The forest is important to Forrist - in fact, it’s important to all of us, whether you recognise it or not.
Forests are a vital part of Earths eco-systems. Our planet needs trees, for so many reasons. They are the lungs of our planet, absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, the crucial natural cycle which regulates the atmosphere. They also provide shelter and food for its many inhabitants, be they indigenous people or our furry, scaly and feathered friends.
But the forests are slipping away, and the rapid reduction of these spaces is seriously bad news for our planet. Forest spaces make up 30% of Earth’s land mass, but this percentage is steeply declining.
Every second, a chunk of forest the size of a football pitch is lost to deforestation, and within a year, we lose forest space equivalent to the size of Italy. Sounds crazy right? Well it is, and things are only going to get crazier if we don’t reconsider our inherent comforts & conveniences. Let’s break it down…
What is deforestation?
Simply put, deforestation is the act of clearing an area of trees. For the most part, when someone mentions deforestation, they are talking about the man-made destruction of forest areas for:
- Agricultural expansion – clearing land for farming space
- Infrastructure – The building of roads, factories, power supplies and other buildings
- Logging – Cutting down trees for wood
- Urban sprawl – The extension of residential and commercial areas
Deforestation has existed since the beginning of time; trees have always been cut down for fuel and shelter. However, in this day and age, deforestation happens on a waaaay bigger scale, and the ecological consequences are just as big. On account of the growing incentive to clear forests for land and resources, and the destructive modern methods available to do just that, from big machines to shamelessly setting fire to forests, deforestation is accelerating at an alarming rate, and causing irreversible damage. This, of course, has an immediate effect on those who call the forests their home:
- 80% of plants and animals that live on land reside within forest areas,
- But, due to deforestation it is estimated that four to six thousand rainforest species go extinct every year
- 2 billion indigenous people also rely on the forest for food and shelter
- These people are rarely consulted before deforestation occurs, causing them to lose their homes, culture, and lives
But, effects of deforestation are far more universal than that. Trees are essential to the regulation of the carbon cycle, absorbing the carbon in the atmosphere and releasing oxygen through photosynthesis. In this way, they are natures own filtration system, taking in greenhouse gases and providing us with fresh, clean air. However, when these trees are felled, the carbon stored within them is released into the environment, and with less trees to contain these gasses, they get trapped, absorbing radiation and preventing heat from leaving the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
By not protecting our trees, we are essentially creating a carbon furnace in our ozone layer. We don’t allow radiative greenhouse gases to be cycled back into the land and swapped out for oxygen. Heating up the Earth whilst simultaneously choking it of its oxygen supply doesn’t take a genius to see why this is a big problem.
And this devastation is cyclical, as the more the earth heats up, the more susceptible forests are to large scale forest fires, causing further deforestation and thereby further heating the planet up, and the cycle continues on and on again.
Deforestation also disrupts the water cycle and causes soil erosion by uprooting the trees which anchor the soil, strengthening it and preventing landslides. Without naturally regulated rainfall and strong, healthy soil, planting trees becomes more difficult, and so the worst deforestation gets, the more difficult it becomes to counteract.
This is why deforestation demands urgent action, as the longer this self-destructive cycle continues, the longer it will take, and harder it will be, to remedy – and before long, the damage will become irreversible.
The Amazon rainforest often takes centre stage in the deforestation conversation. It is such a huge part of our planet, and we’re not just talking size. It is a repository of ecological services, and it’s biodiversity is unmatched:
- It is home to roughly half the species of life on Earth
- Scientists believe less then 1% of the Amazon’s flowering plant species have been studied in detail for their medical potential
- The Amazon contains about 20% of the world’s total volume of river water.
It is a tropical haven, with an abundance of wildlife and still so many hidden treasures to uncover, but due to deforestation, this paradise is falling.
This is not news to anyone. In the late 90s, when deforestation rates were reaching unprecedented levels, conservational measures were introduced, and many areas of the forest were sectioned off as protected lands, either for the indigenous people who lived there, for more sustainable farming like nut harvesting and rubber tapping to occur, or to be left alone entirely.
Those who were still able to use Amazonian land as pastures were also subject to the Forest Code, which monitored how much land they could clear. In doing this, a balance was found where Brazil’s economy and ecology were both nurtured, and deforestation rates decreased year after year. This goes to show that, with the right legislation and approach, the prevention of deforestation is completely viable, and we can still make use of the forests’ resources sustainably.
However, since the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro on the first day of 2019, much of this growth is being violently reversed. Protected areas are now being torched with the incentive of pushing agribusiness, and the clear environmental cost is bafflingly being ignored. As a result, last year saw a 12-year high in the rate of Amazonian deforestation, and there is no sign of slowing down. 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been deforested in the last 50 years, and it is believed that if this reaches 20%, the rainforest will collapse, no longer capable of keeping up the water cycle with which it sustains itself, and the Amazon will be lost forever.
Photo By Lisa Foster
Deforestation in the UK
Deforestation is not confined to rainforests though, it happens here too. Only 13% of the UK’s landmass is made up of forest and woodland, and even these areas are at risk. The UK is a net exporter of timber and paper, so logging has been the primary source of deforestation here for a long time, but urban sprawl also poses a threat as the demand for more housing sees forests and woodlands encroached on.
The UK government appears to be taking action, being the first major economy to pass the zero net emissions law, vowing to become carbon neutral by 2050, and a large part of this effort is the planned planting and conservation of trees all around the nation. However, when you look at what the government are really putting their time, money and effort into, things don’t seem to add up…
Over £80 billion is being funnelled into the HS2 project, which seeks to build a superfast railway which spans across England. Sounds pretty cool, sure. But, it has been heavily criticised by environmentalists, as its construction is purported to cause damage to over 100 ancient woodlands and more that 600 wildlife sites, including places of special scientific interest and areas supposedly protected by ecological law. This will endanger countless species of animals which inhabit these areas, such as barn owls, otters and hedgehogs.
Jones’ Hill Wood, a historic woodland in Buckinghamshire and the inspiration for Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, has become a hotspot for environmental protest, as the HS2 route looks to plough through its ancient land. During preparation for construction, environmentalists found evidence that critically endangered barbastelle bats reside within these woods, giving the area protected status under UK law. However, after a brief halt in construction, felling has now continued, and this ancient site, home to critically endangered animals, is being deforested at this very moment.
How to stop deforestation
Deforestation is scary, and the idea of tackling it can feel daunting. But there are plenty of simple yet effective measures we can all take in order to impact this global issue. It only takes a couple of small changes in our consumer habits, and getting others on board, to shift the tide of deforestation.
The forest lands are only being exploited in these ways because there is a demand for products which warrant these practices. Businesses who profit from deforestation will continue to do so – evidently, regardless of the environmental impact. So, it’s really up to us, and watching what we buy. If the demand for these products stops, so does the need to clear the forest. Simple
Well, okay, it’s not that simple – we get that it’s hard to know where to start. What do I stop buying? What can I get to replace those things? Do I need to cut these things out completely? Is there even any point if no one else is going to do it?
Take it easy, the thing about conscious consumerism is that it’s completely down to you how you make these changes, and to what extent. We’re here to offer you a guide as to how you can effect positive change with your shopping habits:
Meat and dairy:
Agriculture is the direct driver of roughly 80 percent of tropical deforestation, and the large majority of these agricultural spaces are used to farm cattle, pigs and poultry, as well as farming soy, primarily to feed these animals. By reducing the amount of meat and dairy products we consume, we reduce the demand for these goods and thereby reduce the incentive to clear and use forest space in order to grow more.
Encouraging others to take up this change, and explaining why it is necessary, helps to normalise the notion that everyone should be doing their part to reduce overall meat and dairy consumption in order to make a real change in the industry. And, by cutting down on animal farming, the large amounts of soy being farmed can also be redistributed to those without food and help combat world hunger.
Everyone doesn’t have to go vegan. You don’t have to go around smacking chicken wings out of hands. It’s just about making people aware that a change in their consumption, also makes for a change in the environment. Perhaps you could talk your friends or family into trying to go meatless 3 days a week, and take it from there? Suggest they try swapping their cows milk for almond, oat or coconut milk. Take them out to a vegan restaurant or cook them up a delicious plant-based meal to show them what they are missing out on!
Palm oil is the next biggest culprit when it comes to deforestation, and the clearing of tropical forest for palm oil plantations threatens nearly 200 at-risk species, including orangutans, tigers and elephants. Palm oil is found in about half of all the packaged products stocked in your local conventional supermarket, from pizzas and chocolate to deodorants and toothpaste, making this one a little trickier.
Choosing more natural and locally sourced alternatives is a great way to reduce your use of unsustainable palm oil products. Why not try making your own pizza from home, when you have the time, from local organic ingredients, and swapping out your unsustainable toothpaste or shampoo for some of the natural alternatives on offer here at the Forrist, which are healthier for you and the planet.
And, when you do purchase products which contain palm oil, try to opt for companies which adopt eco-friendly business practices, and look out for an RSPO certification. RSPO stands for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and items labelled with its stamp only use sustainable palm oil, or palm oil that has not required forests to be cut down.
Don’t stop at shopping:
There is also plenty of action you can take outside of your shopping habits. Writing to local MPs and encouraging others to do the same is crucial to making real change happen. Although certain governments, such as in the UK, do appear to be making efforts towards ecological issues, they are rarely prioritised; just look at how it got swept under the rug when HS2 came into the picture. Writing, emailing and participating in petitions, demonstrations and campaigns to get the message across to those in power that environmental concerns are of the utmost importance is the only way for effective legislative change to occur. Make them listen!
Donating to tree planting regimes is also a super impactful way to directly combat deforestation. I mean, how do you reverse the effects of getting rid of trees? You plant new ones! You can sign up to make monthly, yearly or just one-off donations to charities which are dedicated to reforestation. It could even be as simple as switching your search engine to Ecosia, which donates 80% of its profits to non-profit organizations that focus on reforestation. So anytime you go to search something online, you’re contributing to positive change!
Through these acts of conscious shopping, supporting environmental campaigns, and spreading the message to friends, family and people in power, we can set in motion the industrial and legislative change needed to save the planet, and protect precious forests and their inhabitants. It’s a tall order, but change can only begin with you.