- WISH LIST
Learn how GreenWood entrepreneurs are earning a livelihood and preserving forests. See more videos of our work.
Why Do They Matter? What Can We Do?
Forests are often called the “lungs of the planet” because one of the most basic functions of plants—photosynthesis—is to absorb carbon dioxide and produce the oxygen we need to breath. Trees also shade and stabilize soils, reducing erosion, and they capture and store much of the world’s fresh water. Forests create the habitats that support other plant and animal species, greatly enriching biodiversity on the planet. Forest ecosystems—especially in the tropics—influence regional climates by releasing water vapor and moderating temperatures. Trees store carbon in the form of wood, reducing the release into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide, a source of global warming.
Many other tangible benefits derive from forests—wood, water and recreational assets, among them. Bananas, coffee and citrus fruit all originated in tropical forests, and the “natural roots” of many important medicines can be traced directly to forest plants and insects. The truth is, we’ve only scratched the surface of what biologist E.O. Wilson describes as our “little-known planet.” Biodiversity experts believe that perhaps 90 percent of the organisms on Earth are yet to be discovered.
Alarmingly, tropical forests are disappearing fast, taking with them countless species before they’ve even been identified. It is estimated that 20 million hectares of tropical forest are destroyed each year, also leading to the displacement of some of the world’s poorest people. This massive loss of forest habitat stems from a variety of short-term economic causes, but two of the chief drivers are the conversion of forests to agriculture and uncontrolled logging to supply an insatiable global demand for cheap wood products.
The good news is that the people who dwell in and around these threatened forests constitute their strongest line of defense—but only if they can connect their own personal livelihoods to what the forests have to offer. This means protecting water sources and habitats for the animals they hunt and the plants they cultivate and, yes, it also means managing trees for lumber, furniture and other value-added wood products. We know how to do it—what we lack is the will to make it happen.
But saving forests is not just about preserving livelihoods or trees or even critical ecosystems and biodiversity, though all of these are worthwhile goals. It’s really about finding ways to use the world around us to preserve the building blocks of life itself.
FORESTS = The Building Blocks of Life: Air, Soil, Water, Carbon