Today is Earth Day, so we wanted to talk a little about deforestation, its impact on our world, and why it’s so important to take care of our trees.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, carbon dioxide gas (commonly called CO2) is the leading cause of global warming. There are many other greenhouse gasses that trap the earth’s heat, but the reason why CO2 is so devastating to our climate is due to its total volume in the atmosphere.
The increase of CO2 in our atmosphere is associated with many factors including carbon emissions from cars and factories, but the main contributor to our CO2 pollution problem is deforestation. The World Carfree Network estimates that deforestation accounts for 15 percent of total global carbon emissions. And with people cutting down 15 billion trees each year, the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere will only continue to rise.
Trees are a vital component of a healthy atmosphere and the protection of Earth’s climate because, through the process known as photosynthesis, they essentially “breathe in” carbon dioxide and “breathe out” oxygen. What many people don’t know is that trees store CO2 in their trunk and roots. When a tree is cut down, it releases the stored CO2 and the gas makes its way up into our atmosphere.
Deforestation affects climate change in other ways as well. For instance, forests provide shade, keeping soil moist and the ground cool by blocking out the sun’s rays during the day. Without the protection of trees, temperature swings increase and the soil dries out, increasing the likelihood of large deforested areas becoming barren deserts.
There is also the issue regarding the role that forests play in our water cycle. Trees take in nutrients from water through their roots; the nutrient filled water is sent up the trunk to the branches and leaves, and the water that is not used is released by the leaves into our atmosphere and falls back down to earth as rain. Disturbing the water cycle means that there will be less rainfall to help cool off the earth and grow our vegetation, which depends heavily on a steady cycle of rainfall and sunlight.
Scientists universally agree (and have the evidence to prove) that the earth is getting hotter at an alarming rate. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 2016 was the warmest year on record globally. And data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that 2016 marks the third consecutive year of increasing global temperatures. NOAA also claims that the annual global temperature record has been broken five times in the past 15 years.
Climate change does not just affect soil temperature, it is also increasing the temperature on ocean surfaces. High water temperatures can cause serious damage to oceanic life, especially for phytoplankton like dinoflagellates. These tiny organisms (who make up the neat glowy feature of our DinoPets) rise to the surface during the day to take in nutrients from the sun’s light and return to deeper water at night. However, plankton cannot survive in temperatures that are too high, and many larger sea animals rely on these organisms for food. So if the plankton disappear, so too will the animals that feed on them.
Preserving our forests is important for our entire planet. It will become more challenging to combat the negative effects of global warming if the level of greenhouse gasses continue to climb at the current rate, and it looks like trees are the greatest allies we have against climate change.
There are a few things that we can do to help reduce deforestation. First, buy items that use wood from sustainable sources. There are lumber mills that strategically replant trees as they cut down older trees. Other mills are using alternative sources like bamboo for wood products. Many of these alternative sources grow faster than trees, allowing for mills to keep up with demand while maintaining an appropriate level of carbon reducing organisms. Second, buy recycled products. Some carpenters repurpose lumber, turning doors into tables and other products. These products not only have a unique look, but they help reduce the need to cut down more trees. Third, shop at local farmers markets for groceries: Deforestation in South America stems from a demand for low cost produce, but collectively we can focus our demand to local sustainable farms.