In this article, I’ll try to be objective about the positive effects of deforestation and the negative ones. Although I must admit that I am a bit biased, my gut feeling is that at the moment the negative effects outweigh the positive ones.
“What now remains is like the skeleton of a sick man, all the fat and soft earth having wasted away, and only the bare framework of the land being left… Moreover, it was enriched by the yearly rains…”
This could very well be a quotation from a present-day text. It is not. It’s a complaint from the Greek philosopher Plato about the slopes of Athens in Critias which he wrote in 360 BC. Deforestation has been taking place from the time when agriculture became more widely practiced 4,000 years ago.
Yet, we need trees as much as we need food and water. Meaning it is vital to find a balance between human activities, such as agriculture, and the forests we need.
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Table of contents
- 1 The positive effects of deforestation
- 2 The negative effects of deforestation
- 3 Our positive contribution
- 4 The effects of deforestation
The positive effects of deforestation
- Paper and cardboard. Thanks to trees we have paper to write on and cardboard to make boxes from. Paper is cheaper than the parchment that used to be written on. If it is properly disposed of separately, it can be reused as recycled paper;
- Wood, which is used as a construction material in houses, furniture, crates, etc.;
- Provides jobs. Carpenters, lumberjacks, and farmers are just some types of work that forest and deforestation provide;
- Farmland. There are so many people on this earth and they all need food, which requires a lot of agricultural lands;
- Space. People have to live somewhere and deforestation creates vacant areas on which to build.
Reforestation to limit the drawbacks
When I was still working as a graphic designer, every representative from a paper mill spoke enthusiastically about their reforestation program.
They recommended FSC-certified paper. The certification mark of the Forest Stewardship Council signifies responsible forest management and balancing social, environmental, and economic interests.
Fast-growing wood is often used for the production of paper so that the cutting of the trees keeps pace with the planting.
The negative effects of deforestation
- Climate change. Where trees are removed, the sun burns on the earth, causing the temperature to rise;
- Soil erosion. If the soil is not held by tree roots, it will either be washed away in heavy downpours or the wind will have free rein and blow the surface away;
- Affects the water cycle. Trees play a role in the global water cycle. The roots and trunk transport the water from the soil to the branches and leaves where it evaporates into the air.
- At the expense of biodiversity. The habitat of animals that live in and under the trees is disappearing through tree felling;
- Will cost us quality of life. The Amazon forest has been called the lungs of the world. Trees purify the air by converting CO2 into oxygen. They filter the particulate matter from the air to a limited extent;
- The soil lacks nutrients. If there were pine trees on the vacant terrain, the soil is too acidic. A rainforest that has been cleared also leaves behind soil that is not immediately usable. Fertilizers and artificial nutrients have to solve this, poisoning the earth;
- Communities are affected. Some populations of people live in forests, which are losing their homes and livelihood due to deforestation.
Cons and pros
On one of our trips to a nature park in the US, we saw devastating amounts of burned forest. As soon as we were in the visitor center, I asked a forester about it. He explained that the fires were set on purpose.
It is a form of forest management, just as it happens when lightning strikes and a forest fire starts. New shrubs and trees grow on the released soil, with the ash serving as a natural nutrient.
This contrasts sharply with the pieces of rainforest that are burned down with the intention of turning them into agricultural land. This releases so much CO2 that it no longer outweighs the oxygen that trees usually give.
The attempts of big companies
The attempt by 40 major companies to stop deforestation by appealing to Brazilian lawmakers is commendable.
I am a bit suspicious because it is not the first time that they have threatened to stop buying Brazilian products. Someday they have to live up to their threat, otherwise, it won’t help.
Still, it is a good start.
And we as consumers can help speed up that process.
Our positive contribution
Refuse single-use plastic and buy goods that have so little packaging that they can still be transported safely.
Support responsible paper production
Pay attention to the FSC certification. It does not say anything about the quality, but it does say something about the treatment of the forest
You can plant trees in your garden if the garden is big enough. You can do like my husband Tom does. He collects all the seeds of the fruits we eat, dries them, and then throws them on wasted land during our hikes.
Or you can do what I occasionally do: buy a tree that gets planted in endangered areas.
Stop eating beef
One of the biggest causes of the depletion of the earth is our meat consumption. Tom and I became vegetarians 45 years ago when we read that it takes 7x as many resources to feed a cow as it yields. Nowadays we eat organic poultry about 2x a month, but we have never eaten beef or pork again.
Don’t choose products that contain soy or palm oil
The cleared farmlands in the Amazon are cultivated with soy, which serves as animal feed and as the basis for many vegan products.
If you read the nutrient list on the packaging, you will be amazed how many products contain soy or palm oil. For palm oil, tropical forests are also rigorously cut down to be able to plant palm trees.
Instead of soy-based products, you can buy goods with almond or coconut milk. A sustainable alternative to palm oil is olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil, or corn oil.
Boycott destructive companies
Companies have discovered they can earn more money when products are labeled as green. As a result, there is a lot of ‘greenwashing’. The big companies are required to have a sustainability report as part of their yearly statement.
Do we as consumers have the time and the stamina to read every report? Moreover, companies are very well aware of how to formulate their texts. I would suggest to look for certification labels on the product and to try to have a feel for a shop.
The other day we were at C&A. There was an occasional product advertised as organic cotton. At the cashier, people could choose between a plastic bag or a paper bag to wrap up the bought items. We didn’t want a bag at all, which was also no problem.
All good, you would think. Yet, although I was really glad about my organic cotton nightshirt, it also felt like window dressing. The whole store was packed with plastic hangers, plastic clothes, and plastic decorations. So much for sustainability.
Inspire your friends
Talk with your neighbors and friends about the things you do to fight deforestation. Inspire your family with your example. Start a blog, like this one. You can even make it an affiliate blog to earn money from home.
The effects of deforestation
Diving into the subjects of deforestation made me aware that some effects indeed are positive, provided that the effects are handled well by minimizing destruction and reforestation.
We cannot ignore the fact that we as humans have an influence on our earth. Just like plants and animals have an effect on the earth.
But we can do our utmost to make that effect as positive as possible.
Did you ever plant a tree? Tell us in the comment box below.