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Science

Why Deforestation Matters

David Attenborough called for an immediate halt to deforestation in his Netflix documentary “A Life on Our Planet.” Let’s talk about why this is important.

We all know greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide cause climate change. And as I learned in elementary school, plants “breathe in” carbon dioxide and “breathe out” oxygen.

This is actually really significant, because it means trees can take carbon dioxide out of the air and help us with our climate change issue.

Trees hold carbon in them, but when you cut or burn them down, that carbon is released into the air. And then you no longer have that tree to take it back out.

To many, the solution might be to simply “plant more trees” to replace the ones cut down. But even if an American like myself could single-handedly plant enough trees to replace every tree cut down in the Amazon, that still wouldn’t replace the valuable ecosystem that was lost there. Forests are more than just trees; they’re intricate ecosystems, and every part – soil, plants, animals, climate – plays a role in circulating water and nutrients.

1.2 million trees are lost in the Amazon Rainforest every day, to be replaced by cattle ranches and farms. In Malaysia and Indonesia, the forests are being replaced with sprawling palm oil plantations.

Palm oil is actually the most productive vegetable oil, and boycotting it to switch to a less efficient alternative would require more land. There are ways to consume palm oil sustainably, by supporting brands that get their palm oil and palm oil derivatives from producers that aren’t linked to deforestation. Pressure from consumers on the worst of the palm oil companies sends a message to others in the industry to stop deforestation.

But let’s say you’re just cutting down a rainforest to make wood and paper products. You think to yourself, “the trees will just grow back! It’s nature, it’ll be fine.”

Not necessarily. A rainforest with no forest can quickly turn into a dry savanna, through a process called desertification. Forest ecosystems are more than just trees; the endangered species living there can’t just wait for a suitable ecosystem to rebuild itself. And what about the effects on the people that may use the forest as a source of food, habitat, or even just flood protection?

Biodiversity just isn’t that replaceable. And neither are forests. Preservation is key.

But let’s pretend you don’t care so much about “biodiversity” and the orangutans. Lucky (or unluckily) for you, forests are actually important for human beings, too.

Many Indigenous peoples live in the Amazon Rainforest, yet their future becomes increasingly uncertain as more of their land is taken and their forest is destroyed to be turned into farms.

Additionally, the Amazon Rainforest has an effect on global water cycles. Its deforestation is affecting the rainfall in regions hundreds of miles away. The ecosystem services it provides are priceless. And of course, the trees help sequester carbon, a natural service that only becomes increasingly valuable as more people realize our dire climate situation calls for immediate action.

Pressure on both companies and governments will likely be necessary to halt deforestation. But large, undisturbed, healthy forests are critical for decreasing climate change, saving endangered species, safeguarding functioning water cycles, and ultimately, protecting people.

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