Global Forest Watch calculates that the pre-industrial world was covered by a vast 24 million square miles of forest. In the past 150 years humans have cut that number in half. Less than 5 million of the remaining 12 million square miles of forest is original high-grade or “old growth” forest.
Europe has only 5 thousand square miles of this “frontier” forest left, on a continent that was once almost entirely woodland. Deforestation there drove colonial efforts into west Africa, where the ancient mahogany forests are now severely decimated.
In the past 50 years, an area larger than France and Spain put together has been clear-cut for soybean farming and cattle ranching in the Amazon basin. Indonesian rain forests are being cleared for palm oil, and China has been almost entirely deforested to make way for fast-growing trees used for paper-products like toilet paper.
Why we should care
Deforestation adds more atmospheric CO2 than all the cars and trucks in the world put together, says the Scientific American. And since atmospheric carbon levels just passed the point of no return – the point at which potentially catastrophic global warming becomes inevitable – this year, that’s not something to take lightly.
Forests act like a sponge for carbon-dioxide, making them one of our best tools for fighting global warming. When they’re cut down, they release all the carbon they’d been storing into the atmosphere.
In addition to acting as the Earth’s lungs, forests – especially rain forests – provide biodiversity, food diversity and medicine, while protecting against flooding and soil degradation.
Deforestation is also contributing to a rise in human disease.
What we can do
The four main causes of deforestation are:
- Subsistence agriculture causes 46% of global deforestation.
- Commercial agriculture – mainly the beef, soy and palm oil industries – is responsible for another 32%.
- Logging for hardwoods remains significant at 14%.
- Oil and gas extraction account for 5%.
Five top solutions:
1. Have fewer kids. Lierre Keith says the number one thing anyone can do to save the planet is not have kids. We wouldn’t be cutting down so many trees, to grow so many crops and to produce so much stuff, if we didn’t have so many people.
2. Eat local. Don’t buy beef or soy from South America, or you’re killing the rain forest. Avoid all products with palm oil.
4. Ease up on the paper products. I’m not saying don’t use toilet paper, but we don’t need to grab a handful of paper towels every time we have a spill.
Cell phones, tablets and laptops cause environmental and human damage of their own, but since most of us have them anyway, we can use them for most of the things we used to use paper for, like reading books and paying bills.
Switch to a silicon period cup instead of tampons or pads. They are WAY easier, less messy, more comfortable, will save thousands of dollars and trees.
5. Become less dependent on oil. Whether it means living in an intentional community that practices permaculture and produces more of its own stuff, or living in a “walkable” neighborhood, the less oil you use, the fewer trees will be chopped down to pump it to you (oh, and you’ll be cutting back on the second biggest cause of carbon emissions as a bonus).
Basically, return to the basics as much as you can, and most importantly, talk your friends into having no more than one child each, on average. Maybe a few of you can get together and share 🙂