In March 2016, the United Nations held its first annual International Day of Forests, a worldwide celebration and recognition of the important of forests in the world’s eco system. One third of the Earth’s land mass is covered by forests, with an estimated 1.6 billion people depending on forests for their income. Despite the importance of forests, the speed of deforestation does not seem to be slowing, and experts estimated that as much as 20% of greenhouse gases are emitted as a consequence. Surely therefore saving existing forests and planting new ones is something we should all be on board with? There are many projects, small and large, to halt or reverse the trend for cutting trees down, and some surprising criticisms.
Recent figures seem to suggest we may have turned the corner when it comes to reversing deforestation. Satellite pictures collected across the years appear to prove that overall, the amount of vegetation on the planet has actually increased in recent years. This is mainly down to a massive tree planting project in China, and increasing rainfall rates in other parts of the world. Scientists are quick to point out though that changes in vegetation due to climate factors are just as quickly reversed, and continuing uncertainty over the speed of climate change could paint a very different picture in a few years’ time. Meanwhile, smaller local and national efforts continue to encourage tree planting and better use of waste land.
Originally an American idea which quickly spread to Scandinavia, the concept of a “forest school” is one in which young children spend a high proportion of their day outside, climbing trees, learning about nature, lighting fires & incorporating nature into their lessons. Proponents of this form of education claim that it helps develop confidence and independence, and there are now hundreds of forest schools operating across Europe. Being exposed to nature from a young age is also thought to teach children to respect the planet and make them more aware of the impact their actions may have on the environment. In very urban areas though, forest schools may not be practical, but a school in even the most built up area should have space for a few trees. In 2014, the UK government made £6 million available to pay for the purchase and planting of 4 million trees across England.
Plant a Billion Trees
One of the biggest projects for creating new forests and protecting trees comes from the USA, where the “Plant a Billion Trees” project has raised concerns about patches of forest becoming fragmented, and new diseases which may affect the health of native species. This is not however a central government initiative; it is being organised by a not for profit organisation and depends solely on public donations to fund the tree planting. Fewer than 1% of the promised billion trees have materialised, and with growing climate change scepticism growing in the US, it remains to be seen whether the Nature Conservancy achieve their billion goal.
Falling Foul of the Law?
Well-meaning environmentalists in some parts of the world also run the risk of getting on the wrong side of the law in their attempts to grow vegetation or trees on unused plots of land. In a famous case in 2011, a Californian woman was fined by her city council for putting planters in her front garden to grow cabbages, tomatoes and cucumbers. Local officials were keen to enforce the rules that fronts of properties should be grass and flowers only. Other “guerrilla gardeners” who take over patches of unused or wasteland to cultivate or plant trees have also got into hot water with the law. On the flip side of all of this is the fact that in many areas of the world, foresting is big business, with local law enforcement agents paid to turn a blind eye to lucrative illegal logging.
What Can We Do on A Personal Level?
Reversing deforestation might be about all of us changing our personal behaviour in small ways. Don’t buy new furniture made from expensive hardwoods which are slow to grow; opt for pine or second hand furniture instead. Encourage a love of nature in your kids, and get them into forests to enjoy the freedom to explore. Think about planting a couple of trees, and encourage schools and local businesses to do likewise. It might not sound a lot, but if enough people take action, the deforestation might be halted for good.
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