We depend on forests for our survival, from the air we breathe to the wood we use. Besides providing habitats for animals and livelihoods for humans, forests also offer watershed protection, prevent soil erosion and mitigate climate change. Yet, despite our dependence on forests, we are still allowing them to disappear.
Here are a few reminders of why woodlands are wonderful.
How have forests affected your life today?
Have you had your breakfast? Travelled to work in a bus or car? Sat on a chair? Made a shopping list? Got a parking ticket? Blown your nose into a tissue? Forest products are a vital part of our daily lives in more ways than we can imagine.
Over 2 billion people rely on forests
Forests provide us with shelter, livelihoods, water, food and fuel security. All these activities directly or indirectly involve forests. Some are easy to figure out – fruits, paper and wood from trees, and so on. Others are less obvious, such as by-products that go into everyday items like medicines, cosmetics and detergents.
Habitats for biodiversity and livelihood for humans
Looking at it beyond our narrow, human – not to mention urban – perspective, forests provide habitats to diverse animal species. They are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, and they also form the source of livelihood for many different human settlements, including 60 million indigenous people.
Forests provide jobs for more than 13 million people across the world
In addition, 300 million people live in forests, including 60 million indigenous people.
Yet, we are losing them. Between 1990 and 2015, the world lost some 129 million ha of forest, an area the size of South Africa. When we take away the forest, it is not just the trees that go. The entire ecosystem begins to fall apart, with dire consequences for all of us.
After oceans, forests are the world’s largest storehouses of carbon.
They provide ecosystem services that are critical to human welfare. These include:
- Absorbing harmful greenhouse gasses that produce climate change. In tropical forests alone, a quarter of a trillion tons of carbon is stored in above and below ground biomass
- Providing clean water for drinking, bathing, and other household needs
- Protecting watersheds and reducing or slowing the amount of erosion and chemicals that reach waterways
- Providing food and medicine
- Serving as a buffer in natural disasters like flood and rainfalls
- Providing habitat to more than half of the world’s land-based species
They clean up dirty soil.
In addition to holding soil in place, forests may also use phytoremediation to clean out certain pollutants. Trees can either sequester the toxins away or degrade them to be less dangerous. This is a helpful skill, letting trees absorb sewage overflows, roadside spills or contaminated runoff.
They clean up dirty air.
We herald houseplants for purifying the air, but don’t forget forests. They can clean up air pollution on a much larger scale, and not just the aforementioned CO2. Trees catch and soak in a wide range of airborne pollutants, including carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.
They muffle noise pollution.
Sound fades in forests, making trees a popular natural noise barrier. The muffling effect is largely due to rustling leaves — plus other woodland white noise, like bird songs — and just a few well-placed trees can cut background sound by 5 to 10 decibels, or about 50 per cent as heard by human ears.