Save the trees!

So far in Global Environmental Problems, we have read about the collapse of the civilizations of Easter Island, the Polynesian Isles (Mangareva, Pitcairn, and Henderson), the Anasazi and their neighbors, and the Mayas in Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.  I found it interesting to read about the many contributing factors that led to the collapse of each society, especially the Anasazi and their neighbors as I visited Mesa Verde in 2003 so it was easy for me to picture the problems they faced in areas such as agriculture and water management.  There were many similarities in the factors leading to collapse of these societies, one in particular – deforestation – stood out to me.

Mesa Verde, 2003

Deforestation was a factor in the collapse of all of these societies, leaving some of them completely without trees, and continues to be a problem today.  Clive Ponting points out many startling statistics in his book, A New Green History of the World. For instance, 10,000 years ago 45% of the Earth’s surface was covered with forests; however, only 30% is covered today.   In the last 50 years, tropical forests have decreased from a total of 2.8 billion hectares to 1.5 billion hectares.  Perhaps most surprising is the fact that in the early 2000s, tropical forest destruction was said to be at a rate 86,000 hectares per day and 31 million hectares per year.  Before reading this, I had heard the word hectare, but wasn’t really sure how big one was.  Ponting really put things into perspective with his comparison of 86,000 hectares to an area larger than New York City and 31 million hectares to an area larger than Poland, although it’s still hard to imagine losing that many trees in one day.

Last summer, I had a chance to visit Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park in California.  I not only got a chance to see the giant ancient trees, but also many stumps of trees that had been cut down before the area was protected.  While the size of the stumps was impressive, I enjoyed seeing living trees a lot more.  With deforestation rates as they currently are if something is not done, the Earth will eventually end up like Easter Island and the others.  Like myself in California, I am sure that future generations would definitely appreciate being left actual forests instead of a forest of stumps.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon, 2010

So you may be asking, “What can one person do?”  There are many ways we can help reduce the effects of and stop deforestation, including the three listed below to help get us get started.

  1. Recycle
    • Did you know approximately 1 billion trees worth of paper are thrown away every year in the US?  And that if all of our newspaper was recycled we could save 250,000,000 trees each year?  You can read more interesting recycling facts here.
  2. Look for Forest Stewardship Council certification on wood and other forest products.
    • The FSC is an independent organization that promotes responsible management of the world’s forests.
  3. Buy recycled paper products such as tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins.
    • The Natural Resources Defense Council has rated many different brands of these products based on factors such as percent of recycled content or use of FSC approved virgin fiber.  According to their website, “If every household in the United States replaced just one package of virgin fiber napkins (250 count) with 100% recycled ones, we could save 1 million trees.”  Many popular brands such as Kleenex, Puffs, Charmin, Cottonelle, Bounty, and Viva are on their list to avoid with 0% recycled content.  You can find the full list here.

-Kelly Brown

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