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Deforestation and Climate Change
The Real Costs of Deforestation
Have we Been Barking up the Wrong Tree?
It's been going on for centuries. It has crept up on us. It is incipient and goes unnoticed by most. Yet, here we are now living with all the consequences that been blamed on all sorts of other sources. Deforestation has had and continues to have devastating consequences for the living earth. There are regions that serve as a good microcosm event and a warning for the world at large. Forests and all the plant life that is contained therein serve many functions for the planetary ecosystem. Plant life that functions on photosynthesis, is the lungs of the world, providing all the oxygen that animals require for respiration and life. Plants also serve in the hydrological cycle to recycle moisture and water in a controlled manner. Plants lock soil against flood run off and prevent the loss of nutrients from the soil. Large trees shade vast areas and regulate the temperature of the earth. All plants, some more than others, remove toxins from the air, ground and waters of the earth. Plants provide shelter, food, drink and homes for a myriad of animals. These vital living resources are under threat and this is escalating.
Without forests and plant cover, the affected regions come under immediate threat. Animals no longer have anything the tree and plants provide and many have gone extinct as a result. Regions where clear cutting for resource gathering and/or development have gone to becoming dead zones and deserts. When the living carpet of plant life is removed, there is nothing to stop rain run off and severe erosion. The run off washes all the toxins like pesticides and heavy metals into the rivers, lakes and oceans negatively impacting living ecosystems there. When the sun comes out in the heat of the summer, what is left is baked under high temperatures and wildfires have a better chance of becoming established. Few plants mean less oxygen is produced and carbon placed into the atmosphere by wildfires and human activity is not recycled. Toxins, that plants are so good at removing from the air, ground and water are not removed and these have devastating consequences down the road through biological magnification in predator species. One may argue that agriculture replaces the lost bio-diverse ecosystems, but when soil is depleted such as in the Amazon, farmers leave and a wake of ruin is left that does not recover.
It has been stated that some 80% of the world's natural forests have been removed, that is, the earth is now 80% deforested. Bio-diversity has been replaced by monoculture, which in its own way has created both concentration of super pests and dead zones. So for the land part of the earth that makes up about 29% of the surface, the oxygen producing region has declined by 80% from wild production. Clear cutting has historically been done in the UK, US, Canada and now Brazil. BC had another whammy in the form of the spruce pine beetle that has completely devastated the interior forests, leaving a massive dead zone in the wake. During the high winds of the winter of 2006-07, they were blown over the Rocky mountain divide and are now emerging with a vengeance in Alberta and points east along the northern spruce forests. Most forests in the US have been clear cut for the building and paper industry and continue to be cut. As there are less trees in the US, Canada now provides much of the raw resources with similar consequences. The UK was clear cut eons ago for ship building, housing, furniture and paper. It has been that way since the 19th century. Brazil's problem is poverty forcing marginal farmers to cut down trees to create marginal grazing land for beef cattle raising. In addition, large swaths of forest are being replaced by a monoculture of eucalyptus trees used mainly for making toilet paper for the developed world. When the eucalyptus moves in, everything else moves out including the insects. Aside from the trees and the few farmers who mind them, there is no life whatsoever. They cannot even grow their own food. This fact made news on documentary reports.
The world has seen a lot of weird weather and it is increasing in severity. Some say that this is the direct result of green house gasses. The earth has been warmer and colder in its past. However, for almost all of that time, it has been bio-diverse. Green house gasses that escape and are not recycled are only part of the problem. Other manifestations that are not directly attributable to the increased level of carbon dioxide are massive flooding and immediate run off, toxification of the land, atmosphere and water, loss of bio-diversity, the melting of polar and glacial ice and so on. To make such claims flies in the face of those that suggest that the carbon footprint is the main driver. But carbon dioxide is not the only culprit. The issues are not as simple as that. The other issues involved are increases in methane release, the lofting of particulate matter into the air, increased albedo in the equatorial regions and decreased albedo in the poles and high altitudes. These create local extreme temperature gradients and subsequent more extreme weather.
Here is one of the consequences of deforestation. Think well as you draw your next breath!
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ndustrial processes the create the substance that winds up in brown clouds gets spread by prevailing winds all over the globe. This gets carried to the poles and glaciers, falling out in snow that is seeded by the particulate matter, creates a heat sink that contributes to ice melt when the sun warms up the contaminated ice. The melt water erodes and weakens ice fields that then break off as icebergs and contribute to sea level rise that is threatening some coral atolls and their populations with inundation. This particulate matter was once brought down by the rain and captured by trees and plants that absorbed it and cleaned the air. When forests dominated the world, a lot of particulate matter never got to the poles, lessening the melt. This is not so true any more.
There is a story about water hyacinths being able to clean up waterways, even if contaminated by heavy metals and raw sewage. Experiments conducted in India, were done using this proliferating plant and showed that heavily contaminated water at the input end of a water hyacinth patch was cleaned up almost to the point of distilled water at the outflow end. There are plants that clean up the air very efficiently. Among them are orchids, that obtain their nourishment from mist, dust in the air and sunlight. In the right conditions, they proliferate, though growing slowly and can serve to clean up the atmosphere with very little input other than being suitably located. It is also known that various plants are attracted by substances in the soil such as metals. They have been used by some to track down resources. Plants and trees have evolved in diversity to live in every conceivable environment except the poles and ice bound mountains, but lately have been removed to make way for development and agriculture.
The loss of forests mean that there is less local shading and increased heat at ground level. Also, the loss of light absorbing leaves that produce nutrients for the plants and animals that feed off them, means that the ground is directly exposed to direct sun, which is generally lighter than the trees, reflecting light and is also heated up. The loss of the trees means that the natural slow water recycling has been lost and during rains, the water runs off and the land dries that is left behind. This leads to desertification, such as going on in the Amazon when the forest canopy is gone. Anyone can demonstrate the point of tree cover on a hot summer day by going into the shade of the park to experience the cooler air. It is even recommended people outside in a heat wave to go to a park where there are plenty of trees. So in some ways, when we hear the term global warming, it is because of the loss of tree cover in the forests and in the concrete jungles of modern cities.
But that is not the end of it. History contains an example of what the loss of bio-diversity can do and that place in Easter Island. Before the Europeans discovered the pathetic state of the natives of Easter Island, there was a culture that flourished. However, they lost sight of living in harmony with the land and became obsessed with building huge stone totems. To move the stones to their appointed locations, they cut down the trees to use a rollers to move the stones. Eventually the once forested island was totally clear cut. The bio-diversity was lost, species and food sources disappeared. The population went into starvation mode and subsequent art reflects the change. Easter Island is a thousand miles away from the next nearest land. It lives in isolation. The loss of the forests proved to be the ruin of the culture even before the Europeans discovered them. It serves as a microcosm of what is happening on a planetary scale today.
What is required to reverse a lot of damage that has been done, is to work toward a world of bio-diversity. That means planting and raising plenty of trees, even in the city where they will insulate in the winter and shade in the summer, moderating temperature extremes. The trees should be suited for the locale and can be a mix of indigenous and fruit and nut bearing trees to multitask. We also need to change our habits toward being more sustainable by living at one with nature instead of the trends of arrogance and superiority to nature that have characterized the profiteering attitudes of the past and continue to dominate the economy. Some people have already started the process of living bio-diverse without having to live like they are in the stone age. They have found a working mix that is closer to bio-diversity than the model that has served as the way of imperialist exploitation for profit at any expense. We need to move more in this direction as the current trend is the path of ecocide.