Wood, sustainable materials2023-08-27T10:57:39+01:00


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Wood is an organic material harvested from trees. Different trees produce different woods with various properties, some more desirable for garden usage than others. Woods can be classified into two categories, hardwoods and softwoods, named so not for their densities but for their reproduction. Hardwoods create seeds that have an outer coating, be that a fruit or a shell, an example being oak. Softwoods allow their seeds to spread without any covering, an example being pine. Hardwoods also lose their leaves in the colder weather whereas softwoods do not. Although, in conjunction with their naming, hardwoods do tend to be stronger and more dense (therefore more durable) than softwoods, this isn’t the case for every wood, as there are exceptions to the rule. Due to this, hardwoods will normally last longer in a garden than softwoods, unless a softwood is naturally durable or has been treated in some fashion. 

What is a Forest and why is it important

As trees are the source for wood, trees need to be harvested to produce it. Most trees are found in forests, which are large areas covered in trees and undergrowth and can be split into three categories, tropical, boreal, and temperate. Forests cover around 30% of the land mass on the planet. (ref) Despite only covering 30%, the forests of the world have a huge impact and have many benefits for humans. One of the largest is the fact that forests are the lungs of the earth, and through photosynthesis, they provide oxygen for the planet allowing us to breathe. (ref)  Similarly intervening with the atmosphere, the forests of the earth are the second largest store of carbon, after the oceans. (ref) This removes CO2 from the air and stops CO2 from heating the planet. (ref) 25% of CO2 emitted from human activity is absorbed by forests. Along with this, trees are part of evapo-transportation (the moving of water back into the atmosphere) which sustains the global water cycle. (ref)

Forest lands around the world provide a home and habitat to 80% of terrestrial biodiversity (ref) Whilst protecting and providing for the species it houses, the forests also protect the land, becoming a buffer from natural disasters such as flooding, (ref) strong winds (ref)  and soil erosion.(ref) Watersheds (the areas which channel water into streams etc.) are also protected, and the forests can prevent or slow down chemical infiltration into water systems. (ref) The existence of forests also allows other processes to occur, such as pollination, seed dispersal, and soil fertilisation. (ref)

The forest provides for humans as well, in a more tangible sense, providing food and medicine (ref) as well as water (some believe a third of drinking water comes from forests (ref). Biomasses from forests can also be used as an alternative to dirtier greenhouse gas emitters such as coal. (ref)

Historical Deforestation

Despite the beneficial impacts forests have, humans have always wanted and desired forest products, for food, fuel, land, or resource. It is estimated that since we started to cut down trees, 46% of trees have been felled planet-wide. (ref) There are examples of deforestation dotted throughout history. From Ancient Greece deforesting its lands for agricultural purposes (ref) to the deforestation of Europe to meet population growth and expansion (shipbuilding) purposes. Ancient deforestation has shaped the modern world, its historical events, and its ecological features. An example is the USA, which has lost 90% of its indigenous forests since its removal began starting in the 1600s. (ref) However, the industrial age and the needs of modernity (population growth, for example) has accelerated deforestation, as seen in the Amazon Rainforest where in just 50 years, 17% of the forest has been lost. (ref) The last 50 years have seen a rapid increase in deforestation. (ref)

Present-day Deforestation

Today, agriculture is one of the key causes for deforestation. Commercial agriculture for meat, timber, soy, cocoa, rubber, livestock, palm oil, fuel timber etc. continues to deforest the world. (ref) This is perpetuated by the demands of people today, an example being seen from China and Brazil, as demand for beef rose in China, deforestation in Brazil rose to meet the demand. (ref) Illegal logging is also a major cause for deforestation as it has lead to a lot of forest being cleared but also to the extinction of species. (ref) Transnational companies (TNCs) also play a huge role. To meet their demand, developing countries are forced into deals with TNCs that allow them to develop, but in a manner unsustainable for the environment. (ref) Forest fires and overgrazing (the destruction of smaller trees and plants by livestock) are also responsible for deforestation rates.  (ref) As a result of human demands, the world loses 88,000 km squared of natural forest every year, the equivalent of a football pitch being harvested or destroyed every 2 seconds (ref) and an area similar to the size of Scotland being harvested every year.

Impacts of Deforestation

Removing and destroying forests reverses many of the benefits they provide. When harvested, they no longer provide a habitat for species, which can lead to the species becoming extinct. (ref) Even disrupting the forest can cause it to change, for example if canopy is removed, the ability of the forest to block heat in the day and retain it in the evening is compromised, meaning it can be more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations and this impacts the species that live there. (ref) Soil will also erode over time, as the roots of the forest no longer bind the soil. One of the biggest impacts is that of climate change. Forests are key in the fight to mitigate climate changes as they act as a carbon store, but removing them stops them from growing and absorbing more carbon. (ref) Having more carbon in the air and not in the trees will mean a hotter climate. The loss of trees also causes an impact with water vapour. Water vapour is also a greenhouse gas and disruptions with the amount in the atmosphere (achieved by cutting trees down) can cause changes in both the weather and climate. (ref)

The Future

At this rate of harvesting, the worlds forests may disappear in 50-100 years. (ref) The world has adopted sustainable development goals along with other schemes to reduce deforestation, however, these have had limited success (ref) and the forests are still being destroyed at a staggering rate. Recent political events also seem problematic, the election of Jair Bolsonaro being an example. Bolsonaro was elected the president of Brazil, which houses much of the Amazon rainforest. He vowed to open up the Amazon to be deforested even more. In allowing this, the government regulatory bodies are losing their ability to hold criminals accountable. Agencies now have to announce raids a day in advance, which can allow criminals to escape or cause violent retaliation when enforcement officers arrive. Enforcement teams can no longer destroy illegal equipment, which used to deter criminals. (ref) From this, it can be seen that deforestation will continue, especially illegally and at larger rates for economic gain. Short term gains are being put ahead of long term stability. There is hope, however, companies are pledging to reduce forest destruction in their supply chains, and by extension, reduce the impact they have on the planet. (ref)Reforestation is also happening world wide, even in the UK (despite not meeting its targets). (ref)