Forests Are The Lungs Of The Earth. We often hear this expression, still, in our daily lives, we tend to take these peculiar organisms for granted forgetting about the immense part they play in stabilising the climate of our planet. But how long we can keep turning a blind eye on the alarming rate of their degradation?
We lose 10 million hectares of forests every year. Shocking as it is we have to look behind the statistics to realise that the disappearance of vast green woodlands is not necessarily some distant concept that takes place thousands of kilometres far from us. It’s a global issue that can happen everywhere affecting every living creature of this planet.
The story of Poland’s ancient forest
Bialowieza, Poland. The only remaining primaeval forest in the European Union stretching across Poland and Belarus. It shelters some of Europe’s most fragile species and habitats, like the three-toed woodpecker and the European bison. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and protected by EU conservation law called the Habitats Directive.
Bialowieza is part of an ecosystem that was largely untouched since the last glaciers receded from the continent more than 10,000 years ago. However, in 2016 the forest has drawn international attention when the Polish government decided to triple logging activity – including the removal of century-old trees – justifying it with the alleged need to tackle a bark beetle outbreak.
The European Court of Justice together with the European Commission dismissed these claims in 2018 and ordered to end to logging in the forest, finding that it posed a clear threat to disrupt the finely balanced ecosystem. In spite of this, Bialowieza can easily be at risk again, as environmental law charity Client Earth set off alarm bells earlier this year that Poland’s state-run forestry company wants to restart logging in the UNESCO-protected forest creating new logging permits that could see hundreds of thousands of trees cut down in the next three years.
The story of Bialowieza is just one example of the large-scale forest degradation that continues to take place at alarming rates, contributing to the loss of an estimated 420 million hectares of forest since the 1990s.
How can I contribute to make this change?
Sustaining forests are crucial to fight climate change. They regulate ecosystems, protect biodiversity, play an integral part in the carbon cycle, support livelihoods and supply goods and services that can drive sustainable growth. As a worried citizen, you might wonder what you can do to stop deforestation. And despite what you might think there is a number of ways you can contribute to protecting our precious forests.
1. Consume less meat!
The relation of our consumption habits and extensive destruction of our forests is closer than it might seem at first glance. Extensive cattle ranching is the number one culprit of deforestation according to WWF, responsible for the release of 340 million tons of carbon to the atmosphere every year, equivalent to 3.4 per cent of current global emissions.
Various studies confirm that the food supply chain is a major driver of climate change through its impact on land use. As a result of expected changes in population, the environmental effects of the food system could increase significantly reaching levels that are beyond our planetary boundaries.
2. Shop consciously and reuse!
Humankind’s current consumption would necessity the resources and ecological services from 1.7 planets. Global consumption of materials such as biomass, fossil fuels, metals and minerals is expected to double in the next 40 years, while annual waste generation is projected to increase by 70 per cent by 2050. This is not sustainable in the long run, however changing consumption patterns can largely contribute to alleviating pressure off of forests.
Conscious consumption doesn’t mean no consumption at all. Transition to a circular economy can provide a viable option to form a virtuous cycle fostering prosperity in a world of finite resources. You can also easily take some steps to chip away at your impact on the planet for instance by engaging in recycling. Better sorting of waste, re-use and recycling, as well as responsible consumer behaviour, not only help to save the energy and water that would have been used to make products from virgin wood but also saves the raw materials themselves.
3. Raise awareness and make you voice heard!
This might sound a bit vague but you shouldn’t underestimate the power of collective action. Fortunately, you can choose from a variety of civil initiatives that fight for the conservation and restoration of our forests.
Tree planting civil activism is flourishing in Central Eastern Europe as well. An ambitious project in the Czech Republic initiated by the Environmental Partnership Foundation called for the planting of 10 million trees across the country in the next five years. That’s roughly one tree for every citizen in the Czech Republic.
However, preservation is equally important. Therefore, fighting illegal logging and limiting logging activity in old-growth forests like Bialowieza in Poland is indispensable to protect forested areas.
Finally, from a more systemic perspective, if we want to preserve our forests and put an end to their large-scale destruction, then we have to create stringent legislation and consistent policies that ensure their protection and restoration. As a citizen seeking information, raising awareness and using your voting power gives you the chance to make your voice heard and to be part of the change.