Deforestation: harvesting trees, either by clear cutting or selective cutting, for human use.
We’ve all been given the speech in that natural sciences museum. You know, the one about “492,014,299,822 trees are being cut down every 1/3 of a second!” speech. Though that number is definitely an exaggeration, the problem itself is not a joke.
There are both positives and negatives to deforestation. We use trees for the obvious: building the framework for our homes, making fires, paper, furniture… the list goes on. There are also some not so obvious uses including disinfectants, film, paint, and leather production.
Trees are, arguably, the most important resource we have. Without them, our planet would be reduced to deserts. Climate would be vastly different. We would have to find a chemical other than oxygen to breathe. Trees keep us alive.
So why exactly are we destroying them by the millions instead of harvesting sustainably? I think the answer to that question is more complicated than it seems.
Just a few days ago, I watched a short documentary on the effects that deforestation is having on Madagascar. This beautiful island, located about 266 miles off the east coast of southern Africa, is home to amazing biodiversity as well as climates ranging from arid to tropical. The island is 224,533 square miles; it is just slightly less than twice the size of Arizona. About 92% of its wildlife cannot be found on any other continent. Over 100 species of lemurs take habitat in the rain forests. It holds some of the largest coral reef systems in the world.
Madagascar is very unique. If you want to see just how amazing it is, watch this documentary.
It’s beauty is quickly disappearing, nonetheless.
There are more than 20 ethnic groups who live on the island, of which 80% live below the poverty line. There are 22.92 million people in Madagascar. Most of them rely on farming to make a living. For years, they have been cutting the trees just to survive, but it has had drastic effects.
I’m not an expert on trees, but what I do know is that when too many trees are pulled from the ground in a large region of the forest, the climate can change. Trees act as natural pumps of water into the ground. The root systems hold together soil and ensure that everything stays moist and plant species can flourish. Trees also regulate the weather. Without trees, the soil dries up. When the soil dries up, there aren’t enough trees. Trees release water and oxygen into the atmosphere. Without water in the atmosphere, it cannot rain. It’s a cycle. If we remove the trees, the climate changes. The only thing that can restore an ecosystem is the vital organism that regulates that ecosystem.
Deforestation is something that the Earth cannot fix if we don’t learn to cut sustainably.
I’m not saying humans should stop using trees. We need trees. They’re important for our every day lives. I’m just saying that we really need to consider how we harvest them. If we don’t start giving back soon, we’ll be leaving the next generations with a problem that is impossible to solve.
(For another example of how deforestation has affected another island, read here about Easter Island’s population because of deforestation.)
If you’re interested in this problem, feel free to do some more research. The video, “Planet in Peril” is really interesting.
Also, here’s a Ted Talk about deforestation in the Amazon and some success they’ve been having with reducing it. (I’m obsessed with TED Talks, so you’ll probably be seeing them a lot).
Thank you for reading!