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Environmental, Campaign & Website News > The Importance of Trees

The Importance of Trees

Date : 2nd July 2002, Source : GreenPlanet

It is now well understood that the world's forests are one of the most important 'sinks' for the harmful greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Trees are especially efficient at removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during the early, fast-growing part of their existence - and therefore sapling planting programmes are a valuable means of helping to control greenhouse gas emissions.

So how does the chemical process work?

The photosynthesis of trees actually absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and while we are reducing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere we don't trap so much of the Sun's warmth. That in turn reduces the warming effect. Carbon dioxide is converted in the leaf of the tree through the chlorophyll into sugars and the sugar then becomes part of the building process. Trees make complex sugars and proteins that are eaten by animals and we eat the animals and so on. All our food and energy originally comes from the Sun. We breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide and trees breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. Therefore, when we plant trees or nourish their growth we are actually helping to oxygenate the Earth.

Global warming is fuelled when trees are felled

It is well recognised that the Amazon rain forest is by far the world's most important carbon sink, and it processes a vast proportion of the 'free radical' carbon emissions that modern civilisation produces on a day-to-day basis. It is no secret that the Amazon is under threat, and with each acre of trees lopped down to provide space for development and additional grazing ground for the 'fast food' chain, more and more carbon is released back into the atmosphere. It is in this way that harmful greenhouse gasses are allowed back into the atmosphere, and global warming is further fuelled. This is a process that must be reversed if we care about the future of the Planet and the health and welfare of future generations.

Tree planting programmes help to combat salinity

While global warming and the role of vegetation in absorbing carbon has received a fair amount of press recently, it is rather less well understood that trees have a vital part to play in regenerating and protecting the soil - and in combating salinity. Trees are, in effect, the major tool in building and restoring soil. They produce a mat of perennial roots below ground level and these tree roots explore the soil for nutrients. Once they have extracted the nutrients from a particular area they die which leaves the root debris in the soil. This is a hummus material and as that rots and decays it leaves cavities in the soil that aerates it and allows the entrance of all sorts of soil dwelling creatures. These creatures create soil clusters (aggregates) with the excrement they produce, and this becomes the real living soil which is full of bacteria and without it the soil is dead - it's just sand!

Potentially agricultural land can become a desert and it only needs something else to happen such as inundation through rising water tables, and compaction that just drives out all the air from the soil and suddenly it becomes anaerobic and then we have lost it. It's just like your septic tank where nothing will grow! Somebody once said 'Forests came before civilization and deserts came after' and that's been true for many thousands of years.

Salinity is a problem that cannot be reversed

For example, the soil in Australia is in a very bad way and the salinity that we are now seeing as a major environmental problem in Western Australia is really the final death knell of the soil. It's not a process that we can reverse; it's going to be something that we have got to really understand and certainly all of us need to become involved in order to rescue and save that soil. We haven't learned the lesson and it's worse now than ever before!

Trees are the key to the Future

At the present time, more trees are lopped down worldwide than planted - and as this process continues unabated, the temperature of Planet Earth will continue to rise. We must make a stand to reverse the process - and we must make that stand NOW.

Document last updated on Tuesday 30 August 2011

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