People are used to surrounding themselves with beautiful and comfortable objects. When we buy something, we very rarely think about where it came from, what it is made of, what resources were spent, and whether it is harmful to our planet’s ecosystem. Almost all items in the everyday life of modern man, in one way or another, pollute our Earth and devastate its resources. And one of the most pressing issues is deforestation. This is a process characterized by the loss of woody material and the transformation of forests into wastelands, pastures, deserts and cities. The main factors of deforestation are: anthropogenic (the impact of human activity), forest fires, hurricanes, flooding, etc. The loss of a forest is not only a bad aesthetic defect. This process has irreversible consequences for all inhabitants of the globe because it affects environmental, climatic and socio-economic conditions and reduces the quality of life. Even with the constant planting of young trees, the rate of growth is not commensurate with the rate at which centuries-old forests are disappearing.
Why is the forest shrinking so rapidly? Hurricanes, fires and other natural disasters have been around for centuries, but the forest has been disappearing intensively for the past decades. Analysis of global satellite imagery data for 12 years suggests that the area of forests is steadily decreasing: it has decreased by 1.4 million km2 over a decade. The greatest loss of forest area in relation to growth is recorded for the tropical zone, the smallest — for the temperate zone.
Population growth on the planet and its excessive needs, global urbanization (concentration of life in large cities, building infrastructure) and the concentration of main activities in offices are the main causes of deforestation. Where once wood was used to build huts and to heat them, paper is now a household item of prime importance. The number and variety of interior furnishings and decorating with wood products has increased, people are used to wiping their hands with paper napkins, the daily amount of printed matter is millions of tons of materials, only a small fraction of which is recycled.
An office is a huge consumer of wood products, where printing paper is consumed in colossal quantities:
Each office worker uses an average of 10,000 sheets of paper per year (data from Xerox) and creates 160 kg of paper waste per year (U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council);
45% of documents are sent to the trash within 24 hours after creation (Xerox);
the main paper consumers per person are in the US and Western Europe (Environmental Paper Network);
the greatest growth in paper consumption is in China, and paper consumption is declining slightly in other regions of the world (State of the Paper Industry, 2011);
the average document is copied 19 times, including photocopies and printouts (AIIM/Coopers & Lybrand);
up to 20% of documents in companies are printed incorrectly (ARMA International);
it takes 768 million trees to produce the world’s annual volume of paper products (conservatree.com).
So, it is obvious that a simple habit of personal convenience, excessive paperwork and the race for money can soon turn out very badly for the inhabitants of our planet, so urgent measures need to be taken. To begin with, it is necessary to cultivate a conscious awareness of resource consumption and share it with employees and acquaintances. Then we should introduce measures to save paper, prevent its senseless consumption, introduce the use of equivalent alternatives.
Another important problem is the deforestation of forests for feeding livestock on pastures and the cultivation of crops (especially oil palms, for the cultivation of which tropical forests are being destroyed at a high rate). What to do: reduce the consumption of animal products (or refuse to use them at all), do not buy extra food and do not let it spoil and get into the trash, do not overeat, grow your own food at home (in the garden beds or on the balcony), store it properly.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the world’s rainforests were destroyed much more intensively than before the pandemic.
This is reported in a study of WWF World Wildlife Fund, DW reports.
WWF said that they analyzed satellite data from 18 countries in Africa, Asia and South America. The foundation compared forest cover in March 2020 with the time period from 2017 to 2019.
“Our findings are clear: 645,000 hectares of rainforest were destroyed in March 2020. That’s seven times the area of Berlin. The deforestation is 150 percent higher than the average from 2017 to 2019,” the study says.
It is noted that five of the six countries studied (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Tanzania) lost the most forest area in March 2020 compared to March values from 2017 to 2019.
The situation is even worse in Asia. In Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand, the extent of forest destruction in March 2020 was significantly higher than in 2018 and 2019.
In March 2020, forest losses in Malaysia were up nearly 70 percent compared to the three-march average from 2017 to 2019. In Indonesia and Myanmar, deforestation increased by 130 percent compared to this average, and in Cambodia by 190 percent. Deforestation in Thailand more than quadrupled.
In South America, deforestation increased by 167 percent. Brazil, in particular, logged 70,000 hectares in March 2019, which is already high. In March 2020, however, 55 percent of the country’s forests were destroyed. In Argentina, from March 2019 to March 2020, the figure increased by 322 percent.
The WWF believes that they were hampered by the measures that national governments applied during the quarantine caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The foundation says that government controls in the forests became much weaker during the quarantine.
“There are now fewer police, rangers and other government inspectors in the woods. A lot of conservationists are also stuck in ’home offices.’ Indigenous areas in particular are under threat. Protected areas are not protected,” said WWF. It means that it has become much easier to illegally cut down forests or seize land, for example, for mining.
Earlier UNIAN reported that Brazil reduces its efforts to combat environmental crimes amid outbreak of COVID-19, despite the concerns of experts that the reduction of the level of protection can lead to a sharp increase in deforestation.
The destruction of forests can have consequences on the other side of the globe — this is the conclusion reached by scientists at the University of Washington, Arizona (University of Arizona) and Michigan State University. Using computer simulations, they calculated how the disappearance of large woodlands will affect the climate and global ecosystems. The research results are published in the journal PLOS One.
Consequences of deforestation
“When trees die somewhere, it can affect plants elsewhere, because deforestation causes changes in one place that ricochet and change the climate in another,” explains lead author Elizabeth Garcia. “The atmosphere provides the connection between them.” Deforestation is known to cause cooling, because without trees, the Earth’s surface reflects the sun’s rays better and absorbs less light. In addition, the air becomes drier. The impact of forests on local ecosystems is well understood. But new evidence suggests that the disappearance of large tracts of wood could alter rainfall patterns and affect the planet’s climate. “People talked about how deforestation is affecting the ecosystem and maybe local temperatures, but they didn’t think about how it affects the global climate,” says research team member Abigail Swann.
The study focuses on deforestation in two regions: North America, where plants are affected by drought, heat and beetle infestations, and the Amazon jungle, where trees are cut down to clear the area for settlements and farmland. Using climate models, scientists have assessed the impact of deforestation on climate and the impact of these changes on ecosystems in other areas of the planet.
The results showed that deforestation in western North America would cause a cold snap in Siberia, and lower temperatures would slow the growth of native trees. The air in the southeastern United States will become drier, and forests in the states of North and South Carolina will suffer from this. But trees in South America will benefit: it will get cooler there, and the air will be more humid south of the equator. Clearing much of the Amazonian jungle will also hit Siberia, but plants in the southeastern United States will benefit. Forests in eastern South America will be happy with rainfall in the Southern Hemisphere in summer.
When it comes to forests, one plus one does not always equal two. The calculations showed that “removing” both forests is not just about removing each of them separately and adding up the results. Things are much more complicated, since the effects of the disappearance of trees can enhance or smooth each other.
Predicting the consequences of deforestation
However, these data are not final, now scientists are refining the parameters of the model. They are conducting field studies to better describe how the disappearance of different types of forests will affect changes in temperature and humidity. The team members want to determine where deforestation is most likely to cause climate change, where ecosystems will be transformed by it, and how these trends will play out with global warming. The main idea is to understand and account for the impact of deforestation when we model the planet’s climate and try to predict how it will change in the future.