Trees of Life

If you’re breathing, thank a tree.

Or if you’re see see this beautiful tree picture you may also thank a tree.

Among other things, trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen (actually all plants do this, but I’m talking about trees for now.) All humans take in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Recycling the carbon dioxide of humans isn’t the only thing plants do because carbon dioxide is released by lot of things. By now we would have certainly choked ourselves out by now if it weren’t for plants.

For a planting cost of $250-600 (includes first 3 years of maintenance) a single street tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social and natural) in the lifetime of the tree, says Dan Burden.

One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen, which could meet the annual need of 18 people.

They act as a filter for the air and water in all its forms such as runoff, sewage and just plain ground water. They conserve rainwater and reduce runoff and sediment deposit after storms.

Trees, shrubs and turf also filter air by removing dust and absorbing other pollutants like carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

They help clean the soil and prevent erosion because tree roots bind the soil and their leaves break the force of wind and rain on soil.

They help reduce noise pollution (I will definitely be planting trees all around my house), flash flooding, provide shade and a windbreak.

Large trees are said to prevent crime. This article reports that a 10 percent increase in trees roughly equaled a 12 percent decrease in crime. Trees make a community seem more cared for and the perpetrator will believe they are more likely to get caught.

Trees are vital to sustain every kind of life yet we’re cutting them down without replacing them.

Each year the U.S. plants two and half million acres, which is smaller thank the size of Connecticut. From 2000-2005 we lost six percent of forests at a loss of 46,332 square miles, which is between the size of Pennsylvania and Mississippi.

I would say that we can definitely do better.

Here is pretty much everything you need to know about planting trees.

On the same site there is even information on how to start your own program on how to get more trees planted in your community.

Palm Oil 2

Yesterday I said today that I would be giving solutions, but it turns out that I have solutions and some more problems. So sorry about.

I found a company called GreenPalm. It says this on their website:

GreenPalm is a company set up to promote the production of sustainable palm oil. It operates a certificate trading system. Palm oil producers who have invested in sustainable practices can earn extra revenue by selling GreenPalm certificates. By buying the certificates, retailers, food companies and other end users are actively supporting and encouraging sustainable palm oil production.

How does GreenPalm work to protect the environment?

GreenPalm is a completely new approach to tackling the problems caused by a complex international industry. A straightforward, flexible and easily implemented system, it will start driving improvements immediately.

Supported by RSPO, GreenPalm guarantees a financial premium to producers who can prove they are environmentally and socially responsible, who are not destroying primary forest, and who develop plans to continually improve their operations. And because it works through the existing supply chain, it safeguards millions of palm oil jobs in some of the world’s poorer regions.

GreenPalm’s ultimate aim is to put itself out of business by ensuring all the world’s palm oil supplies are sustainable. But in the future this innovative and simple system could be adapted to help other global businesses towards sustainability.” This link will also take you to their certified organizations. This association is based in the UK, so I’m not sure is any of their products are sold in the U.S. I didn’t recognize any of the names.

GreenPalm is endorsed by RSPO(Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil). It’s a not-for-profit association that unites stakeholders from seven sectors of the palm oil industry – oil palm producers, palm oil processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks and investors, environmental or nature conservation NGOs and social or developmental NGOs – to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil.

There is a difference between a membership and being certified or registered.

“Step 1 is membership of the RSPO. By becoming a member, a company pledges to work towards producing or using only certified sustainable palm oil, which takes time. Many companies have said they will get there by 2015, but all of those pledges together require far more certified sustainable palm oil than what can now be supplied. So today, only part of their palm oil is certified as sustainable.

Step 2 is the final step: certification of (all) palm oil production or processes in the palm oil supply chain. Certification involves visits by third-party auditors who check units of the company against all the RSPO criteria. Only companies that pass this test can sell RSPO-certified palm oil or other palm products.”

Approximately 60% of the palm oil we consume has been further processed into a palm oil ‘derivative’ ‘split’ or fractionated into palm oil derivatives; before it is incorporated into the products we buy from the supermarket.

Another 20% is processed for the second time.

The problem isn’t with the palm oil itself. It’s how and where it’s produced. In order to make enough, thousands of miles of rainforests need to be cleared out. It destroys habitats and the biodiversity that forests are known for. According to (which promotes palm oil and is not an environmental advocate)

“60% of Malaysia’s land mass consists of forests, including some of the world’s oldest virgin forests. Only 20% of Malaysia’s land mass is under agricultural cultivation, with less than 2/3 of that dedicated to oil palm plantations. Moreover, the expansion of plantations has only utilized lands formerly used to grow rubber, cocoa or coconut, rather than forest land.”

Now, the reason I pointed out that this organization isn’t an environmental advocate is because I think it makes a difference in how you see those numbers. Two-thirds is HUGE to me. All those habitats lost, all those unique diversity we are lost when we will NEVER get it back, that is a big deal to me. And although, I don’t quite understand why it isn’t to everybody else, I guess when all you’re thinking about is how you’re going to cut down all those trees, so that you can sell something and make a lot of money. But I see it as when it’s gone, it’s gone.

The next problem is soil erosion. Not only does erosion occur during forest clearing and plantation establishment when the soil is left uncovered.

Erosion is also emphasized by planting trees in rows up and down hillsides rather than on contours around them, by not properly siting or constructing infrastructure such as roads, and by establishing plantations and infrastructure on slopes of more than 15 degrees.

Erosion causes increased flooding because erosion usually wears down the subsurface drainage systems.

Soil quality, structure, stability and texture can be affected by the loss of soil. The breakdown of aggregates and the removal of smaller particles or entire layers of soil or organic matter can weaken the structure and even change the texture. Textural changes can in turn affect the water-holding capacity of the soil, making it more susceptible to extreme condition such a drought.

Smoke Pollution from fire is another problem. This is pretty straightforward. The haze produced by the fires posed serious health problems to plantations workers and people throughout Southeast Asia.
Such haze can also reduce the productivity of oil palm trees and reduce the activity of pollinating weevils. In addition to air pollution, burning of forests releases CO2 to the atmosphere and so contributes to climate change.

For every metric ton of palm oil produced, 2.5 metric ton of effluent are generated from processing the palm oil in mills. Direct release of this effluent can cause freshwater pollution, which can affect downstream biodiversity and people.

If you google palm oil, there is no doubt that articles will be popping up about the health benefits of palm oil. There are both good and bad arguments from both conservationists and health nuts. Do your research and believe what you want, just believe it sustainably. Here is a nice U.S. list of companies who are members of the RSPO Company and different food and non-food products.

There is always more you can do to help.

Write a letter to various companies and congress people to try and convince them to do the right thing. The link above provides sample letters and various places to send the letters.

If you decide that palm-oil isn’t for you then there is a way to do that too. Vegetable oils are mostly in processed foods. Stick with mostly fruits and vegetables, a little meat and dairy if you must and you should be good. It’s a little harder to know about non-food items. Here is a nice list to help you with that. It talks about different names that palm oil is labeled under and what products don’t have it. It’s very informative.

Deforestation: Part 2

Yesterday I talked about the causes of deforestation and gave the some background on the problem. Today I’ll be writing about the consequences of it and tomorrow I’ll talk about the solutions.

Among the obvious consequences of deforestation is the loss of living space, not for us obviously, but for animals, the unspoken fors. Seventy percent of the Earth’s land animals and plants reside in forests. But the harm doesn’t stop there. Rain forests help generate rainfall in drought-prone countries elsewhere. Studies have shown that destruction of rain forests in such West African countries as Nigeria, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire may have caused two decades of droughts in the interior of Africa, with attendant hardship and famine.

Deforestation also drives climate change. Forest soils are moist, but without protection from sun-blocking tree cover they quickly dry out. Trees also help perpetuate the water cycle by returning water vapor back into the atmosphere. Without trees to fill these roles, many former forest lands can quickly become barren deserts.

Removing trees deprives the forest of portions of its canopy, which blocks the sun’s rays during the day and holds in heat at night. This disruption leads to more extreme temperatures swings that can be harmful to plants and animals.

Deforestation may have catastrophic global effects as well. Trees are natural consumers of carbon dioxide—one of the greenhouse gases whose buildup in the atmosphere contributes to global warming. Destruction of trees not only removes these “carbon sinks,” but tree burning and decomposition pump into the atmosphere even more carbon dioxide, along with methane, another major greenhouse gas.

Fewer forests means larger amounts of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere—and increased speed and severity of global warming.

There seems to be a catch to this though. Temperatures data were collected from a network of specialized weather stations in forests ranging from Florida to Manitoba and compared results with nearby stations situated in open grassy areas that were used as a proxy for deforested land.

The climate cooling benefits of forests and trees are added as you get closer to the tropics or going north.

Researchers calculated that north of Minnesota, or above 45 degrees latitude, deforestation was associated with an average temperature decrease of 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

On the other hand, deforestation south of North Carolina, or below 35 degrees latitude, appeared to cause warming. Statistically insignificant cooling occurred between these two latitudes

Surface temperatures in open, nonforested, high-latitude areas were cooler because these surfaces reflected the sun’s rays, while nearby forested areas absorbed the sun’s heat. At night, without the albedo effect, open land continued to cool faster than forests, which force warm turbulent air from aloft to the ground.

Deforestation in the boreal region, north of 45 degrees latitude, results in a net cooling effect. While cutting down trees releases carbon into the atmosphere, it also increases an area’s reflection of sunlight (its albedo).

Deforestation and forest degradation are both a cause and a result of climate change. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and use it to grow, but when they decay or burn, carbon dioxide is released again. Decaying plants also produce methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide.

So deforestation and forest degradation are doubly damaging, because greenhouse gases are released (e.g. through forest fires, or using the cut trees as firewood), while at the same time the number of carbon dioxide absorbing trees are reduced. Thirty percent of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere over the past 150 years is thought to come from deforestation, but this is a small amount compared to what is still stored in forests. The Canadian and Russian boreal forests alone hold 40 percent of the world’s carbon stocks.

Soil erosion, while a natural process, accelerates with deforestation. Trees and plants act as a natural barrier to slow water as it runs off the land. Roots bind the soil and prevent it from washing away. The absence of vegetation causes the topsoil to erode more quickly. It’s difficult for plants to grow in the less nutritious soil that remains.

Because trees release water vapor into the atmosphere, fewer trees means less rain, which disrupts the water table (or groundwater level). A lowered water table can be devastating for farmers who can’t keep crops alive in such dry soil.

On the other hand, deforestation can also cause flooding. Coastal vegetation lessens the impact of waves and winds associated with a storm surge. Without this vegetation, coastal villages are susceptible to damaging floods. The 2008 cyclone in Mayanmar proved this fact to catastrophic effect. Scientists believe that the removal of coastal mangrove forests over the past decade caused the cyclone to hit with much more force.

Deforestation: Part 1

First, this will be a subject divided up into three posts. Today is the subject itself and the causes, tomorrow the problem and tomorrow’s tomorrow will be the solutions.

And second, I was filled up to my eyeballs with information on this subject. The only easy part of this research was that all the sources seem to agree that deforestation is a problem.

Deforestation is defined as clearing Earth’s forests on a massive scale, often resulting in damage to the quality of the land.

Far too little attention has been paid to the role tropical deforestation has in warming the planet. It accounts for 17% of global emissions – more than all the world’s cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships combined.

Forests still cover about 30 percent of the world’s land area, but the world’s rain forests could completely vanish in a hundred years at the current rate of deforestation.

Who do we have to thank for this disaster? Ourselves of course.

The biggest driver of deforestation is agriculture. Farmers cut forests to provide more room for planting crops or grazing livestock. Forests are also cut as a result of growing urban sprawl.

Logging operations, which provide the world’s wood and paper products, also cut countless trees each year. Loggers, some of them acting illegally, also build roads to access more and more remote forests—which lead to further deforestation. Some is caused by a combination of human and natural factors like wildfires and subsequent overgrazing, which may prevent the growth of young trees.

Droughts and forest fires are expected to increase due to climate change. Forest fires can be a normal part of forests – they clear dense brush and are part of some species’ lifecycle. However, forests over stressed by human activity and drought can also devastate them. There are already indications that the Amazon is drying out, which could lead to a dangerous feedback of fires and desertification.

Invasive insect species may also damage forest health. Insects play a role in boreal ecology – they decompose litter, supply food for birds and small animals, and eliminate diseased trees. But insect attacks are likely to increase in frequency and intensity as established forests succumb to the physiological stress associated with warmer, drier conditions. As the Arctic warms, some invasive insect species, which the colder climate normally helps hold in check, are already increasing in population.

Hydroelectric dams are quite controversial because while they help to power communities, they also contribute to deforestation. To build a hydroelectric dam, acres of land must be flooded, which causes decomposition and release of greenhouse gases. Local people can also be displaced by dam projects, causing further deforestation when these people resettle elsewhere.

Mining also results in deforestation. Digging a coal, diamond or gold mine requires the removal of all forest cover, not just for the mines but also for trucks and equipment. Recently, Venezuela denied a corporation called Crystallex permission to dig a mine because of environmental concerns. Way to Venezuela!

Palm oil is potential candidate to be used as a biofuel and is used in many packaged foods and beauty products. But palm oil is another cause of deforestation. Its rising prices make it more valuable, and, in response, Indonesian and Malaysian farmers destroy acres of trees to harvest it. For this reason, several countries are currently debating a ban on palm oil as a biofuel.

According to the World Resources Institute, more than 80 percent of the Earth’s natural forests already have been destroyed. Up to 90 percent of West Africa’s coastal rain forests have disappeared since 1900. Brazil and Indonesia, which contain the world’s two largest surviving regions of rain forest, are being stripped at an alarming rate by logging, fires, and land-clearing for agriculture and cattle-grazing. Brazil has established a goal of reducing emissions from the Amazon by 80% by 2020 and is already making impressive progress in that direction, including robust monitoring and verification systems. Indonesia is moving in a similar direction. These efforts could be focused, honed and replicated globally.