Around the world, deforestation is causing millions of species to lose their natural habitats. Estimates are that tracts half the size of England are lost annually, and scientists say that the world’s rain forests could completely vanish in a hundred years at the current rate of clearing. Eighty percent of our planet’s land animals and plants live in forests. Many of them will not survive if their homes are destroyed.
Forests are cut down for many reasons, but the biggest is for agriculture: to provide more room for planting crops and grazing livestock. Logging operations, which provide the world’s wood and paper products, cut countless trees every year, necessitating the need to build roads to access more remote forests—which leads to further deforestation. Growing urban sprawl and wildfires also take their toll.
Not only does deforestation cause animals and plants to lose their homes and footings, it drives climate change. Without protection from the sun-blocking tree canopy, soils quickly dry out. Without cover during the day and any heat-trapping foliage during the night, animals and plants are forced to endure more extreme temperature swings, which could be the deterring factor in whether they’re able to continue to exist or not. Trees also help perpetuate the water cycle by returning water vapor to the atmosphere. Without trees to fill these roles, many former forestlands can quickly become barren deserts.
Trees also play a critical role in absorbing the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming. Fewer forests mean that larger amounts of greenhouse gases will enter the atmosphere—and increase the speed and severity of climate change.
One nation, however, has decided to take the lead on curbing the planet’s deforestation. In 2016, Norway became the first country to stop clear-cutting trees, which you’ll learn about in the first, very short video below. The Parliament of Norway will no longer award government contracts to any company that cuts down and destroys forests.
While that step by a forward-looking nation may give us hope, what is perhaps even more inspiring is what one person can do when it comes to global issues.
Majuli is an island in the Brahmaputra River in the state of Assam, India. Since 1979, resident Jadav Payeng has been planting and tending trees on one of the river’s sandbars. To date, he has single-handedly planted a forest of about 1,360 acres, a plot larger than the 843-acre Central Park in New York City.
Jadav has transformed what was once an empty wasteland into a lush oasis. Within the now-dense forest he created, 115 elephants live for three months of the year. Deer, rhinos and tigers have been frequently spotted among the trees.
Watch the second video below, a 17-minute film that was written and directed by William Douglas McMaster. If you’re a fan of the forests like me, you’ll find some much-needed reasons for optimism on what committed nations of the world—and even a single individual—can do for our trees.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,