WHY SHOULD FORESTS BE SAVED?
Forests are one of the natural resources which have played a critical role in ancient civilization and remains a crucial part of modern ecosystems. In today's world, forests have different functions, including providing food, medicine, and shelter. Besides, forests are a vital part of the ecosystems acting as carbon sink and protector of water sponge where it is estimated that more than 75% of the usable water reserves are found in forests. According to GreenFacts (2019), forests covered nearly 30% of the earth's landmass, which was slightly under 40 million km2. However in recent years, reports have emerged that the forest cover has reduced dramatically and now if no action is taken to correct the worrisome trend, planet earth might become a massive desert in the next few centuries. For instance, according to Forest Stewardship Council (2018), 13 million ha of forest cover has been lost every year since the 2000s. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), such a loss was “alarmingly high” and could spell doom in terms of food sustainability. It is based on such information that this paper wishes to address the question of why should forests be saved?
In recent years, the debate around climate change has become so heated that it has even found its way into the political arena where it is being used as a manifesto item by many politicians. One of the main concerns raised by environmental conservationists is the increasing carbon emissions, which have an overall effect of depleting the ozone layer. With continued Ozone layer depletion, global warming has become another problem leading to the melting of the polar ice and consequently rising ocean levels. However, one of the significant ways that this problem can be s solved is through saving and increasing the current forest cover. According to CIFOR (2009), “trees play an essential role in regulating the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by acting as carbon sinks”. Trees through photosynthesis, absorb CO2 from the atmosphere using sunlight as the source of energy and convert it to photosynthetic products that are redistributed throughout the plant and which are later released into the soil through decomposition of the falling leaves. It is through this process that trees release Oxygen, which we breathe. Besides, trees also regulate the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by soil mineralization and respiration in what is commonly referred to as the carbon cycle.
The contribution of forests and trees in general in terms of CO2 regulation is also underscored in the 2015 Climate Agreement in Paris whose purpose was to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. According to FAO (2015), forests absorbed nearly 2 billion tonnes of CO2 every year. Therefore since deforestation leaves all this carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it has been termed as among the significant causes of climate changes. Besides, deforestation contributes more than 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions, ranking it higher than all transport sector emissions combined. This was also confirmed in another report by CIFOR in which a hectare of tropical rainforest was reported to store around 430 tonnes of carbon (CIFOR, 2009). Therefore, in attempting to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, save the ozone layer, mitigate the environmental impact, and avert adverse climate changes, there is a need to protect the forests.
Another primary reason as to why forests should be saved is due to their economic contributions. The financial contributions of forests are immense, and it is hard to over stress them. Since the beginning of the 21st century, nature-based tourism is estimated to have grown four-fold as compared to the growth experienced by the whole tourism industry(FAO,2015). Currently, this type of tourism accounts for roughly 20% of total global tourism. Besides tourism, forests employ careers such as game rangers and conservationist thereby contributing to the reduction of levels of unemployment in a country (Pearce, 2001). Forests, through controlled logging also provide the government with revenue through import duties, tariffs, fees, and taxes. For instance, according to a 2017 UN report on the economic impact of forests, India's import of wood products and wood has surpassed US$1 billion in 2005. Similarly, China's exports of furniture to the US increased to US$10.68 billion by 2007. Besides, forests contribute immensely to the multi-billion shipbuilding industry, which employs thousands of people and facilitate trade worth billions of dollars (UN, 2017). Therefore without forests, all these economic benefits would soon, which makes it paramount to have the forests conserved.
Increased human activities can have an overall effect of altering land characteristics, which, as a result, impedes the rates of water infiltration, reduces percolation and base flow of streams. According to Nowak, Wang, and Endreny (2007), less sorption of in water in retention basins pollutes the quality of subsurface water and surface runoff. The result is the reduction in volumes of drinkable water, which may in effect lead to making water a scarce resource and thus limit future development. Therefore forests and trees play an essential role in such a scenario. They intercept raindrops through branch surfaces and leaves, therefore, minimizing the volumes of water that will runoff as well as increasing the time before the onset of peak flows(Nowak et al., 2007). Forests also significantly reduce the rate of soil erosion by minimizing the speed of runoff downhill. Further, it is also noted that forest cover increases the ability and capacity of soil to infiltrate water from rainfall, thereby reducing the volume of water flowing overland. When forests are located near towns, forests act as a buffer that reduces urban runoff as well as the number of pollutants that are carried by the urban runoff water( UNECE,2014). This has an overall effect on the quality of water in urban areas.
In the absence of forest cover, there would be nothing like biodiversity. According to the UN-Habitat, forests serve as home to millions of different species. Besides, some indigenous trees which take ages to grow to maturity are found in forests. For instance, Amazon forest is said to be home to thousands of species which are not yet discovered. Therefore without forest cover, these species would be displaced from their natural habitat leading to their extinction. It is hence essential to ensure continuity of such species through conservation of forests. Besides, deforestation is a threat to the very existence of human beings. According to the 2030 Agenda on sustainable development goals, forests have a crucial role to play (UNSPF, 2017). One of the main SDG is the eradication of poverty through sustainable use of forests. However, deforestation on the other hand, makes achieving such goals impossible. Instead, it increases the rate of desertification, land degradation, and loss of biodiversity. These adverse outcomes plunge more people into poverty, raises mortality rate resulting in declining human population. In the end, the human population may end up being extinct in the long run. Therefore to mitigate this, eventuality forests must be saved.
The rate of reduced health incidences has increased mainly due to the increasing urbanization, which has promoted a more sedentary lifestyle and increased mental stress. Mental stress has been attributed to increasingly virtual worlds and high technology. However, studies conducted in recent years have shown that green and natural spaces have the potential to enhance human health. According to Karjalainen, Sarjala, and Raitio(2009), human physical and mental can be promoted by the forest environment in several ways. First, they found that the forests environment promote physical and psychological rehabilitation by helping in the recovery of attentional fatigue as well as stress reduction. It has also been argued that the green forest environment helps an individual to establish identity both personal and community. It is due to this realization that initiatives all around the world, such as the British Green Gym program have been encouraging people to exercise in green environments.
Besides promoting physical and psychological health, forests are the single largest source of natural herbs and a reserve of compounds that can be utilized both in nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals. For instance, trees extracts contain compounds that are bioactive, including polyphenols, sterols, and carotenoids all which contain biological activities including anticancer, antioxidant, and antiatherogenic ( Karjalainen,2009). Besides, forests have always been a source of herbs which have been used by humans for an extended period. To underscore the importance of natural herbs, a 2008 WHO report indicated that nearly 80% of the African and Asian countries' population used herbs at least once in their lifetime. The importance of herbal plants is also underscored by the fact that more than 25% of modern pharmacopeia is derived from plants(Rahman, Rahman, Islam& Reza, 2012). Therefore, since most of these plants are found in forests, forests must be saved to protect these plants for continued use and future generations.
In conclusions, it is evident that forests play far more critical roles than we understand. If forest cover was to be depleted instantly, though subject to research, humans would not last more than a decade. Therefore, our work and responsibility to conserve and save the diminishing forest cover is cut for each one of us. Besides, there are no proven advantages of reduced forest cover, and if there any, the disadvantages of such a scenario far outweigh the benefits, and therefore forest must be saved at all cost.
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