Reforestation: Creating a Greener World
Of the seemingly endless list of manmade environmental threats facing the planet, one of the most pressing is that of deforestation—the permanent destruction of forests to make land available for other uses, such as for agriculture or expanding urbanization. Although the negative effects have long been recognized, humans continue to engage in this practice on a massive scale. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), an estimated 18 million acres of forest (an area roughly the size of the country of Panama) are lost each year.
Deforestation is occurring all over the world, although it is tropical rainforests that are disappearing the most rapidly. NASA has projected that unchecked deforestation could completely deplete the world’s rainforests in as few as 100 years. According to a study by the University of Maryland and the World Resource Institute, the country with the highest level of deforestation is Indonesia, which has lost more than 15.79 million hectares (39 million acres) of forest land since the turn of the century—much of which has been replaced by palm oil plantations.
“We have nearly halved the number of trees on the planet and we have seen the impacts on climate and human health as a result,” said Thomas Crowther, post-doctoral fellow at Yale University’s school of forestry and environmental studies (F&ES) and lead author of a global study to survey and map every square mile of forest. “They store huge amounts of carbon, are essential for the cycling of nutrients, for water and air quality, and for countless human services. Yet you ask people to estimate, within an order of magnitude, how many trees there are and they don’t know where to begin.”
The news is not all bad. While the outlook remains bleak, organizations and individuals across the world have recognized the threat and are actively working on reforestation projects and initiatives in a bid to balance the destruction.
The Plant a Billion Trees campaign initiated by The Nature Conservancy non-profit organization is an ambitious effort to restore 2.5 million acres of land and work towards mitigating climate change by planting 1 billion trees in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil—one of the largest tropical forests in the world. According to the organization, reforestation of the Atlantic Forest could help remove 10 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, equivalent to taking two million cars off the road, and protect 10 critical watersheds in the forest that provide water and hydropower to more than 70 million people.
In Scotland, home to some of the world’s most dramatic natural landscapes, an ambitious long-term initiative aims to restore 27,000 acres of ancient woodland that have vanished due to centuries of deforestation for plantations and livestock grazing. The project, managed by Woodland Trust Scotland, aims to reintroduce native tree species that have been displaced by softwood plantations that undermine biodiversity. Since 1989, the trust’s partner, conservation charity Trees for Life, has planted more than a million new trees in the Scottish Highlands, and aims to plant many more.
Even small-scale projects, powered by the commitment of community volunteers, are making a measurable difference. In Hong Kong, the ABLE Charity, a grassroots organization based on Lamma Island, has planted thousands of trees annually on the island since 1997, transforming the once denuded hills into a lush, green ecosystem.
While it is encouraging that initiatives such as these and many others are taking action to ameliorate the threats posed to the ecosystem and our living environments by deforestation, a nagging question remains: is it enough in the face of the unprecedented rate of deforestation fueled by a rapacious appetite for resource consumption and economic development? As the old saying goes—the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
Plant A Billion Trees (The Nature Conservancy)
Highland revival: Reforestation gathers pace (Common Wael)
Trees for Life
Custodians of the Lamma Forest (ABLE Charity)
Deforestation: Facts, Causes & Effects (livescience)
The Number of Trees has Halved Since Human Civilization Emerged (ZME Science)
Indonesia now country with world`s highest deforestation rate (Z News)