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Forest Depletion and Reforestation

I've spent half a century writing for radio and print (mostly print). I hope to still be tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Vast areas of virgin rainforest are lost every year, mostly so that land can be cleared to make way for the production of palm oil, chocolate, and cattle.

Vast areas of virgin rainforest are lost every year, mostly so that land can be cleared to make way for the production of palm oil, chocolate, and cattle.

On the Brink

Frances Seymour with the World Resources Institute says, “The world’s forests are now in the emergency room—it is death by a thousand cuts. Band-Aid responses are not enough. For every hectare lost, we are one step closer to the scary scenario of runaway climate change.”

However, there are encouraging signs that recovery is taking place.

Deforestation History

Forested areas the size of Belgium are disappearing annually. Most of the destruction is in Brazil, the DR Congo, and Indonesia. But before we in the enlightened and developed nations criticize these countries, we need to reflect on the forests we have chopped down in our own lands.

Almost half (46 percent) of the forested land that once covered the planet has been cleared of trees. The impetus for denuding the planet has been population growth.

At first, the land was cleared for farming and building materials. Flint axes were replaced by metal saws, so the felling of trees sped up, but was still only nibbling at the fast stands of timber.

The real devastation of forests started with the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s. By the beginning of the 20th century, an area the size of Ireland had been deforested in central European Russia. Settlers moving West in North America managed an even more impressive clearance: an area twice the size of Japan by 1910.

The process has been the same in Asia and Africa. It’s only since the 1950s that the spotlight on deforestation has been turned on tropical rainforests such as Amazonia and tropical Africa.

Deforestation and the Climate Crisis

In the context of the climate crisis, the loss of forest cover is critical. Trees absorb and store carbon dioxide in a process known as sequestration. Here’s a report from North Carolina State University: “A tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year and can sequester one ton of carbon dioxide by the time it reaches 40 years old.”

A hotter climate means more forest fires releasing more carbon dioxide creating a hotter climate.

A hotter climate means more forest fires releasing more carbon dioxide creating a hotter climate.

A Science Magazine report looks at what that means on a global scale. European researchers have calculated there are 0.9 billion hectares of land space available on which trees can be planted; that’s an area about the size of the United States. Reforesting that land would not impact agriculture or living space.

The payoff is that “Those added trees could sequester 205 gigatons of carbon in the coming decades, roughly five times the amount emitted globally in 2018.” The researchers put an estimated price tag of $300 billion on such a project, which is really chump change compared to the cost of runaway global heating.

Speaking of chumps, here comes Doug Ford. He’s the conservative Premier of Canada’s biggest province, Ontario. In April 2019, he cancelled a program aimed at planting 50 million trees as a cost-saving measure.

Replanting Trees

While dinosaurs such as Doug Ford stand in the way of recovery, others are taking positive action.

Trillion Trees is a coalition of conservation groups that plans to “restore one trillion trees by 2050.” This is a goal that’s far too big for one organization to tackle alone. As Trillion Trees notes, “It requires commitment and action from governments, businesses, non-government organisations, communities, and individuals all across the world, many of whom are already pursuing similar goals.”

There are encouraging signs that some major players are joining the program:

  • In January 2018, China announced it will plant new forests that will cover an area the size of Ireland.
  • At the same time, England announced plans to plant 50 million trees over a 25-year period.
  • On a single day in July 2017, 1.5 million volunteers planted 66 million trees in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
  • The Guardian reports that “Latin American countries have pledged to restore 20 million hectares of degraded forest and African countries more than 100 million hectares."
  • Canada’s former Environment Minister Catherine McKenna stepped in to fund the tree-planting program that Doug Ford axed.

However, we can’t all run around giving each other high fives and shouting: “Climate catastrophe averted.”

Thomas Lovejoy is a George Mason University conservation biologist. He tells Time magazine, “None of this works without emissions cuts.” Simply planting vast numbers of beeches, pines, and maples doesn’t mean we can still buy gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles and eight-cylinder pick-up trucks.

Bonus Factoids

  • According to an article in Nature, there are “approximately 3.04 trillion” trees in the world, and more than “15 billion trees are cut down each year.”
  • After a comprehensive study, Botanical Gardens Conservation International announced that there are 60,065 species of trees in the world and more than half of these are unique to single countries.
  • The countries with the most room for planting new trees are Canada, China, Brazil, Australia, Russia, and the United States.
  • Many Japanese people practice shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. This involves simply being among trees and absorbing their aromas, sounds, and dappled light as a way of rejuvenating tired and stressed souls.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Rupert Taylor