Unbeknownst to the world, a quiet crisis is unfolding across every continent of the planet – trees are dying at an alarming rate, leaving many to wonder about the long-term climate effects of this troubling phenomenon.
By this point, the majority of people are aware of some of the most devastating effects of climate change and human activity. The rapidly declining bee population, for example, has become a topic that is often reported on by the media. However, the huge number of trees that die around the world has yet to receive the attention it deserves.
Hundreds of thousands of trees in forests around the world are dying every year. A combination of deforestation and climate change has decimated some of the world’s most critical ecosystems — forests. As a result, hundreds of thousands of animals and plant species have become endangered or, in some cases, extinct.
Up until recently, we had no indication of the extent of the damage caused to the world’s surplus of trees. However, with the release of a 2015 study, the severity of the issue was finally brought to light. The study, published in Nature, estimates that 46% of the world’s trees have been cleared over the past 12,000 years.
Today, the planet is home to around 3.04 trillion trees, the study estimates. Meanwhile, every year, around 15.3 billion trees are chopped down. However, deforestation is not the only contributing factor to this pressing issue. Climate change is also believed to be severely affecting the health of our forests.
In the state of California, for example, an additional 36 million trees across the state have died since its last aerial survey in May 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced. In 2016, an estimated 62 million trees died in California’s drought-stricken forests – a 100 percent increase on the previous year. Since 2010, the state has lost over 102 million trees, with experts predicting the situation to worsen over the coming months.
The die-off of trees is also being witnessed in the forests of many parts of America and around the world. The ohi’a trees of Hawaii have suffered catastrophic declines due to a disease now referred to as ohi’a disease. Since its outbreak in 2010, the disease has ravaged the United States’ only rainforests and infected nearly 50,000 acres of native forest on the big island. Scientists have yet to determine the origins of the disease or develop a treatment.
“It was like popcorn – pop, pop, pop, pop, one tree after another,” said Friday, a forest ecologist at the University of Hawaii. “At first people were shocked, now they are resigned.
“It’s heartbreaking. This is the biggest threat to our native forests that any of us have seen. If this spreads across the whole island, it could collapse the whole native ecosystem.”
Although the cause of this phenomenon is yet to be determined, evidence suggests that climate change is largely contributing to the issue. Meanwhile, in Canada “insect eruptions” have expanded their range in British Columbia. Climate change has brought along weather conditions that have weakened the trees defenses and increased the breeding period of bark beetles and mountain pine beetles, which have spread to the Yukon border.
Drought, disease, insects and wildfire are mercilessly destroying forests across the world. The health of trees, like all living plants on Earth, is a crucial component to keeping ecosystems stable and balanced. Tropical forests, which cover less than 7% of the Earth, produce around 20 percent of the world’s oxygen and are home to approximately 50 percent of the living species on the planet.
The health of the world’s forests will likely be one of the deciding factors of our future. Our survival, and that of the majority of the planet’s species, depends on these incredible ecosystems for survival. As a result, it is time to acknowledge and address this pressing issue before it escalates beyond our control.
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