Everything on earth has a purpose and follows a particular system. The earth rotates around its own axis. Day and night become part of every essential being both living and non-living. Forests too play a role in the cycle of life; carbon cycle. An integral part of ensuring carbon is produced and recycled hence be able to sustain life on earth.
Forests have existed since the beginning of time. From when dinosaurs existed to the first man. Forests have been providing humankind with habitat, building materials and energy. We cannot deny the fact that forests give us life. Today, with a rise in population and development being at the core of every country, forests have faced challenging time.
Therefore, in the age of industrialisation, the sustainable use of forests is an essential part in mitigating the effects of climate change.
Trees, like all other green plants, absorb Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from the air, store the carbon as well as solar energy in the wood. One cubic meter of wood is able to store 1 tonne of carbon and enough solar energy to boil 15000l of water. Since trees do not need the oxygen during the day, they release it into the atmosphere. In more biological terms, this is known as photosynthesis. When wood decays in the forest or is used as fuel for heating, the carbon and oxygen combine. CO2 is formed. The same amount of CO2 that was absorbed during their period of growth is released into the atmosphere. The carbon cycle becomes complete.
In the case of fossil fuels, the state is completely different. Carbon from oil, natural gas or coal comes from within the earth’s crust. The extraction process uses a lot of energy. Extracted products cross distant borders, are burned and in the end, increases CO2 in the atmosphere. There is no cycle involved, only extraction. This process is the main cause of global warming. Carbon from these sources is not renewable.
Can we have enough trees to absorb the carbon? Maybe, if forests are not being cut down in sizes as large as football fields and we pursue more renewable sources of energy.
A forest that is poorly managed or not managed at all has three phases of development. For instance, in the case of a forest fire, regeneration occurs. This is when young new trees are generated. The second phase, growth, involves storing large volumes of CO2 during the lifetime of the trees. The last phase, decay, sets in at the end of there lifetime. The CO2 stored in the decaying trees is released into the atmosphere as a result of decomposition. The carbon cycle is complete. A balance occurs between forests in the growth phase and the forests in the decomposing phase. The overall level of carbon in the atmosphere constantly remains the same. However, this is not a sustainable way to manage forests.
We are not in a utopic society as we continue to use carbon from oil, natural gas and coal. Proper forest management will make a significantly large contribution in protecting the planet from climate change. Sustainable forest management practices will ensure forests are always kept at maximum growth to absorb the amount of CO2 released from the earth’s crust to the atmosphere.
For example, when wood is not left to decompose in the forest, but harvested and used as timber in a variety of ways such as creating wood products this ensures the storage of CO2 for decades. This also reduces the production of products made from plastics that require lots of energy and the release of carbon into the atmosphere to produce. This, however, does not entail cutting down all trees in a planted forest so that we can store carbon released in the wood products. It means, ensuring trees are always planted in stages which ensure growth is always kept at a constant.
Natural and indigenous forests should remain as they are but collecting dead trees for fuel by neighbouring communities should be allowed. This is because the same carbon stored when burnt is similar to the carbon produced when the tree decomposes. In particular, there is no major harm as long as the collection is monitored and awareness of the best ways to use wood as an energy source will prevent respiratory diseases in the community.
Responsible forest users and strict forest laws ensure forests are not deforested or illegally logged at high rates preventing biodiversity from thriving and reducing water sources as forests are major water towers. It also ensures the carbon cycle is continuous. With this, climate change will be mitigated.