Deforestation started the long, steady decline of the human carrying capacity of the biosphere (HCCB).
It was forgivable when it began in earnest 8,000 years ago. Agriculture was on the way to replacing the hunting and gathering lifestyle of the people of the day, and settlements needed fields to grow crops and graze domesticated animals.
The trees were in the way.
They had to go. Roughly half eventually did.
With those trees went three functions vital to human survival: carbon sequestration, groundwater retention and oxygen production.
- Carbon sequestration
Every tree is nearly 50 percent carbon, pulled right out of the air by photosynthesis.
That means trees both hold carbon in great quantities, keeping it out of the atmosphere where it captures heat, and release carbon in great quantities when burned, adding CO2 to the atmosphere.
As overall tree loss gradually exceeded replacement, the conditions for global warming materialized even before the introduction of fossil fuels.
But those fuels were a game-changer, gradually at first, faster as the Industrial Revolution gained strength, then relentlessly after 1970 or so.
- Groundwater retention
Accelerating deforestation accelerated the loss of groundwater too.
The root system of every tree is roughly two-thirds the mass of everything above ground.
Kill the tree and the root system dies and the water it holds disappears. Kill a forest of root systems and the groundwater fades away, and the land and air the trees nourished dry out.
Over time, desertification usually follows, and good, livable human habitat turns uninhabitable.
- Oxygen production
Then there is the decline of oxygen that follows deforestation.
Create a net reduction of global tree coverage and less photosynthesis occurs, resulting in less oxygen generation.
On top of that, every carbon atom (C) released into the air by human activity immediately captures two oxygen atoms (O), further reducing the oxygen supply while creating carbon dioxide—CO2.
Combined, this basic atmospheric chemistry had reduced the overall oxygen content of the air by three-hundredths of a percentage point (0.03) between 1989 and 2013 (Keeling, 2014).
Not much, but the margin for error is slight (less than 2 percentage points separates plenty of oxygen from not enough), and it’s early in the process yet.
This triple whammy of global deforestation has literally re-colored and reshaped the planet.
Early in modern man’s 200,000 years of history, the planet was greener from more forest coverage, bluer from the richer biodiversity of the Troposphere and whiter from broader stretches of snow and ice.
Today, the planet is more tan from creeping deserts, blacker from the melt-off of snow and ice and less blue from the general decline of biodiversity and the pollution of the air and deep blue seas.
Also, there was more land everywhere in humanity’s early years.
Today, rising seas engulf the shorelines of land masses, and the pace of loss quickens.
If these things had happened in a single lifetime, the people would be dumbstruck. But they happened over eons and centuries, so people haven’t much noticed… except where long-productive farms and fields have dried out, driving agriculture away… except where rising seas are taking homes and communities thought unimaginable for centuries… except where rivers and lakes decline to the point that settlement dissipates….
No doubt about it, deforestation has been brutally destructive to the human carrying capacity of the biosphere (HCCB).
And all the governments in the world haven’t been able to do anything about it, nor will they be able in the future.
Big polluting businesses and industries have always been stronger and more persuasive than government.
And consumers en masse haven’t bothered to express their wishes/preferences in ways polluters understand.
As soon as we, the milling masses, start using our power as consumers and “market makers” in smart, coordinated ways to end net deforestation, this cause of environmental degradation will shrink in impact.
Now, how do consumers buy the children out of global deforestation?
First things first with deforestation is reforestation.
People, over time, took down the trees. Let us put them back up as much as possible with “market-making” pressure created by the advent of green-consumer revolutionaries like you and us.
It’s impossible to replace the forest coverage lost to human advancement, but much more can be done to rein in global warming with trees than realized.
One expert with the Woods Hole Research Center said, “Managed smartly, forests could offset ten years of pollution from fossil fuels.”
Forests magazine touched on some of the specifics of that.
One mature tree absorbs 48 pounds of carbon dioxide annually. In one year, an acre of forest absorbs twice the CO2 produced by the average American car. Two mature trees provide enough oxygen for one person to breathe for a year. The average mature tree produces approximately 260 pounds of oxygen annually (The average person consumes 386 pounds).
In one day, one large tree can absorb up to 100 gallons of water and release it into the air via evapotranspiration, cooling and moistening the surrounding area. In neighborhoods with substantial tree canopies, air quality improves by as much as 15 percent.
Urban trees in the continental U.S. remove up to 800,000 tons of pollution from the air each year. Those trees can also reduce energy bills anywhere from 7-40 percent.
A corresponding decline in conventional pollution would follow.
Noise pollution is dampened by trees.
The heat island effect of so much big-city concrete, asphalt and rooftops is reduced.
The payback on reforestation is well-worth the best efforts of any individual.
This solution cannot be left to big institutions and happenstance.
And the relevancy of it all gets more pronounced with “afforestation,” the act or process of reforesting land area that hasn’t seen tree coverage in ages. Like big cities and their suburbs and the edges of deserts.
Plant Trees Yourself
- Plant tree seedlings yourself, individually or with groups.
- Give seedlings and instructions away as gifts to family and friends (Arbor Day Foundation Gift Trees).
- Small-scale tree planting makes for a pleasurable week-end outing, group effort, party or other get-together.
Any old reason will do, from Arbor Day to a child’s birthday to random acts of thoughtfulness.
Gifts of Trees
Want to do something special to honor a loved one, a major milestone, a big victory, an important anniversary or achievement?
Turn your gifts into something really memorable, far-reaching and long-lasting; arrange for the planting of an appropriate set of trees and present the certification in a meaningful awards ceremony that prompts others to do the same thing.
Purchases + Trees
Look for typical purchases you might make that come with a tree planting incentive.
For example, Amour Vert is a women’s fashion brand that plants a tree in North America for every t-shirt they sell.
Consider doing the same thing if you are a merchant.
Offset CO2 Emissions
You can offset the carbon emissions of your entire life or the total of your organization’s CO2-producing activities with Carbonfund.org. For as little as $10, you could have a tree planted and monitored in your name.
With a handy carbon footprint calculator, you can “zero-out” your net pollution from a long car trip or flight or corporate convention.
The oxygen creation, ground water retention and desertification avoidance would just be a bonus of your thoughtfulness.
The city of Albany, New York, launched a fundraising campaign to replace an estimated 10,000 trees destroyed by winter storms in January 2017.
Starting in the fall of 2018, volunteers will put out seedlings in residential areas and additional city parks. The same kind of thing could be done to refurbish worn and tattered neighborhoods, ameliorate storm water runoff problems and/or insulate communities from the beating sun or wind.
Property owners and managers can save money and increase value with tree plantings that reduce HVAC costs, dampen noise and reduce wear and tear on exteriors.
If you or your family owns forestland and the taxes and market pressures to sell get oppressive, you can put the property in conservation easements to protect it and receive enough financial benefit to make it worth your while.
Many timberland owners preserve their raw material routinely by faithfully replanting and maintaining logged land.
Send a note complimenting those organizations.
It’s good PR for the property owners, which encourages the competition to follow suit; and the act sends the message, “I’m watching.”
Buy the timber products produced by these companies and let them know you’re doing it.
Support Reforestation Initiatives
Important efforts are afoot internationally, nationally and at the state level to reforest in big and small ways.
Some local jurisdictions have pushed to get developers to replace larger portions of tree coverage lost to residential and commercial construction.
There is intermittent talk of well-conceived tree plantings in urban and suburban communities.
Get behind these laws and initiatives and the leaders who champion them. Speak out on the subject. Attend meetings. Send letters and emails of support. Make a small donation where it will make a statement.
Don’t ignore these obligations when so much is at stake for the children in your life.
Savings and investment instruments for everyday consumers need to be built around the concept of reforestation.
Who in the financial and marketing communities will take this on?
Enough well-conceived consumer education can create robust demand for such products and services.
There’s money to be made here that would go far in saving the human carrying capacity of the biosphere (HCCB).
Step up, put the ways-and-means together. Reap the rewards.
Check out the rest of the “Consumer Solutions to the 7 Deadly Sins of Ecological Destruction” series now:
- An Introduction to… The 7 Deadly Sins of Ecological Destruction
- Solution to Sin #1: Deforestation
- Solution to Sin #2: Coal
- Solution to Sin #3: Oil-based fuels
- Solution to Sin #4: Natural gas
- Solution to Sin #5: Nuclear electricity
- Solution to Sin #6: Chemical waste
- Solution to Sin #7: Water loss & contamination