Several months ago, I asked here how a world would look like without water. And, is there any difference? My today;s question is, "What would happen if all the world’s trees disappeared?"
As the Amazon fires continue to burn, writer and journalist Rachel Nuwer asks in an BBC-report: How dependent are we on the survival of forests?
In Mad Max: Fury Road, Charlize Theron’s Furiosa strives to return to “the Green Place” – a tree-filled oasis in the otherwise lifeless wasteland that the Earth has become. When Furiosa arrives at the sacred spot, however, she finds only skeletal trunks and sprawling dunes. She screams in anguish. Without trees, all hope seems lost.
Ask yourself: how would you feel? Hopeless too? Furiosa’s feelings were justified. “Forests are the lifeline of our world,” says Meg Lowman, director of the Tree Foundation, a non-profit organisation in Florida that is dedicated to tree research, exploration and education. “Without them, we lose extraordinary and essential functions for life on Earth.”
Following the Rachel Nuwer's report, trees’ services to this planet range from carbon storage and soil conservation to water cycle regulation. They support natural and human food systems and provide homes for countless species – including us, through building materials. Yet we often treat trees as disposable: as something to be harvested for economic gain or as an inconvenience in the way of human development. Since our species began practicing agriculture around 12,000 years ago, we’ve cleared nearly half of the world’s estimated 5.8 trillion trees, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Nature.
Sad to say but it's unfortunately so very true: much of the deforestation has happened in recent years. Since the onset of the industrial era, forests have declined by 32%. Especially in the tropics, many of the world’s remaining three trillion trees are falling fast, with about 15 billion cut each year, the Nature study states. In many places, tree loss is accelerating. In August, the National Institute for Space Research showed an 84% increase in fires in the Brazilian Amazon rain forest compared to the same period in 2018. Slash-and-burn is also especially on the rise in Indonesia and Madagascar.
Making me sad and angry, or even better expressed angry first and sad then is the reality, that there have been more than 70,000 forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon in 2019. Barring an unimaginable catastrophe, however, there’s no scenario under which we would fell every tree on the planet.
“Let me just start with how horrible a world without trees would be – they are irreplaceable,” says Isabel Rosa, a lecturer in environmental data and analysis at Bangor University in Wales. “If we get rid of all the trees, we will live [on] a planet that might not actually be able to sustain us anymore.” And Isabel Rosa is so very right.
I am living in a big compound in Davao City with many trees and a wild tropical garden. Every time, trees have to cut or shortened, I have to leave. It's painful for me. But it's the wish of my neighbors, because branches of some trees keep on destroying their roofs.
Fact is, if trees disappeared overnight, so would much of the planet’s biodiversity. Habitat loss is already the primary driver of extinction worldwide, so the destruction of all remaining forests would be “catastrophic” for plants, animals, fungi and more, says Jayme Prevedello, an ecologist at Rio de Janeiro State University in Brazil. “There would be massive extinctions of all groups of organisms, both locally and globally.”
The loss of trees from the world would throw the climate off kilter. The planet’s climate would also be drastically altered in the short and long term. Trees mediate the water cycle by acting as biological pumps: they suck water from the soil and deposit it into the atmosphere by transforming it from liquid to vapour. By doing this, forests contribute to cloud formation and precipitation. Trees also prevent flooding by trapping water rather than letting it rush into lakes and rivers, and by buffering coastal communities from storm surges. They keep soil in place that would otherwise wash away in rain, and their root structures help microbial communities thrive.
So what's the difference between my first and today's question? Can you imagine a world without water? Can you imagine a world without trees? Or without both? Worth to think about. Worth to act about it! Even if we could live in a world without trees, who would want to?
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