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The Demise of Wood

Firewood

Of all the commodities available to humans, wood is the most active product in today’s economy.

Wood products are used in practically all marketing and manufacturing practices.

There’s no doubt–wood is a precious natural resource worth sustaining.

Consider the amount of paper products used in developed countries like Canada, the United States, and Europe; photocopies, newspapers, magazines, junk mail, and other paper consumables.

The total annual wood product consumption worldwide is more than plastic and steel use combined.

Another fact worth considering is that half of the wood used globally is for fuel.

Close to two billion people are dependent on wood and charcoal as their only source of heat and cooking. 

And 1.5 billion people have less fuel wood to provide for their needs.

Wood Gone Bye

A side note:

Recent information pertaining to this last year’s Christmas tree purchases indicate that Americans spent over $3.4 billion on buying Christmas trees in 2011.  According to Bloomberg’s research, American expenditures for Christmas trees in 2011 breaks down to $800 million spent on 25 million real pine trees and $2.6 billion on 10 million artificial trees.

Of the artificial trees imported from China, 85% are reported to have lead poisoning and flammable concerns.

Approximately 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. alone.

Germany spends over $917 million per year and Canada over $60 million on the purchase of Christmas trees.

You may exclaim, “So what?!

Well — we’re running out of trees…

Global Deforestation

Deforestation is taking place in many parts of our world.  Many industries are cutting down tropical and temperate forests to make soy and palm oil products.

The logging industry is trying to supply the international demand for timber.  Due to population and poverty pressures people are converting forests to farmland and cutting large areas of forests for fuel wood.  And the mining, dam, and oil industries are cutting trees down for roadways, as well.

In addition, many of the products obtained from clearing these forests are gasoline, oil, food, cosmetics, palm oil, paper products, aluminum, metals, gems, and electronic components, to name a few.

According to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, (FAO) estimates, tropical forests in places like Africa and Brazil lose about 1 acre (the size of a football field) every second, every day.  Countries like Haiti was once 80 percent covered with forest; only to have their forest destroyed leaving their land eroded and unproductive.

Consider Ethics

National ParksThere are many ethical issues pertaining to the deforestation of our limited land resources.

On one hand, many species lives are threatened and added deforestation causes increases in carbon emissions which some argue causes climate change.

Others find joy and beauty in our natural resources.  In fact, in the U.S., $4 billion is added to the American economy from timber; whereas, close to $224 billion is provided by forests, and tourism to national parks and places of recreation like fishing, bird watching, hunting, hiking, and camping.

Contrarily, logging provides many jobs and supports many rural communities.

Finding answers to these dilemmas are difficult to uncover.  Solutions depend on our worldviews and values.  Nonetheless, you can help in diminishing the damage caused by deforestation by lowering your impact.

Here are some ways you can help:

  • Use email whenever possible
  • Recycle and reuse–use the back of paper for scratch paper
  • Don’t buy tropical hardwoods like teak, mahogany, rosewood, and ebony
  • Buy products labeled “good wood” or other sustainable harvested wood– FSC 100%; FSC Mixed Sources; FSC Recycled
  • Do purchase Brazil nuts, mushrooms, cashews, rattan furniture and other non-timber products
  • If you camp or hike don’t build bigger or more fires than you need
  • Don’t carve on trees or pound nails in them

What Can We Do?

Our Ecological FootprintOne of the most important questions for those concerned about our environment is how we can live sustainably using our natural resources; to survive and provide food, clothing, and shelter to our families; to economically and emotionally prosper while protecting our environments.

While we’re still in a debate of whether to protect our environment, it’s important to be aware that we’re borrowing the planet.

We are responsible to be cognizant of what’s happening around us for the sake of future generations.

Though there are economical and political concerns pertaining to sustainability and utilizing healthy habits, it’s more of an ethical issue I can’t ignore.

What suggestions can you make to answer this question?


13 comments… add one
  • Tom Oak

    Great post, George! I loved the info you included and the links, thanks 🙂

  • Michael A. Buccilli

    George, thank you for sharing this article. I personally have believed for years that because of our rapid deforestation of our precious ecological tree systems , that we are truly causing many problems. We need trees to help filter extensive carbon dioxide out of the air – I believe this is also causing many other problems.

    • Thank you, as well Michael! Also, thanks for share your concerns! You’re beliefs are well founded. Deforestation causes many other crises. For instance, trees that are burned release the carbon that is stored in wood and leaves; fallen vegetation decays and releases even more carbon. The accumulation of carbon in the soil litter declines and eventually, the soil dries causing soil erosion and water run-off.

      Additionally, existing species become threatened or extinct due to the loss of their food supply. There are more environmental concerns due to the continued loss of trees–too many to mention in one sitting.

  • Thomas Bergel

    An excellent article George. Of course the root of this problem, and many others is the human population exceeding the ability of the planet to sustain it. Recently, the 7 billion point was reached and continues to increase geometrically. The US National Library of Medicine of the National institute of health has determined that the intractable limit to a sustainable human population is about 2000 million (2 billion). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16050245

    There are some, myself included, that believe that with unprecedented, major social and economic reforms, the present population could be sustained into the future at a much reduced but acceptable standard of living. It takes a real optomist though to believe that the magnitude of change that will be necessary will actually occur.

    With the necessary focus, determination and leadership, we have the ability and technology to return this planet to a pristine condition but do we have the resolve?

    • Thank you, Thomas! I concur with your every word. Positive change will require that we push “politics” aside and consider the “ethical” issues pertaining to our environment and ways of life.

      One of the biggest achievements in curtailing exponential population growth is the education, human rights, and healthcare for women in many parts of the world. When women of developing countries receive education and healthcare; and when they are permitted to attend schools and work, epidemiological data shows they reduce the amount of children they bear.

      We need to do more than “hope for the best.” We have to provide insight and awareness, as well as find solutions to the dilemmas we are facing–and will continue to face in the not too distant future.

  • Hi George,

    Unfortunately it’s a depressing topic. Eating less or no meat would help as we continue to clear land for grazing pasture. The move to a paperless society is certainly a step in the right direction as is more sustainable housing.

    Thanks for your research.

    Madonna

    • Thank you for offering your suggestion and comment, Madonna!

      You’re absolutely correct, in that, much of the forests are cleared in order to provide grazing pastures.

      In fact, Africa converts forests into small-scale agriculture which amounts to two-thirds of all tropical forest destruction.

      Additionally, in Latin America, landless farmers, (who comprise of mostly poor indigenous people), are driven off to find refuse and shelter, after a few years of large-scale farmers and ranchers taking over their land.

  • Good points, George. We should point out, though, that Americans are pretty good about conserving and replenshing the resource. Paper companies replant after logging. And with the drop in paper consumption (due primarily to the demise of so many newspapers and magazines), logging has dropped.

    Two or three paper mills in Wisconsin have sold or are trying to sell their timber lands. Thousands of acres go on the market at a time. Interestingly, many people view that as a bad thing, because it opens those lands for development. The paper companies, as noted above, are good stewards of the land.

    Even so, it’s good to be reminded of this issue, especially regarding wood products from other countries. It’s too easy for us Americans to be detached from an issue that has consquences thousands of miles away. Thanks for the reminder.

    • You provided some very encouraging and insightful information pertaining to logging, timber lands, and paper companies, Tom! However, some logging companies are still “clear-cutting” timber, as opposed to better logging practices, like “selective-cutting.”

      Nonetheless, the word is getting out and quantitative data and geographical information systems (GIS) are showing extensive reduction of tropical and temperate forests in the Pacific Northwest, Canada, Brazil, and Africa.

      The reduction of these forest contribute to higher carbon emissions–more carbon emissions than all global transportation emissions.

      Again, thank you for sharing some positive news pertaining to this environmental issues! I look forward to hearing more from you in the future…

      • Hello George,

        When considering the rainforests I completely share your view. That is an area that needs to be saved.
        The Northwest is a different story however. I lived in Washington state for several years and the managed forests (replanting) are in many cases 60+ years old. Replenishing the cut areas is an extreme priority from my experiences and observations. Additionally, selectively cutting is prevalent. Yes, clear cutting is still practiced but the replanting follows.

        Christmas trees are a renewable resource. If the trees were not replanted immediately then that will lead to a broke farmer. The trees that are sold for Christmas are on average 10 year growth. The wise farmer must consider therefore harvests for 2022 this year, as the replanting takes place. I know this because I sold some trees from a direct grower in Oregon this year.
        You have valid points however. We need our oxygen and the old-growth issue is a shame. The rainforests serve many purposes beyond the wood that grows.

        • I appreciate you sharing your experiences, Ronald! In reference to the state of the Pacific Northwest, the U.S. Northwest forest services established scientific studies; taking into consideration local community needs and best practices for land, in 1994.

          The main attempt was to protect the old-growth forest in the long term, and protect wildlife and waterways in the Pacific Northwest; aiming to produce sustainable and predictable levels of timber sales and non-timber resources.

          It is truly a model of protecting a diverse group of living organisms–balancing economical and environmental concerns…thanks again for sharing your thoughts and experiences on this topic!

  • George,

    This is article is so true! We borrow from our planet, but we don’t replace what we take. Yes, pretty soon it will be all gone and the wild life will be gone as well.

    Thanks for providing us the video. I think we all should watch it. Thanks for the advice on what we can do to help.

    Keep up the excellent work! I’ll be looking for your next post.

    Take care,

    Tina

    • Thank you, Tina! In many ecosystems the wood is gone and so is wildlife and other indigenous species.

      We can’t save everything and everyone, but at least we can take a look at what we’re doing and reassess how we are borrowing this planet.

      There’s been progress in some place around the world, but we need to do more; even if it’s only a little…

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