Why support reforestation and afforestation?


The Far-Reaching Consequences of Deforestation

One of the most satisfying experiences a person goes through is the ability to travel to new and exciting places. Be it a vibrant city, a quite picturesque small town, or visiting some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, travelers are full of yearning to explore all the wonders the world has to offer. Some of the benefits of traveling include broadening one’s horizon, learning about new and exciting cultures and traditions through exploring the diverse destinations the world has to offer.

However, these destinations are at risk from present-day environmental pressures which threatens their continued existence in their present vibrant forms. These environmental changes were found to present a challenge to the travel industry, as travelers are becoming more wary of the effect of pollution, poverty, and loss of landscape on their experiences. As such, some countries suffering from high pollution levels have already seen a decline in the industry.[1]

Fast forward 20 – 50 years into the future , and some of these destinations could be further riddled with choking pollution levels, as a result of tree numbers decline.[2] As the leading solution to some of the most problematic issues facing the world, loss of forests and woodlands would result in lower air quality, loss of biodiversity, and rising poverty rates. These factors not only harm the travel industry but also cause negative widespread global effects on health, trade, and other sectors.


How bad is the situation?

The FAO reports the global forest area has declined by 129 million hectares (3.1%) between 1990 to 2015, standing currently at 4 billion hectares. This represents an annual loss of 7.3 million hectares annually between 1990 to 2000. However, there was a slowdown of deforestation to 3.3 million hectares per year from 2010 to 2015[3]. The consequent loss of tree density represents not only the amount of deforestation but also that of forest degradation.

Deforestation occurs due to the removal of forests for agriculture or urban development, logging, or as a result of the unintentional and uncontrolled grazing. On the other hand, forest degradation leads to a temporary or permanent deterioration in the forest canopy cover. Therefore, forest degradation results in a loss of forest quality due to the decrease in “the density and structure of the trees, the ecological services supplied, the biomass of plants and animals, the species diversity and the genetic diversity.[4]”. This change in forest density is what gives rise to a multitude of environmental problems the world faces today.


What are the consequences of deforestation?

A lot. Ever feel that pollution levels are too high you can see smog far out in the horizon, smell the choking dust particles swirling around you, or practically feel the thick weight of heat on your skin? The world has become familiar with the idea that global warming is to blame for rising heat waves and extreme weather phenomenon. But what about cities inability to cope with pollution levels, be it from cars, factories or sandstorms? These occurrences are all part of the environmental pressures of deforestation.


Air quality

Trees perform a vital and imperative service to the world; namely, they act like giant air filters where each plant surface is responsible for producing oxygen, and filtering greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen dioxide, and other harmful substances, helping our planet stay cooler and less polluted.

When it comes to trees’ unique ability to absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide, it translates into “A healthy tree can store 13 pounds of carbon each year -for an acre of trees that equals to 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide.” Therefore, reforestation is believed to have the ability to “absorb enough carbon dioxide in a year to equal the amount produced when you drive a car 26,000 miles.”

Reforestation efforts in the United States demonstrated the positive effect trees have on the environment. Trees were estimated to remove 17.4 million tons of air pollution in 2010, with human health effects valued at $6.8 billion. These health impacts included a drop down in the human mortality rate by 850 cases and a decrease in acute respiratory symptoms by 670,000 cases.[6]

However, It takes young forests about 100 years to reach peak biodiversity, and around “80 years to store enough carbon to make a big difference [7]. Therefore, the solution is not simply to replant trees but to also ensure that each one reaches full maturity, which translates into consistent maintenance of tree density in forests, providing these trees does not get chopped down in the near future.


Wildlife Habitat

Tropical forests alone are home to around two-thirds of the biosphere’s species and contain 65 percent of the world’s 10,000 endangered species. Moreover, loss of animal habitat could lead to unintentional migration patterns into agricultural fields, destroying crops and arable lands[8]. Maintaining good levels of biodiversity provides various services to economies, and can be used to generate sustainable economic benefits to the world[9]. These services include:

  • - soil fertility
  • - pollination
  • - pest control
  • - growth and reproduction of food species
  • - storm mitigation
  • - climate regulation
  • - waste assimilation
  • - tourism
  • ... and many more

One leading reason for the loss of wildlife habitat in Asia is the overproduction of Palm Oil, leading to a decline in the numbers of various species of Orangutan, Elephants, Rhinos, Tigers and the Bornean Pygmy Elephant [10]. Other regions have experienced a similar loss of habitat due to deforestation effects. The loss of animal and marine life-form have far-reaching consequences on their surrounding ecosystems that is arguably large enough to rival the impacts of many other global causes of environmental change [11].

Therefore, a strong link exists between the preservation of the environment and the economy, which translates into far-reaching advantages such as the financial benefits experienced from biological resources, poverty reduction, and pollution mitigation measures that could benefit millions of people across the globe.

Economics

Recent decades have seen an overall improvement in national poverty lines, yet there is still much to be achieved for the world to reach better economic standards for its populations. While poverty remains a multidimensional phenomenon with various elements affecting the situation, deforestation is an often overlooked aspect in the equation.

According to the World Commission of Forests and Sustainable Development, a staggering 350 million of the world’s poorest people depend almost entirely for their subsistence and survival on forests. A further 1 billion poor people - about 20% of the world's population - depend on woodlands, farmhouses, and agroforestry products for their essential fuelwood, food, and animal fodder needs [12].

Agricultural and animal yields from forest systems also provide economic sustenance for a group of people who would otherwise be left in dire circumstances, since many villages living on forest edges rely primarily on the trade of forest produced goods for their livelihoods. Hence, actions required to reduce global warming would also help to reduce global poverty through the creation of “natural resource-based goods and services” such as an increased agricultural yields as well as the production of cheap source of raw material for these communities basic needs. [13]

All the above environmental consequences are translated into the loss of economic benefits to people and governments worldwide, causing the diversion of scares financial resources towards the mitigation of chronic poverty symptoms, without really enabling the achievement of sustainable resilience for communities and people across the globe. As such, we could argue that a concern for the environment is an investment in the future of the planet.

References

  1. [1] Zhang, Aiping et al. “Tourists’ Perception of Haze Pollution and the Potential Impacts on Travel: Reshaping the Features of Tourism Seasonality in Beijing, China.” Sustainability. 2015. Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability
  2. [2] Physics.org. retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2018-11-global-reforestation-efforts-view.html#jCp
  3. [3] FAO. 2016 State of the World’s Forests. From: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i5588e.pdf
  4. [4] FAO. “Manual On Deforestation, Degradation, and Fragmentation Using Remote Sensing and GIS” http://www.fao.org/forestry/18222-045c26b711a976bb9d0d17386ee8f0e37.pdf
  5. [5] NC State University. Collage of Agriculture and Life Science. Department of Horticultural Science. https://projects.ncsu.edu/project/treesofstrength/benefits.htm
  6. [6] J. Nowak, David. Environmental Pollution 193 (2014) “Tree and forest effects on air quality and human health in the United States." Retrieved from https://www.fs.fed.us/nrs/pubs/jrnl/2014/nrs_2014_nowak_001.pdf.
  7. [7] Physics.org. Ibid. Available from: https://phys.org/news/2018-11-global-reforestation-efforts-view.html#jCp
  8. [8] Chakravarty, Sumit et al. Deforestation: Causes, Effects and Control Strategies. https://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs/36125/InTechDeforestation_causes_effects_and_control_strategies.pdf
  9. [9] UNDP. “Importance of Biodiversity And Ecosystems In Economic Growth And Equity In Latin America And The Caribbean: An Economic Valuation Of Ecosystems.” 2010 Retrieved from http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/Environment%20and%20Energy/biodiversity/Report_ENG.pdf
  10. [10] https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/endangered-species-threatened-by-unsustainable-palm-oil-production.
  11. [11] J. Cardinale, Bradley. et. al. “Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity.” Nature Journal. 7 June 2012, Vol. 486. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/nature11148
  12. [12] Forest Peoples: Numbers across the World. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.forestpeoples.org/sites/fpp/files/
  13. [13] UNDP. “Importance of Biodiversity and Ecosystems in Economic Growth and Equity in Latin America and the Caribbean: An Economic Valuation of Ecosystems: Latin America and the Caribbean - a Biodiversity Super Power.” http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/Environment%20and%20Energy/biodiversity/Report_ENG.pdf