Alongside the continuing release of greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere, deforestation is often seen as one of the most environmentally-destructive practices happening on our planet today. In fact, as different as these two practices may seem, they are closely linked by their resulting impact and perceived influence on global warming. Consequently, a reduction in either will lead to similar results and effectively mitigate against the concern as to temperature rise (reduction in use of fossil fuels leading to reduced carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere, and retention of forests whereby carbon dioxide is taken out of the atmosphere by trees and plant life).
In this article I want to look at some of the strategies available to us for slowing or even reversing deforestation. Never have trees been cut down on such a huge scale and never has the need to tackle this issue been greater.
Let’s start by looking at some of the other impacts of deforestation.
The Impact of Deforestation
The impact of deforestation has its own set of social, environmental and ecological consequences. Deforestation not only disrupts communities and ancient homelands for indigenous peoples, it also destroys the complex natural ecosystems that thrive in them.
Trees also take water out of the atmosphere and in doing so, regulate the water cycle. By cutting trees down, the soil is deprived of this water causing it to become arid (ironic given that 80% of deforestation is to make way for farmland). Chopping down vast tracts of forests also destabilises soils which form a natural barrier against flooding.
Causes of Deforestation
Why does deforestation happen? There are a number of reasons. I have written at length before of the impact of tree diseases on forests and woods across the planet, including our much beloved British countryside. In the past thirty years or so we’ve witnessed some of the most devastating tree diseases on record, from Dutch Elm Disease in the 1980’s to Ash Dieback in the 2010’s. Today Phoney Peach Disease threatens to affect a wide range of trees from oaks to maple trees. If tree diseases aren’t contained, then entire indigenous species face extinction. The only way to contain the spread is therefore to cut down often vast swathes of infected trees.
Another often unquoted cause of deforestation is an increase in forest fires, which can take away vast swathes of vegetation.
The most common cause of deforestation, however, is man made. Trees are cut down to either make way for farmland or to supply our huge global appetite for wood based products – from paper and cardboard to tables and chairs. In the tropics, agribusiness is a big industry and vast swathes of rainforest are decimated to make room for cattle ranches or palm oil and soy plantations.
Can Deforestation be Stopped?
This is surely the million dollar question (or trillion dollar if we consider the potential financial impact of failing to act). Market price pressure, complacency and lack of intervention from Western nations have all contributed to the current level of deforestation. Market forces have effectively muted decades of warnings from environmental scientists and conservationists. Ironically, the marketplace could become one of the key strategies of combating deforestation – but more of that in a bit.
To give context to the scale of the issue, let’s take a look at some of the opening text from the United Nations Environment Programme:
“There are major weaknesses in the policies, methods and mechanisms adopted to support and develop the multiple ecological, economic, social and cultural roles of trees, forests and forest lands… “
The text then goes on to highlight some of the measures and approaches needed at a national level to combat deforestation, including the role of the private sector, public education and increased research capacity and support. The section ends with a frank admission that:
“The need for securing the multiple roles of forests and forest lands through adequate and appropriate institutional strengthening has been repeatedly emphasized in many of the reports, decisions and recommendations of FAO, ITTO, UNEP, the World Bank, IUCN and other organizations.”
What to take from this? Well, if we are to read between the lines, it could be suggested that a greater ratio of action to policy is required. To put it another way, we have the tools, the people and the institutions to really make a difference. What may lack is the political will to change policies, tighten regulation and restrict illegal trade.
Strategies for Success?
I now want to explore some strategies for tackling deforestation. The potential effectiveness of each is of course open to interpretation and there is obviously a lot of overlap in, and interdependence between them. Their individual effectiveness can be greatly boosted by an approach that utilises multiple strategies.
- Leveraging the Power of the Market
The market is the biggest driver of deforestation but, as mentioned previously, it can also represent a far-reaching and powerful tool available to the conservationist. By shifting the economic model to factor in ‘externalities’ associated with production (that is the environmental as well as financial costs) then an impetus is provided to minimise environmental impact and source wood from sustainable forests or farmland that hasn’t replaced forests. This concept is similar to the idea of a carbon tax, but requires international consensus to work (and therein lies the rub).
- Political Activism
As with so many environmental and social movements, effective political change needs to come from the top – through governments and government institutions and ultimately international bodies like the UN and EU. In democratic countries this starts with education and raising awareness, but then more specifically harnessing the energy of the electorate to bring relevant issues to the forefront of the political agenda. Easier said than done, but this represents an effective way for nations to encourage other nations to tackle deforestation and to support and assist in alternative strategies.
- Consumer Pressure
Another method that has been used in some areas is for consumers to put pressure on corporations to pursue environmentally sustainable policies and set ambitious targets, but this requires a shift in consumer priority on sustainable practices over price. Whilst this has had a measure of success in some areas, on a global scale it’s a drop in the ocean and not an effective strategy taken in isolation.
- Strengthening Existing Institutions
One of the stated aims of the UN Environmental Programme is “to strengthen the capacities and capabilities of national institutions to enable them to acquire the necessary knowledge for the protection and conservation of forests, as well as to expand their scope and, correspondingly, enhance the effectiveness of programmes and activities related to the management and development of forests.” These institutions will undoubtedly form an important part of the solution and require political support to really make a difference.
- Planting new forests
One simple and effective way to combat the cutting down of trees is to plant new ones. Tree planting on a wide scale is definitely an important part of slowing deforestation but at present is unlikely to come close to replace the staggering 78 million acres of rainforest lost every year. The challenge with this strategy is that it is sometimes a locally based approach remote from the affected area – in other words, replacing a rubber tree cut down in the Amazon with an oak in England isn’t touching the damage caused on a local level. As part of the solution planting new forests is vital but needs to be directly targeted to the area of impact.
- Promoting sustainable practices
Promoting sustainable wood and internationally recognised certification from bodies such as the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) all ties into public awareness and so can be linked to the wider strategy of political activism. Promoting the importance of reducing unnecessary waste, recycling, and respecting nature and our environment will all feed into building public awareness. Public and private education initiatives are inherent to achieving this.
About the Author
Paul George is the managing director of Landmark Trading Ltd, and has worked in the arboricultural industry for 14 years. Landmark Trading are one the UK’s leading suppliers of arborist, tree surgeon and tree climbing equipment and work closely with conservation groups. You can connect with Paul on Twitter on @LandmarkTrading or check out their Facebook page.
Are the UK Governments Plans for the Energy Sector Smart?
The revolution in the energy sector marches on, wind turbines and solar panels are harnessing more renewable energy than ever before – so where is it all leading?
The UK government have recently announced plans to modernise the way we produce, store and use electricity. And, if realised, the plans could be just the thing to bring the energy sector in line with 21st century technology and ideologies.
Central to the plans is an initiative that will see smart meters installed in homes and businesses the length and breadth of the country – and their aim? To create an environment where electricity can be managed more efficiently.
The news has prompted some speculation about how energy suppliers will react and many are predicting a price war. This could benefit consumers of electricity and investors, many of whom may be looking to make a profit by trading energy company shares online using platforms such as Oanda – but the potential for good news doesn’t end there.
Introducing New Technology
The plan, titled Smart Systems and Flexibility is being rolled out in the hope that it will have a positive impact in three core areas.
- To offer consumers greater control by making smart meters available for all homes and businesses by 2020. Energy users will be able to monitor, control and record the amount of energy they use.
- Incentivise energy suppliers to change the manner in which they buy electricity, to offer more smart tariffs and more off-peak periods for energy consumption.
- Introduce new standards for electrical appliances – it is hoped that the new wave of appliances will recognise when electricity is at its cheapest and at its most expensive and respond accordingly.
How the Plans Will Affect Solar Energy
Around 7 million houses in the UK have solar panels and the government say that their plan will benefit them as they will be able to store electricity on batteries. The stored energy can then be used by the household and excess energy can be exported to the national grid – in this instance lower tariffs or even payment for the excess energy will bring down annual costs significantly.
The rate of return on energy exported to the national grid is currently between 6% and 10%, but there are many variables to take into account, such as, the cost of battery storage and light levels. Still, those with state-of-the-art solar electricity systems could end up with an annual profit after selling their excess energy.
The Internet of Things
Much of what the plans set out to achieve are linked to the now ubiquitous “internet of things” – where, for example, appliances and heating systems are connected to the internet in order to make them function more smartly.
Companies like Hive have already made great inroads into this type of technology, but the road that the government plans are heading down, will, potentially, go much further -blockchain technology looms and has already proved to be a game changer in the world of currency.
It has already been suggested that the peer to peer selling of energy and exporting it to the national grid may eventually be done using blockchain technology.
“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”
Don and Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution (2016)
The upshot of the government’s plans for the revolution of the energy sector, is that technology will play an indelible role in making it more efficient, more flexible and ultimately more sustainable.
4 Case Studies on the Benefits of Solar Energy
Demand for solar energy is growing at a surprising rate. New figures from SolarPower Europe show that solar energy production has risen 50% since the summer of 2016.
However, many people are still skeptical of the benefits of solar energy.Does it actually make a significant reduction in our carbon footprint? Is it actually cost-effective for the company over the long-run?
A number of case studies have been conducted, which indicate solar energy can be enormously beneficial. Here are some of the most compelling studies on the subject.
1. Boulder Nissan
When you think of companies that leverage solar power, car dealerships probably aren’t the first ones that come to mind. However, Boulder Nissan is highly committed to promoting green energy. They worked with Independent Power Systems to setup a number of solar cells. Here were the results:
- Boulder Nissan has reduced coal generated electricity by 65%.
- They are on track to run on 100% renewable energy within the next 13 years.
- Boulder Nissan reduced CO2 emissions by 416,000 lbs. within the first year after installing their solar panels.
This is one of the most impressive solar energy case studies a small business has published in recent years. It shows that even small companies in rural communities can make a major difference by adapting solar energy.
2. Valley Electric Association
In 2015, the Valley Electric Association (VEA) created an 80-acre solar garden. Before retiring from the legislature, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid praised the new project as a way to make the state more energy dependent and reduce our carbon footprint.
“This facility will provide its customers with the opportunity to purchase 100 percent of their electricity from clean energy produced in Nevada,” Reid told reporters with the Pahrump Valley Times. “That’s a step forward for the Silver State, but it also proves that utilities can work with customers to provide clean renewable energy that they demand.”
The solar energy that VEA produced was drastically higher than anyone would have predicted. SolarWorld estimates that the solar garden created 32,680,000 kwh every year, which was enough to power nearly 4,000 homes.
This was a major undertaking for a purple state, which may inspire their peers throughout the Midwest to develop solar gardens of their own. It will reduce dependency on the electric grid, which is a problem for many remote states in the central part of the country.
3. Las Vegas Casinos
A number of Las Vegas casinos have started investing in solar panels over the last couple of years. The Guardian reports that many of these casinos have cut costs considerably. Some of them are even selling the energy back to the grid.
“It’s no accident that we put the array on top of a conference center. This is good business for us,” Cindy Ortega, chief sustainability officer at MGM Resorts told Guardian reporters. “We are looking at leaving the power system, and one of the reasons for that is we can procure more renewable energy on the open market.”
There have been many benefits for casinos using solar energy. They are some of the most energy-intensive institutions in the world, so this has helped them become much more cost-effective. It also helps minimize disruptions to their customers learning online keno strategies in the event of any problems with the electric grid.
4. Boston College
Boston College has been committed to many green initiatives over the years. A group of researchers experimented with solar cells on different parts of the campus to see where they could produce the most electricity. They discovered that the best locationwas at St. Clement’sHall. The solar cells there dramatically. It would also reduce CO2 emissions by 521,702 lbs. a year and be enough to save 10,869 trees.
Boston College is exploring new ways to expand their usage of solar cells. They may be able to invest in more effective solar panels that can generate far more solar energy.
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