Deforestation: Above and Below the Waterline

A multi-faceted approach is needed in tackling the effect of human activity on the climate and natural world. A reduction in industrial emissions through better practice, technology and efficiency is key, coupled with protection of carbon sinks, namely the forests and the oceans.

Seagrass meadows play a critical role in the carbon cycle (photo: M. Sanfélix)

Seagrass meadows play a critical role in the carbon cycle (photo: M. Sanfélix)

The oceans are the largest carbon sinks in the world storing 93 % of carbon in the form of algae, vegetation and coral, and sequestering 20 to 35 % of anthropogenic emissions. However, there is evidence to suggest that the oceans are becoming less efficient since around the year 2000 in absorbing these emissions1. Further, since the 1940’s, marine carbon sinks have been suffering with a loss of 30 % of mangroves, 25 % of salt marshes and over 30 % of seagrass meadows2. These are being lost at a faster rate than the rain forests.

Coastal development, aquaculture operations and timber removal are destroying these marine ecosystems, and thus there is a connection between the destruction of forests on land and under water. Deforestation through clearing and burning also generates 17 % of global carbon emissions, more than from all the world’s air, road, rail and shipping traffic combined. The highest rates of deforestation are taking place in the regions where illegal logging is at its worst – the Amazon Basin, Central Africa and Southeast Asia3. These are areas where there is a lack of forest governance and where accountability and transparency are often in short supply.

Mangrove forests are threatened by coastal development (Source: www.sundarban.org)

Mangrove forests are threatened by coastal development (Source: www.sundarban.org)

Illegal logging actually floods the market with cheaper wood, which suppresses global timber prices between 7 and 16 per cent3. It is estimated that legal timber companies are being denied US$30 billion per year from these activities.

It looks good, but do you know where it was sourced?

It looks good, but do you know where it was sourced?

As can be imagined, protecting forests and marine ecosystems require political and economic solutions, as well as enforcement of law. And as an end user of timber products we have a deep responsibility to ensure that our furniture, floors and wooden features in our homes and businesses are from sustainable and legal timber. We are all part of the solution.

References

  1. Khatiwala et al. (2009). Reconstruction of the history of anthropogenic CO2 concentrations in the ocean. Nature 462, 346-349
  2. Blue Carbon – The Role of Healthy Oceans in Binding Carbon. Rapid Response Assessment by GRID-Arendal and UNEP. 14 October 2009
  3. Davyth Stewart. Combating illegal logging key to saving our forests and preventing climate change. Project LEAF (Interpol), 21 March 2013

Trees and Their Afterlife: The Story of Wood

A guitar crafted in zebrawood

Few living organisms are as beneficial to humans during the course of their life, and thereafter, in their death, as the tree. After its demise it continues to provide wood for human construction, furniture and fuel, musical instruments and works of art, cricket bats, chopsticks and toothpicks. It seems natural to admire a beautiful wooden table or parquet flooring often above their manmade material counterparts. It is a substance familiar to humans and there is a story in all our homes tying wood to the course of our lives.

The Wonderwerk Cave in the Kalahari, South Africa. Evidence suggest early humans were around the fire 1.9 million years ago

In older homes, for example, in a massive cave at the edge of the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, scientists have uncovered an extensive record of human occupation including the evidence of plant ash and charred bone fragments. In this cavern, called the Wonderwerk Cave, humans were gathered round the fire 1.9 million years ago enjoying the benefits of warmth and more digestible food. These were humans even before our current species, most likely Homo erectus, and one must wonder at the stories within their smoky home.

Irish whisky maturing in oak barrels

We still enjoy the taste of wood smoke, whether it be smoked salmon or Lancashire cheese, the Sunday barbeque or the smoked tofu. And how would our whiskies and bourbons taste without Quercus robur (European oak), Quercus alba (American oak) and Quercus mongolica (Japanese oak)? And let us not forget the natural properties of wood. It is an insulator 15 times more effective than masonry and 400 times more than steel, thus explaining why wooden window frames are thermally efficient. Wood is a natural polymer – cellulose fibers in parallel strands are held by a lignin binder. These long strands of fibers resist stress and spread the load or force over their length, making a break across the grain difficult.

Logging in the Amazon

But these boons provided by wood have made the tree ever so popular, so popular that demand exceeds supply. Traditional logging where only large trees were removed and where natural regeneration was permitted, has changed to commercial logging where yields are examined per unit area, and vast swathes are cut removing many species. Even if replanted these areas are usually poor in life as they contain monocultures. So while an ever part of our lives which will continue for years to come, we should pay attention to the wood in our homes and where it comes from, making an effort to choose varieties from sustainably harvested forests.