A tree is often the symbol used to represent the environmental movement. In fact, we adopted the color green, the plantís color, as the main adjective to define general environmentalism. Why is the forest such an important element for the environment? There are many reasons why we benefit from forests and there are obviously many consequences that stem from the loss of 13 million hectares of forest every year.
Forests stabilize the climate in general. The plants enrich the soil by recycling the nutrients through the shedding of leaves and seeds. They also regulate the water cycle by absorbing and redistributing rainwater quite equally to every species living within its range, which is known as the economy of water. Overall, forests provide perfect habitats for life to flourish on land. They actually contain most of the living species, particularly in the case of tropical forests where up to 90% of the planetís species live. Tropical forests possess the highest level of biodiversity and therefore provide the biggest genes reservoir.
Forest is the key to the purification of our air. Painting by Dave Todaro, http://nuvango.com/davetodaro
Plants also play a crucial role in the purification of our air. When breathing, they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They were the reason why life outside of water became possible in the first place. We find in them a powerful tool to fight air pollution and consequently, Global Warming.
Finally, forests provide us with a huge amount of different medicine material. Important amounts of the drugs we use are extracted from tropical plants and animals and the majority of drugs used to fight cancer are coming from there as well. Forests contain a potential source of an amazing amount of cures, but most of it hasnít been discovered yet. Human health is directly linked with the conservation of forests and all of their aspects.
Deforestation has been going on for centuries and is intimately correlated with population growth. Besides colonisation, we cut trees for practically the same reasons as hundreds of years ago: to increase land for agriculture and pasture, as well as to produce lumber for heating, construction and other material. For agriculture and pasture, burning the area is often used to flatten the ground, which emits an important amount of carbon dioxide each time. We also create big industrial projects such as artificial water basins to produce hydro electricity. Industrial development has often been responsible for deforestation, and has threatened in some cases the ways of life of certain populations.
By eliminating forests, we kill most of the biodiversity in the area. In some places in tropical forests that means it would take another 100 millions years to recreate the same biodiversity; some of the species are unique in the world and they quickly disappear following the destruction of their habitat. Deforestation provokes irreversible damage and reforestation is not entirely making it up for it.
Other consequences such as soil impoverishment are related to the clear cutting of forests. Once a forest is not there to absorb the water from the rain, this creates floods and provokes soil erosion. Most of the nutrients and the elements needed to maintain life are then washed away. In the tropics, deforestation can lead to desertification, where the area becomes a desert and loses most of its life.
Taking this problem to an economic level, agriculture, pasture and logging are common activities today, especially in the Third World. Expanding these activities often leads to deforestation. For a long time, international banks provided loans to unindustrialized countries in order to create development and prosperity. Unfortunately, large interests took control, and the way they chose to repay it rapidly was to exploit forests, creating only short term profit.
Overexploitation of forest. Painting by Dave Todaro, http://www.davetodaro.com
In the longer term, their overexploitations lead to the destruction of forests and the impoverishment of the people. They lost a very important resource and hardly gained anything in terms of development. Countries like Ethiopia have destroyed 98% of their forests to satisfy immediate needs. In less than 100 years, theyíve gone from 40% of the land being covered by forests to only 1%. Yet they havenít made considerable improvements in development. The most devastating deforestation has been made to create short term profits.
Most countries donít have proper regulations and the exploitation of forests has been quite anarchic. If we continue at this rhythm, we will lose all tropical forests before 2100. But there is a way to ethically exploit our forests.
We can find many exploitable natural products without clear cutting the area. For example, rubber is a product extracted from the tropical forest and does not require clearing up the area, which shows that the exploitation can be done in a sustainable way. Techniques like these have been massively promoted in recent years in order to save the unique Amazonian forest. What we have left in the world is crucial to maintain biodiversity, find new medicine and absorb air pollution. Those things are unconditionally linked to human survival.