So Far Humans Have Cut Half Of The World’s Trees

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There’s a story about a squirrel which, before people began to systematically cut down trees, could travel from Portugal all the way to the far reaches of the Siberian Tundra in the Kamchatka Peninsula without touching ever the ground. That, off course, if the squirrel doesn’t die of old age on the way.

Today this is nowhere near to being possible since people have long since cut down the majority of forests to give way for arable and grazing lands. Only mountain ranges were spared to some degree from this careless deforestation, but not even those were left untouched.

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A recent survey made by by the journal Nature has revealed that about 46% of the world’s trees have already been cut down by people. The only silver lining here is that the remaining trees add up to somewhere around 422 per person. With an estimated number of 3.04 trillion alive trees today, this estimation is seven times better than what we previously hoped for.

Nevertheless things are still going downhill with over 15 billion trees being cut down each year, mostly in the tropics. With the 5 billion that grow back, mostly in the temperate regions of the globe, the net number of lost trees is around 10 billion per year.

Global map of tree density at the square-kilometer pixel scale. Image credit: Crowther, et al 2015
Global map of tree density at the square-kilometer pixel scale. Image credit: Crowther, et al 2015

The big issue here is that these trees are the lifeline for a vast number of ecosystems around the globe which we destroy on a regular basis. Most of the trees that disappear annually aren’t even used commercially. Entire forests are just simply burned down to make way for more grazing land for cattle.

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These trees also provide us with a fresh supply of drinkable water, they regulate the temperature, keeping the planet cool. They regenerate the soil and keep it from becoming a desert -which in many places is already happening-, stop landslides and floods from happening and drastically reduce the CO2 emissions we pump into the air.

In short, we’re not just cutting the branch we sit on, but rather the whole tree.

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