Trees are vital for the continued survival of this planet. They are often referred to as the lungs of the Earth and outdate humans by hundreds of millions of years. It is no secret that humanity has taken the natural world for granted, and this has already led to the demise of many species of plants and animals – often in the name of convenience or greed.
Trees are so vital because they photosynthesise – meaning they absorb and sequester greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere and release oxygen in their place. Greenhouse gasses are an environmental problem because they trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and this causes obvious issues such as melting icecaps, rising sea levels and the permanent disruption of ecological equilibrium. Forests provide habitats for over 80% of the world’s plants and animals, and by cutting down their homes, we are also cutting down their chances of survival.
For now, forests cover around 30% of the surface of the Earth, this in itself is a small miracle considering that areas half the size of England are lost every year.
Deforestation impacts greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere in two ways. The first is the significant amount of carbon released at the point a tree is felled. Throughout a tree’s life, it has been photosynthesising and internally storing carbon for growth. When it is cut down, it releases years’ worth of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, completely reversing that tree’s initial beneficial photosynthesis.
The second impact also relates to photosynthesis. There is a direct correlation between the number of trees on Earth and the levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. A decrease in the number of trees means that less photosynthesis is taking place. Less photosynthesis taking place results in higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air, and this will increase the speed and the severity of global warming.
Deforestation is responsible for numerous other knock-on effects that jeopardise the future of the planet and these include soil erosion and pollution of the local air and water.
These impacts of deforestation can seem too vast to tackle as an individual on a domestic scale, but here are 9 manageable measures you can take to save trees and combat deforestation.
1. Go paperless
Obviously, trees are used to make paper. By taking steps to go paperless you are not only reducing your personal paper consumption, but you are also casting your vote as a consumer for a societal reduction in paper use. In this digital age it is easy to receive your bank statements, phone bill and receipts in electronic form. It seems menial, but all those pieces of paper you glance at once and then throw away were once trees and going paperless will reduce deforestation and personal clutter as well as increase your levels of privacy and organisation.
2. Plant a tree or two
You can directly affect the world’s tree population by growing some of your own. Your local air quality will be instantly impacted and your tree might even provide a habitat for local wildlife. Win win.
3. Cut down on meat and dairy
This is the age of veganism, but if you can’t quite quit animal products yet then why not try swapping just a few meals a week to do your bit for Mother Earth? Plant-based meals save water and energy, and preserve water, air and soil quality. Not only that, but often large areas of forest are cleared to grow animal feed, and so eating plants as opposed to animals avoids this problem. The same 2 football pitches of land that would feed 1 person eating dairy and meat would feed 14 people eating plant-based food.
4. Read the labels
When you do find yourself buying animal products (or any products for that matter) make sure you read the labels. Labelling laws are always changing and now you can easily work out what you are buying, where it came from and how it was produced. Forest 500 is a system created by UK-based group Global Canopy Programme and is an eco-friendly take on the Forbes 500. It ranks how effectively big businesses are working to stem global deforestation.
5. Buy recycled products
There is so much wastepaper in the world and it makes economic and environmental sense to recycle what has already been created. Almost everything paper-based has a ‘recycled’ option – notebooks, paper, cards and even gift-wrapping paper. Although arguments against recycling argue that the processes of breaking down and recreating products are energy-intensive, important factors such as water, land and chemical consumption are often overlooked and overall make recycling a beneficial practice.
6. Reduce your paper use at home
You can take this point as far as you wish. You could use both sides of a sheet of paper, tear pieces of kitchen roll in half, use old newspaper instead of gift-wrap or get your favourite newspapers and magazines sent to you electronically and read them on your tablet or computer.
7. Try to avoid palm oil
Palm oil is one of the most common vegetable oils and can be found in anything from laundry detergents to biscuits. The palm oil industry is one of the main drivers of deforestation because it operates by clearing large areas of rainforest to make way for palm tree plantations. When an area of rainforest is cut down it decreases natural biodiversity and we risk losing many varieties of trees as well as the animals that live in them. The once-abundant orang-utans have lost over 80% of their natural habitat through the palm oil industry and they are now a critically endangered species.