Have you ever taken a deep breath in the middle of nowhere? The further we go away from cities and the closer we get to forests the cleaner our breathing becomes. It's as if our lungs recognize the difference and relish in every crisp breath. Our inhales are cleaner. Our exhales are longer.
Our breathing is directly linked to the Earth's. When we breathe our lungs absorb oxygen from and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through structures called alveoli. The Earth breathes as forests absorb CO2 and release oxygen through tree leaves. Forests full of trees are the lungs of the Earth along with grasses, phytoplankton, and other CO2 absorbing organisms. Just watch as the Earth breathes in CO2 during the year. Notice the difference in ending Spring/ Summer when trees are leaf bearing and end of Fall/ Winter when trees lose their leaves. In June, the atmosphere is sucked clear of CO2. By November the atmosphere is swirling again with harmful gasses.
Deforestation is the destruction of forested areas for use in agriculture, logging, and/ or urban use. It's like having the alveoli of your lungs slashed and burned away. How would that impact your ability to breathe? Deforestation not only reduces the numbers of trees able to absorb CO2, it also releases CO2 that's been stored in the trees above and below ground. It results in environmental and ecological imbalances leading to declines in habitat and biodiversity. And, it's happening on a massive scale.
The world has lost the equivalent of 1,000 football fields of forests per hour for the last 25 years.
Since 1990 about 129 million hectares of forests, the size of South Africa, have been destroyed globally.
20% of the Amazon, an area the size of California, has been lost to deforestation in the last 40 years.
The world's rainforests could completely disappear in the next hundred years at the current rate of deforestation.
While the United States has seen a decrease in domestic deforestation we have consistently contributed to the increased deforestation of other countries by importing goods and supporting companies that are major players in destroying forests. For example, with less than 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. consumes more than 30% of the world’s paper. Our buying is extremely powerful. How we spend indicates how big manufacturers will operate.
So, how can we use our purchase power to combat deforestation?
Plant More Trees
Global and local organizations are using plant power to help the planet breathe. These companies facilitate tree planting in local neighborhoods and on large scale in forests around the world. You can donate once or make a monthly commitment. You could even volunteer at a local company and do the actual planting. It's your choice whether to donate locally or global. Either way, the planet needs it. Just keep in mind whether or not the company is adding trees that otherwise would not be planted. You want your donation to go towards increasing the number of trees planted and not just to a company's budget. Check the company reviews. Do they provide details on the campaign you're donating to? Can you trace your donation back to an actual company in the country where the planting is scheduled to happen?
Below is a list of organizations we've used or encountered while traveling:
This city even gives away free trees with a program called Trees for Neighborhoods! Residents can apply for up to 4 free trees. The city provides education, planting tools, and assistance maintaining the trees.
Colorado Tree Coalition encourages tree planting in low-income neighborhoods and contributes to reforesting. Colorado is a state that is commonly plagued with forest fires and invasive species. Since 1991 they have planted over 69,000 trees.
A non-profit community-run tree nursery in Missouri has planted over 150,000 trees throughout the state and Illinois. From seed to sapling, Forest Releaf of Missouri grows each tree in their 5-acre nursery.
National Forest Foundation is a non-profit partner of the U.S. Forest Service. They have planted over 8 million trees throughout U.S. national forests. If you're looking for a well-known source, then this is it.
San Francisco, CA
Friends of the Urban Forest boasts 50,000 trees planted in the city accounting for 47% of canopy cover. Walking the city is proof that they are actually planting trees. You see their sign on newly planted trees all over usually accompanied with an inspirational quote.
Oregon & Washington State
Friends of Trees uses over 6,000 volunteers, either time or money, each year to plant in Oregon and SW Washington. With over 600,000 trees planted to date, it's no wonder we saw their trees all over Oregon.
One Tree Planted works in four regions (North and South America, Africa, and Asia) supporting tree planting and other conservation efforts related to forests. Every $1 donated equals a tree planted!
Plant a Billion is a branch of Nature Conservancy with a goal of planting one billion trees by 2025. You can track their progress on the website after donating to campaigns in either Brazil, China, or the United States.
World Wildlife Fund, you know the one with the panda as it's logo, well their combating deforestation as well. After all, where do pandas live? You can donate to them in general or for a more specific donation choose the "gift" option.
Carbonfund is a great website for offsetting your carbon footprint. Their carbon footprint calculator is a great starting point for understanding individual emissions. They have several tree planting programs that you can donate to directly.
Purchase With Purpose
Remember that the consumer controls demand in a free market society which means we have some control over supply. It's easy to walk down the grocery store aisle and just pick up the first cereal box or toothpaste to touch our fingertips. Unfortunately, deforestation is in our chocolate and our notebooks, our coffee and our furniture, and we have to be aware of it to make a change. Read packaging labels. Do company and product research before buying. You'll often find me in grocery aisles with my phone out researching new companies and products. Reduce purchases that are directly linked and write companies that seem ambiguous on their deforestation policies. We need to build the momentum pushing companies to form sustainable practices around deforestation.
Look out for the Rainforest Alliance Certified logo. You know the one with the frog on it? For 30 years they have been combatting deforestation. According to their research, 123,000 acres of rainforests are cleared daily. Companies and farms receive certification from them based on rigorous standards and education. Due to their efforts, 100,000,941 acres of forests are now under sustainable management.
Palm Oil is a major driver of tropical deforestation. It's a common vegetable oil in products from ice cream to face cream. It's a cheap and versatile ingredient to source making it enticing for big manufacturers. Every 1 hectare of land cleared for palm oil use releases 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Check out this article by Selva Beat for further reading on the palm oil problem.
Purchase fewer paper products or verify that they're 100% post recycled paper products. Logging is the process of felling trees to be used as timber or pulp. Many forests have laws against logging or restrictions in place. However, they are undermanaged in poorer countries where governments aren't able to face up to larger economies like China. Illegal logging accounts for 50% of forestry activities.