The vital role that forests play in sustaining life on Earth is too big to be quantified. If forests disappeared right now, life would come to a standstill faster than anyone can imagine. Human dependence on forests ranges from clean air, clean water, food, medicine, and those are just the bare basics. Despite their importance to humanity, more than 2.9 trillion trees have been cleared by humans since they started practicing agriculture 12,000 years ago. The effect of removing half the world’s trees has been instant, and we currently have the worst air quality ever seen before, freshwater is becoming harder to come by, and droughts are increasing in frequency and prevalence. Humans cannot survive without forests for the following reasons:
Forests Purify The Air
Trees are the most crucial air purifiers, and humans are their biggest beneficiaries, breathing in between 10,000-20,000 liters of air in a single day. Trees rid the air of carbon dioxide and give off oxygen without which no life on earth would survive. In America alone, it is estimated by researchers that trees clear 17.4 million tons of pollution in the air, toxic air that would otherwise have increased respiratory complications in people and animals. Without trees, man would need to always wear gas masks that filter out carbon dioxide and other toxic substances in the air for the little oxygen that exists. The peepal tree is one of the most prominent synthesizers of oxygen, releasing it both at night and during the day.
Forests Bring Rain
It is not a coincidence that heavily forested areas like the Amazon and Congo receive more rain than areas without trees. Trees are the most abundant plants on earth, with the biggest and deepest roots. They absorb water from the ground and streams and release it in the form of water vapor into the atmosphere through transpiration. The vapor rises to form rain clouds which later falls as rain. Man depends on rainfall for freshwater and farming, the two things he cannot survive without. The average tree releases between 250-400 gallons of water per day into the atmosphere.
Medicines Are Derived From Forest Plants
The use of herbs to treat ailments has been used as far back as the Sumerian civilization, and the practice has not stopped even today. The number of plant species that are used medicinally is about 50,000, and among these, trees contribute the most. When it comes to medicinal trees, almost all their parts are used, from their barks to their leaves, seeds, fruits, flowers, and down to their roots. Examples of medicinal trees include the Red Stinkwood, whose bark is used to treat malaria in Madagascar. The Socotra Dragon tree is used to cure dysentery and fever. The neem tree, which is widespread in Africa, is believed to cure more than 40 different ailments that afflict humans, although that claim is yet to be supported by scientific evidence.
Forests Give Us Food
Before humans turned to agriculture, they lived off hunting and gathering. When the meat was not enough, they would supplement it with fruits and roots from a variety of trees common during that were abundant in that period. The practice has not changed much. Trees continue to provide much-needed supplements that cannot be found on animal products. From avocados to cloves, almonds, nuts, pistachios, all these are daily as foods that grow from trees. Some trees like the Linden have edible leaves that go well with salads and are a good source of antioxidants. The Moringa tree has leaves packed with calcium, potassium, iron, vitamins A and C, and protein.
Forest Plants Prevent Soil Erosion
The irony of a man clearing trees indiscriminately to create farmlands, which in turn depend on trees for rain and keeping the soil together for the crops to grow, cannot be overstated enough. If it were not for the tree roots that go deep and spread into the ground, much of the most arable topsoil would be washed away into river beds, lakes, and oceans. Trees prevent erosion, and at the same time, they open up the ground allowing air to circulate in soils, making vital processes like germination to take place. Dead trees, in turn, form natural manure that forms the foundation for the next plants.
Forest Plants Act As An Energy Source
Human fortune changed significantly when he discovered the use of fire some 7,000 years ago, and naturally, firewood was his go-to choice for fuel. That has not changed much today, even with the availability of a myriad of other options. More than 2 billion people still depend on charcoal and wood fuel for heating and cooking. In Africa alone, wood and charcoal account for up to 90% of energy consumption. The Asia-Pacific region’s consumption of wood fuel is at 64% and 54% in Latin America. Charcoal business is huge in developing countries, and in 2014 alone, 53 million tons of charcoal was produced globally.
Survival Of All Life On Earth Is Impossible Without Forests
It is crystal clear that man needs trees now more than ever. The worrying fact, however, is that as human populations grow, it is getting increasingly hard to see a future where a balance is struck between sustaining the communities and increasing forest cover. One of the two has taken a massive hit, and unfortunately, it is the forests that are losing the battle. Forest cover has shrunk considerably in the last century, with very few places on earth still supporting indigenous tree covers. A massive loss of forests would spell doom for life on earth, mass extinction of animals that act as food for man will disappear, as well as smaller plants. Rivers will consequently dry up due to less rainfall, and the air quality will deteriorate, leading to more respiratory diseases. Already, many cities are becoming uninhabitable because of air pollution. The city of Kanpur, India, has been declared the one with the most air pollution, and it currently records the highest number of respiratory complications in the world. With trees being cut by the billions every year, faster than they can be replaced, the Kanpur situation is likely to be replicated in other cities around the world unless drastic measures are taken to reverse the damage that deforestation has brought.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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