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How Deforestation Affects the Environment and What Can Be Done About It

Deforestation has been a problem for decades, and it’s only getting worse. This article looks at its root causes, how it affects the Earth, and ways to combat it.

How Deforestation Affects the Environment and What Can Be Done About It

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Fire & Ice Team


May 30th, 2023

There are an estimated 3.04 trillion trees in the world, according to a study published in the journal Nature. That equals 422 trees for every person on Earth. This is a huge number, but it pales when we consider what used to be. In ancient times, there were about six trillion trees.

In other words, through deforestation, we have cleared half of the planet's trees.

According to Wikipedia, forests cover about 31% of Earth’s land surface. This is one-third less than the forest cover before the expansion of agriculture, with half of that loss occurring in the last century.

Trees are more than fruit-bearing producers, which can turn into living pieces of art during the fall and spring. They are more than a home for birds, squirrels, and other woodland creatures.

They are the largest collectors of carbon dioxide on the planet, and their rate of disappearance is alarming. A portion of global warming can be traced back to deforestation.

We are talking more than wildfires (which have become more frequent and intense). We’re talking about the deliberate removal of trees versus the rate of reforestation.

If something doesn’t change soon, the entire planet is in danger.

Forest with fog

What Can Be Made From Trees

It’s easy to see why trees are the source of innumerable items. Pulp can create all types of paper products. Look around and count the number of things that were made from wood. Even their bark can be used for cork, anticancer drugs (Paclitaxel, a natural-source cancer drug, is derived from the bark of the Pacific yew tree), shoe polish, cosmetics, poultry bedding, oil spill control agents, and garden mulch.

Cellulose is one of the three chemicals that make up the basic building blocks of wood. There are dozens of uses for that, including several forms of plastics. Wood alcohol is derived from the fermentation of wood, which in turn can be used in colognes and solvents. And we haven’t even mentioned wreaths and Christmas trees.

The Benefits of Trees

        Trees give off oxygen. That’s one of the reasons that spending time in the forest feels so satisfying.

        Trees reduce the amount of stormwater runoff, which reduces erosion and pollution in waterways and helps reduce the effects of flooding. The roots absorb water and help keep the soil intact.

        Many species of wildlife depend on trees for habitat. Trees provide food, protection, and homes for many birds and mammals. It’s one of the reasons there is so little wildlife in the Arctic or Sahara Desert. It’s largely the climate, but it’s also a lack of trees.

        Trees cool our streets and cities. It’s amazing how even a little bit of shade cools the ground. Line a city street with them, and you have a pleasant place to park or sit on a sidewalk bench. Trees and vegetation lower surface and air temperatures by providing shade and through evapotranspiration. (Evapotranspiration allows the continuous circulation of water between the oceans, sky, and land. This process is responsible for about 15% of the water vapor in the atmosphere.) Shaded areas can be 20–45°F cooler than unshaded areas.

What Are the Reasons Behind Deforestation

        Subsistence farming (this occurs when nearly all of the crops or livestock raised are used to support the farmer and the farmer’s family) - 48%

        Commercial agriculture (food or plants produced for sale) - 32%

        Logging (cutting trees for sale as timber or pulp) - 14%

        Fuel wood - 5% (wood continues to be an important fuel in many countries, especially for cooking and heating in developing countries)

        Another cause of deforestation is climate change. 23% of tree cover losses result from an increase in wildfires and weather-induced changes.

        There was a lot of development occurring throughout the United States during the early 1920s, which caused the timber industry to grow rapidly. As a result, it became one of the major drivers of deforestation in the United States. Also, there were no forest management laws or programs in place. As a result, many forests were destroyed, especially on the East Coast of the United States, and no trees were planted in their place.

        Illegal logging


How Does Deforestation Affect Climate Change?

When forests are cut down, much of that carbon that is stored by trees is released into the atmosphere again as carbon dioxide (CO2). This is how deforestation and forest destruction contribute to global warming.

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas; it absorbs and gives off heat. Unlike oxygen or nitrogen (which make up most of the atmosphere), greenhouse gasses absorb heat radiating from the Earth’s surface and re-release it in all directions, including back toward the ground.

According to observations by the NOAA Global Monitoring Lab, in 2021 carbon dioxide was responsible for about two-thirds of the total heating influence of all human-produced greenhouse gasses.

Global warming turns into a vicious cycle. When food sources are reduced due to a lack of trees (due to less fruit and less fertile soil), communities clear more forests for agricultural use.

Effects of Removal of Trees Without Enough Reforestation

Habitat loss, especially by the removal of plants and trees that help to stabilize soil, increases erosion. Rainwater that was once absorbed by the soil runs off, taking with it essential nutrients that help plant growth. The ecosystem becomes unbalanced.

Increased erosion decreases water quality because sediment and pollutants are funneled into rivers and streams.

This decreases agricultural productivity. Crops need good soil. When the topsoil is disrupted, plants can struggle. Tilling brings nutrients back to the top, but continued tilling practices will eventually strip the soil of essential building blocks. (This is one of the factors that contributed to America’s Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Careless farming practices by tenant farmers coupled with a drought turned much of Middle America into arid dirt.)

Dust bowl

Other Effects of Deforestation

Extinction - 70% of the Earth’s plants and animals dwell in forests. Once their habitat is lost, they are on their way to extinction. According to recent estimates, the world is losing 137 species of plants, animals, and insects every day to deforestation. 50,000 species become extinct each year.

Desertification - This is a fancy word for when once-fertile soil turns into dust. Humans can cause this by overexploiting natural resources. For example, deforestation can cause the land to dry out, and then rain runs off the soil too quickly to do any good. If trees aren’t replanted after the land is cleared, desertification is a frequent occurrence. Livestock that is allowed to overgraze can also cause this.

Displacement of Populations - There are several reasons why humans live near forests. The trees can provide food and shelter. Animals that live in the forest can provide nourishment. A forest will do a much better job of retaining moisture from rainfall than a desert. Minus those essential things, the population will move on. And if they move to another area, and they don’t take proper care of their surroundings, the cycle will repeat.

Minus trees, forest-dwelling insects and bird species that pollinate crops will move on.

How Many Trees Were There 100 Years Ago?

How many trees were in the world around 100 years ago? At one point, it was estimated that only 70 million trees remained. The wake-up call could be heard worldwide.

Mankind simply assumed there was an endless source of trees.

How to Prevent Deforestation

  1. Reforestation. Plant trees. Organizations such as the Arbor Day Foundation, Besides education, this non-profit group aims to plant 500 million trees by 2027 in areas where they’re needed most.
  2. Sustainable forest management. Establish protected areas (such as rainforests, where the diversity of plants and animals is essential). Prevent forest conversion: If multiple types of trees have been deforested in an area, diverse trees need to be planted in that area, not just one single type.) Protect High Conservation Value Forests (HCVF). This designation is applied to forests that provide significant biodiversity, have rare ecosystems, or provide essential erosion control.
  3. Use reduced-impact logging techniques. Instead of the slash-and-burn techniques, this method selectively harvests trees while keeping certain trees and canopy in place.
  4. Reduce demand for wood products. This includes recycling paper products, reusing discarded wood, and buying products that have been reclaimed/recycled.

Trees in forest

Where Do We Stand Today?

The increase in national forests has been influenced by many factors, including massive re-planting initiatives that began to grow after WWII.

In addition, there are stricter laws regarding how and how much timber harvesting can occur on forest lands (such as the Northwest Forest Plan, adopted in 1994). Brazil’s Forest Code mandates that private landowners in ecologically sensitive areas keep chunks of that land undeveloped. Some version of the Forest Code has existed since 1934, when private landowners were limited to deforesting only 75% of their land. Since then, the percentage of land required to be kept as forest changed from 25% to 80% in the Amazon rainforest region.

That’s the good news. We are at least aware of the dangers of deforestation. But…

With as much as 17% of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest lost already, scientists believe that the tipping point will be reached at 20% to 25% of deforestation even if climate change is brought under control. If, as predicted, global temperatures rise by 4°C, much of the central, eastern, and southern Amazon will become arid.

Today, annual tree harvest vs. production shows that humans cut down approximately 15 billion trees a year and replant about 5 billion. That’s a net loss of 10 billion trees every year - a rate that would mean the loss of all trees within the next 300 years.

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What Can All of Us Do?

Changing old habits is hard. Wood has so many practical uses - and alternatives aren’t always readily available - that it’s almost impossible not to use wood and its byproducts.

The best place to start is education. Learn the negative effects of deforestation. And act locally.

Here at Fire & Ice, we take the motto “reduce, reuse, recycle” seriously.

We recycle every part of old HVAC equipment as much as possible. We recycle cardboard (and we have loads and loads of it.) We also recycle old refrigerant, though it takes time, energy, and resources.

We are partnering with ODOT and approved vendors to clean litter from 200 miles of Central Ohio highways monthly, as well as partnering with local communities to pick up litter during community-wide events. Trash that can be recycled will be.

We also partner with local community organizations and the Arbor Day Foundation to plant over a thousand trees a year.

We do this because the Central Ohio community has been good to us, and we want to give back. After all, it is our community, too, and we want to be good stewards.

If you’re interested in recycling here are some articles for further reading:

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