Deforestation, as many know, is the loss of forests and trees around the world for lumber, arable land, and urban development. As forests are cleared at tremendous rates, global warming is expedited and biodiversity crumbles. But even if we understand deforestation, what is there to be done about it? Deforestation almost seems inevitable in the face of an ever-growing population. Some intuitive solutions might be to cut down on paper usage or plant more trees, but these solutions also have a number of limitations attached to them. To truly prevent deforestation, much more complex plans and advancements need to be made, both in society and science.
Paper has been used to record human history for thousands of years, chronicling our journey to the present. Paper still remains an important part of society, but its negative consequences have begun to materialize. Paper’s most obvious downside is the need to cut down trees to produce the pulp used in paper production. Even beyond deforestation, the papermaking process also releases greenhouse gas emissions, consumes large amounts of energy, and pollutes water. Alarmingly, the average office worker wastes over 20 sheets of paper each day, a number that can easily be reduced (Wakefield). Much of this paper only contains of few words or lines, making its use careless and excessive. After paper is disposed of in landfills, it produces methane, a heat trapping gas. Therefore, changes need to be made to address the environmental consequences of paper usage. It is vital that paper is used sparingly and purposefully. Additionally, recycling paper is proven to have monumental benefits. Each ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 4,000 kilowatts of energy, and 26,500 liters of water (“Environmental Impact of…”). Luckily, there is a way to decrease paper use. The Digital Age is now providing greener alternatives that avoid the carbon emitting process of paper production. Keeping files on the cloud is a great way to save paper while still storing your materials safely (“Reducing Paper Use”). Largely due to these methods, paper/paperboard generation in the U.S. decreased from 88,000 U.S. tons in the year 2000 to 67,000 tons in 2018. However, it is important to note that the paper industry will not be going away anytime soon despite the ever-growing digital storage. Paper remains an important part of everyday life, and it creates millions of jobs worldwide (Matthews). Even so, paper can become a much healthier industry through the combination of sustainable forestry and set regulations.
Another option for offsetting deforestation is its counterpart: reforestation. Planting trees can draw out carbon emissions from the atmosphere, help clean air/water, and reduce energy costs. However, more expertise and planning are desperately needed for reforestation to be successful. Previous attempts in China and Turkey have resulted in disaster, with around 90% of planted trees dying in each instance. The failure stemmed from a lack of knowledge about trees, including their growing season, water needs, and natural habitats. Overall, too much focus is placed on planting trees, with ambitious movements aiming to plant one trillion trees. For reforestation to be viable, we need to properly nurture trees so that they continue to grow healthily for many years to come (Gramling). In addition, indiscriminately planting trees can actually reduce biodiversity and weaken ecosystems. This is particularly true when only one species of tree is planted, producing a monoculture (Einhorn). Therefore, many are supporting the idea of letting forests grow naturally, allowing trees to find suitable conditions on their own. Yet another issue with reforestation is that people are gravely overestimating its impact. Simply replacing trees alone has essentially no hope of stopping climate change. Therefore, many scientists argue that in addition to planting new trees in their natural habitat and maintaining their long-term healthy growth, current forests must be preserved. Big trees, which make up 3% of all trees, store 42% of aboveground carbon, making them vastly more effective and therefore valued than saplings (Milius). Furthermore, some effects of deforestation may be irreversible, meaning that reforested areas likely wouldn’t be able to sequester carbon as efficiently or maintain the same level of biodiversity compared to before (Buis). Lastly, local commitment and government cooperation are necessary for these efforts to have any longevity. It should be noted that media focus on trees have distracted people from better alternatives and the root cause behind global warming. Of course, the real priority is reducing anthropogenic carbon emissions. Acting in concordance, tree planting efforts and carbon emission reduction can make monumental leaps toward stopping global warming (“Is Reforestation the…”).
Individual efforts to fight against deforestation are obviously invaluable to the cause, but our capabilities are limited. Governments around the world must incorporate environmental legislation and genuinely dedicate themselves to solving climate change. For example, thoughtful city planning that eliminates urban sprawl would be a huge step towards maintaining forests. By voting and advocating for governments to regulate corporations, we can collectively have a much greater impact. The advent of social media has provided all of us a platform to voice our concerns and advocate for our beliefs in a meaningful way. It is up to us individuals to use these opportunities to realize our goals and keep companies that harm the environment in check. Lastly, we should support scientific ventures, which give us opportunities to optimize agriculture, create alternatives for unsustainable resources, and even create models that predict the future.
Buis, Alan. “Examining the Viability of Planting Trees to Help Mitigate Climate Change.” NASA, NASA, 11 Nov. 2019, https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2927/examining-the-viability-of-planting-trees-to-help-mitigate-climate-change/.
Einhorn, Catrin. “Tree Planting Is Booming. Here’s How That Could Help, or Harm, the Planet.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Mar. 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/14/climate/tree-planting-reforestation-climate.html.
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Gramling, Carolyn. “Why Planting Tons of Trees Isn’t Enough to Solve Climate Change.” Science News, 9 July 2021, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/planting-trees-climate-change-carbon-capture-deforestation.
“Is Reforestation the Silver Bullet for Climate Change?” One Tree Planted, 15 June 2020, https://onetreeplanted.org/blogs/stories/reforestation-silver-bullet-climate-change.
Matthews, Daniel. “Sustainability Challenges in the Paper Industry.” AIChE, 12 Oct. 2016, https://www.aiche.org/chenected/2016/10/sustainability-challenges-paper-industry.
Milius, Susan. “The First Step in Using Trees to Slow Climate Change: Protect the Trees We Have.” Science News, 13 July 2021, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/planting-trees-protect-forests-climate-change.
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“Reducing Paper Use.” Yale Sustainability, Yale University, https://sustainability.yale.edu/take-action/reducing-paper-use.
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Wakefield, Jane. “Can Paper Survive the Digital Age?” BBC News, BBC, 22 Apr. 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-32130647.