The rampant fires, floods, droughts, violent hurricanes, this global pandemic, the death of species at 1,000 times their normal rate, the loss of arctic ice, climate change, even the increased volcanic activity and earthquakes are all partially because of deforestation. Which leads to a loss of biodiversity, a disruption in the water distribution cycle, and an increase in greenhouse gases.
Scientists believe that these events are culminating into the sixth extinction of the planet. The five prior led to the death of 99% of all life on Earth. The evidence says that we are now in the middle of the sixth and that human activities are directly responsible for accelerating it.
The Global Pandemic
Deforestation also leads to the transfer of diseases from animals to humans, which is the suspected cause of COVID-19 and this global pandemic. A recent study by Les Kaufman, a professor of biology at Boston University scientists, estimated that the annual cost of preventing the transmission of novel viruses from tropical forests is roughly $22.2 to $30.7 billion per year. While they estimate that COVID-19 will cost the world economy between $8.1 to $15.8 trillion dollars after everything is said and done. In other words, the economic loss from COVID-19 will be roughly 500 times as much as it would have been to prevent it
The Problem in Thailand
Like many parts of Southeast Asia, Thailand is suffering from deforestation. According to the Royal Forest Department, the country went from 70% coverage in 1930 to 31% in 2018. This was due mainly to the expansion of rice fields and other agricultural activities, illegal logging and the conversion of mangrove forests into shrimp farms.
Losing mangrove forests is especially problematic because they act as a buffer between the ocean and land, shelter coral reefs, protect against storm surges and tsunamis and prevent soil erosion. They are also crucial to having a healthy environment because they provide a safe zone where fish, birds, crabs, shrimp and other life can thrive. It’s estimated that 80% of caught fish rely on mangrove forests directly or indirectly. They are also important carbon sinks which sequester up to five times more CO2 than a tropical forest. Thailand has lost almost 60% of its mangrove forests since 1961.
There is Hope
At the end of documentary, Attenborough suggests that in addition to switching to renewable energy and reducing population growth, one of the key strategies to saving our planet is to restore biodiversity. We could do this by replanting forests and giving them enough time to heal on their own.
He cites Costa Rica as a successful case study. In the 1950s, 70% of the country was covered in forests, but by the 1980s this dropped to 25% because of excessive logging. However, within 25 years it was back up to 50% because of government programs which offered grants to private landowners as an incentive to replant native species.
Another proposed solution is the Half Earth Project, founded by author and naturalist E.O. Wilson, which advocates devoting 50% of the Earth’s surface to nature. A growing number of scientists and conservationists believe that this is crucial to keeping the planet habitable.
In recent years Thailand has taken steps in order to protect its natural assets. This includes an aerial reforesting project sponsored by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Royal Thai Air Force, which dropped millions of seed bombs on damaged areas in the northern provinces starting in 2013, with the goal to restore forested land to 40% by 2024.
There have also been substantial efforts to protect the mangrove forests in collaboration with non-profits like the Mangrove Action Project, which has been working with locals to regenerate forests in Ranong and Krabi, that were damaged by now mostly abandoned shrimp farms.
What You Can Do
-Change Your Search Engine to Ecosia.org, which supports tree planting projects around the world and has as of November 2020 helped plant over 112 million trees.
-Support a Biochar Project. WarmheartWorldWide.org teaches farmers across Thailand to make biochar out of agricultural waste instead of burning it. This not only helps prevent air pollution, but it also makes the soil more fertile, resulting in less deforestation.
- Support mangrove restoration projects by donating to nonprofits like the Mangrove Action Project
- Boycott companies like Nestle who clear cut rainforests in order to grow palm oil.
- Support sustainable farming techniques. Phuket Farmers Club is a locally based group of artisans and farmers trying to promote a sustainable lifestyle.
- Eat less beef, pork, and shrimp, all of which contribute to greenhouse gases, deforestation and pollution. If everyone ate a plant-based diet, we would need half the land we currently use to farm.
- Garden, go for a walk, run, swim, hike, surf, dive, or sail. The more you enjoy being a part of nature, the more it will motivate you to protect it.
David Attenborough concludes A Life On Our Planet by saying “It’s not about saving the planet it’s about saving ourselves.” Nature is both resilient and intelligent. If we work with it rather than against it we can return the Earth to a time before the fires, floods, droughts, deforestation, hurricanes and global pandemic that we are seeing today. If not for ourselves, then for our children. We need to learn to live in balance with the planet rather than at odds with it. There is no other choice.
Palmer Owyoung is an environmental activist working with the Kamala Green Club and the Global Sustainability Hub.