were to think of the Earth's ecosystem as a living thing,
the trees of the world would be the lungs.
As every school child knows, trees breath in carbon dioxide, removing the carbon from the
atmosphere and thereby helping to combat greenhouse gases and global warming. The process of photosynthesis also releases the oxygen necessary for respiration which is the process that both plants and animals need in order to survive.
is for this reason that the rampant deforestation around the
world is particularly distressing. Wood is
a remarkably versatile natural resource, and human civilizations
across the planet have never been shy about exploiting it
to feed their economies. Hundreds years of doing this, however,
has significantly depleted the world's forests.
The dangers of deforestation
Today, many rainforests, for instance, are depleted to less than
ten percent of their original size. Madagascar,
for one glaring example, has lost over ninety percent of its
forests that has led to the extinction of a large number of
insect species on the island.
These satellite images show the progression of deforestation in western Brazil — once home to 208,000 square kilometers of forest (about 51.4 million acres), an area slightly smaller than the state of Kansas — which has become one of the most deforested parts of the Amazon. (Credit: NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio)
of Southeast Asia, which are host to an amazing amount
of biodiversity, have also suffered extreme deforestation,
and the countless species and ecosystems that depend on those
forests have suffered accordingly.
Perhaps the most prophetic example
of deforestation has been Easter Island. The complete
collapse of the once lush, subtropical forests of Easter Island
has been shown to coincide with the subsequent collapse of
the civilization that existed on Easter Island. Historians
often wonder what Easter Islanders must have been thinking
(if at all) when they cut down the last tree.
Currently, there are many efforts underway to save the various
forests that remain largely intact. The Amazon
rainforest in particular is a focus of conservationists
everywhere because of its huge size and amazing biodiversity.
the biggest contributors to deforestation in Brazil, and many
other developing countries, is slash and burn farming. Poor
farmers with no other means of supporting themselves cut the
forest down and burn the organic matter to fertilize the soil.
When the soil becomes unusable, they repeat the process, cutting
further into the forest.
Examples like this abound and, in many cases, the best method
for stopping deforestation is to give those exploiting these
natural resources other means of supporting themselves. If
we don't, we must contend with the fact that our world will
come to resemble Easter Island more and more every day.
More about saving trees & rainforests around the Web:
About Rainforests - CalTech guide with student-friendly
information on the world's major rainforests including the
people, plants and wildlife that call them home, and why its
important to preserve them with related videos, lesson plans,
and interactive quiz.
Alliance for Community Trees
- Helping to keep urban areas green with a major portal to
information, student & teacher resources, urban forestry
job listings, volunteer information, listserv, free newsletters.
Day Foundation - Information central with tips &
advice on planting, pruning and general care, searchable database
of U.S. urban foresters, guidebook to sustainability, online