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BBC – Future – What if all the trees of the world were gone?



In The Mad Max: The Road of Rage, Charlize Theron's Furiosis seeks to return to the Green Place – a tree-filled oasis in the otherwise lifeless wasteland that Earth has transformed. However, when Furiosa arrives at the sacred site, she finds only skeletal trunks and scattered dunes. She screams in grief. Without trees, all hope seems lost.

The feelings of Furios were justified. "Forests are the life of our world," said Meg Lawman, director of the Tree Foundation, a Florida-based nonprofit organization dedicated to tree research, exploration and education. "Without them, we lose exceptional and essential functions for life on Earth."

Tree services on this planet range from carbon conservation and soil conservation to water cycle regulation. They maintain natural and human food systems and provide homes for countless species ̵

1; including us, through building materials. Yet we often refer to trees as disposable: as something that must be harvested for economic gain or as a nuisance in the path of human development. Since our species began farming about 12,000 years ago, we have cleared nearly half of the estimated 5.8 trillion trees in the world, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Nature.

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Much of deforestation has occurred in recent years. Since the beginning of the industrial era, forests have decreased by 32%. Especially in the tropics, many of the world's three trillion trees are falling rapidly, with about 15 billion cut down each year, according to Naturestudy. In many places the loss of trees is accelerating. In August, the National Space Research Institute showed an 84% increase in fires in the Amazon rainforest compared to the same period in 2018. The cuts and burns are also increasing, especially in Indonesia and Madagascar.

But unless we have an unimaginable catastrophe, there is no scenario in which every tree on the planet is dropped. But imagining a dystopian, Max-style crazy world in which all the trees on Earth suddenly died can help us gauge how lost we would be without them.

There will be a mass extinction of all groups of organisms, both locally and globally – by James Prevedello

"Let me start with just how terrible a world without trees would be – they are irreplaceable," says Isabel Rosa. Lecturer in Data and Environmental Analysis at Bangor University in Wales. "If we get rid of all the trees, we will be living [on] a planet that actually can't sustain us."

For starters, if the trees disappear overnight, then much of the planet's biodiversity would be there. Habitat loss is already a major driver of global extinction, so destroying all other forests would be "catastrophic" for plants, animals, mushrooms and more, says James Prevedello, an ecologist at Rio de Janeiro State University in Brazil. "There will be mass extinction of all groups of organisms, both locally and globally."

The wave of extinction will extend beyond the forests, depleting wildlife that depends on both single trees and small tree plantations. . In 2018, Prevedello and his colleagues found, for example, that the total species richness was 50 to 100% higher in areas with scattered trees than in open areas. "Even a single isolated tree in an open area can act as a 'biodiversity magnet', attracting and providing resources for many animals and plants," says Translated. "Therefore, the loss of even individual trees can have a serious impact on local biodiversity."

The climate of the planet will also be drastically changed in the short and long term. Trees mediate the water cycle by acting as biological pumps: they extract water from the soil and deposit it into the atmosphere, transforming it from liquid to steam. In this way, forests contribute to the formation of clouds and rainfall. Trees also prevent flooding by trapping water instead of releasing it into lakes and rivers and by buffering coastal communities from storms. They keep the soil in a place that would otherwise wash away in the rain, and their root structures help microbial communities thrive.

Without trees, the former forest areas would become drier and more susceptible to extreme droughts. When the rain comes, the flood will be catastrophic. Mass erosion would affect the oceans, suffocating coral reefs and other marine habitats. Tree-deprived islands will lose their barriers to the ocean and many will be washed away. "Removing trees means losing huge amounts of land in the ocean," says Thomas Crowther, global system ecologist at ETH Zurich in Switzerland and lead author of Naturestudy for 2015.

In addition to water cycle mediation, trees have a localized cooling effect. They provide shade that maintains soil temperatures and, as the darkest thing in the landscape, they absorb heat rather than reflect it. In the process of evaporation, they also channel energy from solar radiation into the conversion of liquid water to steam. With all the cooling services lost, most places where trees had previously stood would immediately warm up. In another study, Prevedello and his colleagues found that the complete removal of 25 sq. Km of forest caused local annual temperatures to rise by at least 2C in tropical areas and 1C in temperate regions.

Globally, trees are combating warming caused by climate change, storing carbon in their trunks and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Deforestation already accounts for 13% of global carbon emissions, according to an IPCC report published in August, while land-use change as a whole represents 23% of emissions. When all the trees on the planet are deleted, pre-afforested ecosystems "would only become a source of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, not sinking," says Paolo D & Odorico, professor of environmental science at UC Berkeley.

Large amounts of carbon would leak out into the oceans, causing extreme acidification and killing probably everything but jellyfish. have contributed. For a while, this effect will be offset by smaller plants and grasses. But while smaller plants capture carbon at a faster rate than trees, they also release carbon at a faster rate. After all – perhaps in a few decades – these plants will no longer be able to cope with the coming warming. "The timeline depends on where you are, because degradation is much faster in the tropics than in the Arctic," says D'Odorico. "But once carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere, it doesn't matter if it comes from here or there."

Because decomposition slowly detonates this pumping carbon bomb, Earth will become an "extremely" warmer planet, Crowther says – likes. that we haven't had since before the trees developed. Large amounts of carbon would also leak out into the oceans, causing extreme acidification and possibly killing everything but jellyfish.

The sufferings of humanity will begin long before the catastrophic global warming. Increased heat, disruption of the water cycle and loss of shade would cost a deadly toll on billions of people and livestock. Poverty and death would also fall for many of the 1.6 billion people who currently rely directly on forests for subsistence, including food and medicine collection. Still, people will find themselves unable to cook or heat their homes, given the lack of firewood. Throughout the world, those whose jobs revolve around trees – be they loggers or paper producers, fruit growers or carpenters – would suddenly lose their jobs, devastating the global economy. The lumber sector alone employs 13.2 million people and generates $ 600 billion (£ 500 billion) each year, according to the World Bank.

Agricultural systems would also swing. The shade of coffee crops will diminish dramatically, as will those who rely on pollinators inhabiting trees. Due to fluctuations in temperature and rainfall, sites that previously produced crops will suddenly fail, while others that were previously inappropriate may become desirable. Over time, however, soils would be depleted everywhere, requiring significant fertilizers to survive crops. Further heating would eventually make most places unworkable and uninhabitable.

In addition to these devastating changes, they would have an impact on health. Trees clean the air by absorbing contaminants and trapping dust particles on leaves, branches and trunks. US Forest Service researchers estimate that trees in the US alone remove 17.4 million tons of air pollution each year, a $ 6.8 billion (5.6 billion pounds) service. As a result, at least 850 lives have been saved and at least 670,000 cases of acute respiratory problems are avoided.

D & Odorico adds that we may also observe outbreaks of rare or new diseases transmitted by species that are not normally in contact with. He and his colleagues found that the transmission of Ebola to humans occurs in hot weather. points of fragmentation of the forest. Sudden loss of forests everywhere can cause a temporary spike in our exposure to zoonotic infections such as Ebola, Nipa virus and West Nile virus, he says, as well as mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue.

A growing body of research also points to the fact that trees and nature are beneficial to our mental well-being. The New York State Department of Environmental Protection, for example, recommends walking in the woods to improve overall health, including reducing stress, increasing energy levels and improving sleep. Trees also help the body recover: A 1984 study found that patients recovering from surgery had a shorter hospital stay if they had a green view than one brick wall. More recent research has found that spending time around grass and trees reduces symptoms in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and numerous studies have also documented a positive link between green space and children's school performances. Trees can even help combat crime: a study found that a 10% increase in tree cover is associated with a 12% decrease in crime in Baltimore.

Forest bathing is now a medical prescription in Japan – Katie Willis [19659008] "So many things that lead to physical and mental wellbeing problems can be greatly reduced by spending time in a forested environment," Katie says Willis, Professor of Biodiversity at Oxford University. "That is why bathing forests are now a medical prescription in Japan."

The loss of trees will also lament on a deep cultural level. Trees are parentheses of countless childhoods and are highly distinguished in art, literature, poetry, music and more. They have been converted to animist religions since prehistoric times and have played prominent roles in other major religions practiced today. The Buddha attained enlightenment after sitting under the Bodhi tree for 49 days while the Hindus worship the Peepal trees which serve as a symbol of Vishnu. In the Torah and the Old Testament, God makes trees on the third day of creation – even before animals or humans – and in the Bible, Jesus dies on a wooden cross made of trees.

"Many people look at forests with dollar signs," Lawman says. "But we never invented a monetary figure for the spiritual significance of the forests."

Even if we could live in a world without trees, who would want? – Thomas Crowther

All told, humans would struggle to survive in a world without trees. The urban, western way of life will quickly become a thing of the past and many of us will die of starvation, heat, drought and floods. The surviving communities, Lawman said, are likely to be those who have retained traditional knowledge of how to live in a tree-less environment, such as Australian natives. Crowther, on the other hand, suspects that life will only last in a Mars-like colony provided by technology and completely divorced from the existence we have always known.

"Even if we could live in a tree-less world that you would like? "Says Crowther. "This planet is unique from everything else we currently know in the universe because of this inexplicable thing called life, and without trees almost everything would be just fucked up."

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