of methane every 365 days. Yet humanity is killing more trees than replenishing them, an average of 15 billion trees are cut down each year. While a measly 5 billion are being replaced and keep in mind that an average tree absorbs 48 pounds of CO^2 each year. The difference is huge and the numbers are overwhelming. The more we cut down trees and do not replenish them, there will continue to be a greater imbalance of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. This causes the Earth to trap the Sun’s heat and enables uneven warming to most areas of the planet’s surface. Thus,  contributing to the greatest threat to humanity, climate change.  

On a more direct and speedy level, deforestation is one of the major factors in contributing to around 137 species of plants and animals going extinct each day. At this rate, around 50,000 species fall extinct in a year. Since 80% of all plants and animals live in the forest, they are the first group to feel the change. Loss of habit leads to a climax of chain reactions, as each ecosystem is balanced by means of adaptation and evolution. When one species goes out it is difficult for others to take their place, it takes time. But as trees are being taken down at immense rates without time to heal, species die off for good. Animals such as monkeys and birds are torched to death or severely injured by humans so that they may leave their homes in the trees. When these animals are gone from their habitats, there is no one left in their place to spread seeds through droppings, for if plant seeds are not spread we lose biodiversity and as we lose that, we lose food and nutrients. 

Trees themselves protect the ground, they are guardians of the topsoil, they not only hold so much biodiversity in living things but non-living as well. Topsoil is rich in vital nutrients used for agriculture of every kind. Since the soil sits at the top, vulnerable to wind, heat, and rain, the soil becomes eroded and flooding increases. Eventually, nothing will be left of the forest. Just a pale shell of what it used to be, and it will eventually become a desert over time. Desertification is an absolutely devastating scenario which impacts everyone. 

Over 1.6 billion people on this planet depend directly on forests day to day. Indigenous people are especially most often ignored and impacted, all across the world. Like the Ibans & Orang Rimba peoples of Indonesia, who due to weak government policies, have been losing their homes and livelihoods to industrial palm oil companies who have been buying and destroying their lands. Being traditional palm oil farmers, and taking a more sustainable approach to harvesting it, they cannot compete with large corporations who have larger machinery and reap the land in faster numbers. Most indigenous people end up becoming homeless or having to move to large cities, often having to lose their unique culture as well. 

People are struggling to survive because of deforestation. We all are, we are just not being told what is normal and what it is not anymore.  The air we all breathe will become more and more polluted as it’s quality will fall, if fewer trees are left to filter our lungs. The health problems that poor air quality causes is immense from higher risk of respiratory infection, to heart disease, cancers, and asthma. The signs are ominous, and we must see that every negative action that is done to our planet has serious consequences. 

Like all dark tunnels, there is a light at the end of it, even if it may be a small spark, there’s still hope.  Thankfully, there are still many ways in which we can all contribute to prevent deforestation. Most of us are oblivious to the immense power we have when we cast a vote and who we select to be our government official. Vote in local government, vote in state, vote in federal. Vote, vote, vote. And vote for the candidates who are clearly advocates for the environment and propose planet friendly policies to law. Politics controls a wide spectrum of things and it is our government that is supposed to represent our beliefs and values. It is their policies, bills, protocols, and laws that end up impacting us all the most. So be wise at the polls, do your research on candidates, know your voting dates, rights, and rules.  If you cannot vote, however, sign and share petitions, write letters or send emails to politicians to spread awareness, or even make posts about issues such as this on social media. Make your voice heard. 

On a more basic level, we can recycle our paper and cardboard, and buy more recycled goods. We can also buy more sustainable wood products that have the FCC certified label on them. But what most may not realize is that our old phones and most other pieces of technology can be recycled. In fact, some places even offer you at least $5-$100 for each item. Check your local recycling centers for more information. It’s good for our wallets and the planet. 

To make a more direct impact on replenishing our forests, you can also donate or fundraise money by making a contribution to tree planting organizations such as One Tree Planted, Arbor Day Foundation, International Tree Foundation, etc. Or perhaps there is a local tree-planting organization near you. 

There are a variety of ways to help protect our planet. Just as there are many ways to deplete it. But the truth is, the clock is ticking for humanity, we only have so many resources and we are so distracted by our day to day lives that we have cast a veil over our eyes, refusing to see what we do and what we have done, we’d rather not face harsh realities. But we are the people of Earth and our ancestors lived in forests, the same forests we now ruin. We know how precious life is in our universe, after witnessing lifeless rock after lifeless rock. Surely life like ours must mean something. Do what you can to protect all life on our planet, Earth, and you can start by planting a tree.