Is Deforestation Our Biggest Threat? And What Can We Do About It?
Updated: Nov 9, 2020
“Mummy, will we always have to wear masks?” My daughter asks me on the way to school as the threat o lockdown part 2 begins in Britain.
I tell her that it could be a few more months or it could be years because no one knows how long we’ll be living with the threat of Covid-19. However, as I talk I wonder if we should all be getting used to wearing masks for another reason. Because there is a far bigger threat than Covid-19 looming, and we are not containing this one at all. This, of course, is mass deforestation. Our wild spaces are certainly not in safe hands. Despite our increasing awareness of the dangers of deforestation, in 2019 we lost a football pitch of primary rainforest every 6 seconds (according to data from the University of Maryland). How much more we will lose this year is unknown. California has lost 4% of its forest in the wildfires that raged earlier this year and Friederike Otto (Acting Director of the University of Oxford Environmental Change Institute), is not alone in sighting climate change as the leading cause:
“There is absolutely no doubt that the extremely high temperatures are higher than they would have been without human-induced climate change.” - Friederike Otto
Australia, from June 2019 until February 2020, was ravaged by bushfires across 8 states/territories, resulting in an estimated loss of 46,300,000 acres of formally fertile land. Although bushfires are a natural seasonal event, their frequency and intensity are widely thought to be increasing due to climate change. Alarmingly, in a number of cases, arson has been proved to be the cause of ignition. Perhaps the reigning cause of deforestation is that half of the fertile land on earth is now farmland. But why is it important to protect our wild spaces anyway? Apart from the tragedy of losing such beautiful natural areas and destroying the habitats of many extraordinary animals, the biodiversity that rainforests and other will areas generate is the very reason there is life on our planet at all. Animals spread the seeds that secure tree diversity in the Amazon. This great range of tree types creates a canopy over the earth which releases vast amounts of oxygen into the atmosphere and harbours carbon dioxide, which is a leading cause of global warming.
Yet, saving the Amazon will not be enough, because all of our wild areas keep our carbon rates down and assist in the production of food. Soil diversity is key to the successful growth of food. In the UK, we learn this in school when we study crop rotation at a young age. Crop rotation has been practised since the 14th century, and for good reason. It balances the nutrients in the soil. It allows the land to recover and promotes healthy soil which is essential for plant growth. Yet, if all our land is farming land then it cannot sustain soil biodiversity. So you see, our existence is sustainable so long as the ground beneath us is capable of growing food, and there is enough oxygen in the air around us. Earth and sky - that’s what it comes down to. And what is it that links those? The Trees. The ones we're cutting down at alarming rates. And yet, only 35% of the world’s wildness remains. David Attenborough’s talking about it. A number of celebrities are calling out to protect our environment and studies in the field seem to be increasing dramatically as we reach a crisis point. But, what are our world leaders doing? It’s hard to say exactly. Using Paperboy.com I went through the front pages of nine leading UK newspapers from the 7th to the 14th of October. The environment was mentioned once by The Sunday Telegraph whose front page featured Prince William’s warning to the world regarding climate change. That was it. In a whole week of front-page headlines from a variety of newspapers. Naturally, there are some very obvious distractions right now in politics and the national interest. However, there will always be distractions whether it’s Covid-19, Brexit or the US election. Climate change is still the biggest threat to humanity. This is a truth widely accepted across the world. So what can we do about it?
Here are four things that you can do to slow deforestation and encourage rewilding:
Keep talking about it - It is all well and good to buy eco-friendly products and to take personal steps to reduce our carbon footprints, but larger action is needed. We need to let our leaders know that one front-page article regarding the environment, in one newspaper, across a whole week, is not enough. We care more than that. We need to demonstrate this because leaders want to please voters and so will generally act on the issues most important to them. Sign petitions, follow environmental groups on social media and share information. Plant trees - or encourage groups that do so. Ecosia is an online search engine that uses its profits to plant trees. All you need to do to help them do so is to use their search engine. Find out more at https://info.ecosia.org/what Cook from scratch - One of the key demands of deforestation is to make space for palm oil production. It’s important to clarify here that palm oil is not as evil as one might believe. In fact, because palm oil produces more oil per land area than its equivalents, in many ways it is sustainable. Yet, we cannot afford to be using as much of it as we are and there’s one easy way to reduce our use of products containing palm oil and that's to cook more. Instead of buying pre-packed convenience foods which rely on palm oil for longer shelf lives, we could be buying basic ingredients and creating healthier more eco-friendly meals.
Reduce demand - Most of the environmental harm we are inflicting on our planet is motivated by greed. Again and again, profit takes precedent over our ecosystem. We all need to be willing to live with less stuff. If we can slow production, reduce demand and reduce waste then we reduce the need to destroy our precious wild spaces. Spaces many of us have found kept us sane during the lockdown. After an initial ridiculous drive to consumerism, what we began to discover amind the Covid-19 crisis, is that it was the basic things that helped us through it. Fresh air, being in nature and spending time with one another. Turns out, that was most important. So, let’s not forget that. As we continue to fight the Covid-19 pandemic of course it's important to wear masks. No doubt, we should be doing everything possible to protect each other. Only, whilst we are all arguing about the best ways to do this, we are failing to protect our environment. So whilst we debate the effectiveness of facemasks and grimace at our discomfort, perhaps we should be grateful that we are not all yet walking this world in oxygen masks, because the destruction of our planet is a virus spreading so fast it will soon not be possible to control. Is deforestation humanity's biggest threat? It's fearfully possible.
If you would like to learn more then please refer to some of the resources I used to write this article: Netflix - A Life On Our Planet WWF - https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/8-things-know-about-palm-oil The Paper Boy - https://www.thepaperboy.com/uk/2020/10/14/front-pages-archive.cfm World Resources Institute - https://www.wri.org/blog/2020/06/global-tree-cover-loss-data-2019 Environmental Performance Index - https://epi.yale.edu/epi-results/2020/component/epi