Have you ever wondered what a world without trees would look like? Close your eyes, and try to imagine a desolate Earth. There'd be no more paper, and everyone would have to resort to technological use---that is, if anyone was left.Trees are a crucial factor to our existence not only because they produce paper, lumber and chewing gum, but because they serve an important role in the carbon cycle. And because of our ever-increasing population of 6.7 billion, that seemingly distant future is nearing each and every day. People have proposed many solutions to this environmental issue called deforestation, including either shipping everyone to the Moon or...to just stop cutting trees!
Even if our species survived the devastation of deforestation, life as we know it would be very different from now in 2011, where only half of the world's forests are gone. Scientists speculate our great-grandchildren might not even have the chance to visit the great Amazon rainforest in 50 years! Yet on such a dry, lifeless world, no one would be left to experience the disastrous consequences of deforestation. Little tribulations like the decrease of property value and potential increase of urban noise become irrelevant compared to other calamities like roadside spills, animal wastes, water runoff into streams, and sewage/farm chemicals left unfiltered. For now, let's find out the local and global effects of deforestation:
FILTHY AIR: Without trees, humans would not be able survive because the air would be unsuitable for breathing. If anything, people would have to develop gas masks that filter the little oxygen that would be left in the air. Trees are a crucial part of the carbon cycle, a global process in which carbon dioxide constantly circulates through the atmosphere into organism and back again. Carbon is the second most valuable element to life, you know, after water. Anyway, trees take carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis in order to make energy. This carbon is then either transferred into oxygen and released into the air by respiration or is stored inside the trees until they decompose into the soil. Therefore, the absence of trees would result in significantly HIGHER amounts of carbon dioxide in the air and LOWER amounts of oxygen! The filthy air would also be full of airborne particles and pollutants like carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide and its temperature may increase by up to 12 F.
LIFELESS SOIL: If the air hadn't already wiped out everybody, the next disastrous consequence of deforestation is its damaging effect on soil. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 2.5 billion people depend on agriculture for their livelihood. If deforestation get its way, those people won't be the only ones affected. The soil would become full of dangerous chemicals and pollutants that are usually filtered by trees. In addition, soil erosion is currently prevented by trees because they protect the land. However, soil would be unprotected, and vulnerable to reduction in soil quality and top soil nutrients. Soil erosion would become more prevalent, and eventually all the soil will lose its arability and agriculture will fall...leaving us people to starve.
CHRONIC DROUGHT: Arid conditions will surface not only because of dangerous unfiltered substances, but also because at one point it will rarely rain. Sounds crazy, right? During the "dry season," trees regulate and anchor the dirt by releasing water. Deforested areas, however, are liable to chronic droughts that obstruct river navigation, disrupt industrial operations and kill crop production all together.Storm water runoff (if it rains) not reduced, but increased which'll contribute to small floods and topsoil erosion. Furthermore, trees add humidity into the air through transpiration---but the lack of trees results in the lack of moisture in the air.
NO TREE-BASED PRODUCTS: Of course, if there aren't trees, there won't be any products you can get from them. We use and waste paper everyday without realizing we're helping to kill four billion trees cut down every year. Due to global deforestation, there'd be no paper, baseball bats, barrels, books, blocks, benches, crutches, coffee filters, guitars, grocery bags, pencils, pine oil, beds, billboards, buttons, fuelwood, charcoal, industrial roundwood, candy wrappers,chewing gum, cork, crayons, spices, egg cartons, kites, linoleum, luggage, paper, pingpong balls, wooden chopsticks, rubber, tambourines, telephone books, tires, bark, fiber, dyes, incense, latexes, oils, resins, shellac, tanning compounds, waxes, toilet paper, turpentine, xylophones or wooden yo-yos. Food harvested from trees like fruits, nuts, berries (and maple syrup) would be nonexistent as well. Other causes of deforestation today include agricultural expansion, infrastructure expansion, conversion to cropland/pasture and the construction of roads. Moreover, countries are forced to increase the rate of forest loss by population pressures, profits, and internal social/political influences.
WATER WARS: And at one point in the future, the level of freshwater resources available will become as scarce. There are already many debates over whether we currently abuse non-renewable resources, but the most important of these resources is probably freshwater. Freshwater is the basis of human survival, and agricultural/industrial operations. Future politicians are going to have to make ground-breaking decisions on how to preserve enough freshwater resources for their country, and one option would be to wage war against others---to the death.
Image Credit: Deforestation, a collage of NatGeo photos by adriansalamandre (via Flickr)
1. Rhett A. Butler, "Global Consequences of Deforestation in the Tropics ."
Post your comments/suggestions/thoughts or answer these discussion questions:
1. What can we do to prevent deforestation? Hearing all these devastating affects of deforestation certainly makes me shiver and hope we never have to meet such ends...but it's coming. In fifty years or so, when the Amazon's gone, we'll be introduced to the beginning. The Amazon rainforest is currently the host of half the world's species and is a ‘natural sink' for ozone. If complete and rapid destruction of the Amazon occurred, it would be irreversible. The key plant/animal interactions in its tropical forests can't be re-established, and there'd be significant reductions in precipitation, evapotranspiration, and cloudiness. The effects on species diversity and atmospheric chemistry would be cataclysmic. Such conclusions leave people to wonder what we can do about it...