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Earth’s Forests

Watch this video to find out why Dr Simon Gosling believes there is a growing need to manage the Earth's resources sustainably.
Session 7 already in the course. And this time, we’ve got two different focal points. We’ve got our colleague here, Simon Gosling, who’s a geographer. Hello, Simon. Hi, Sarah. And then a bit later on, we’re also going to have a look at sustainable chemistry. But Tom and I want to talk about forests with Simon. So let me start. Simon, why are the world’s forests so important? Well, they’re important for a number of reasons. The first reason is to do with cultural values. Now, a good number of people actually live within forests. There’s very rare and important indigenous populations living in some of the world’s forests.
And they hold very important cultural and spiritual values with those environments in which they’ve lived for hundreds of years, at times. So it’s becoming increasingly important, essentially, that we’re able to sustain those cultures living within them. Secondly, there’s this issue of biodiversity. Forests are probably the richest source of biodiversity in the world. Take the Amazon, for instance. Something like 40% of the total world’s biodiversity alone is located just within the Amazon rainforest. And the third reason they’re important is to do with something called ecosystem services. Now, that term is often used to try and summarise what some of the benefits can be that we can actually get from the world’s ecosystems.
Now, in terms of the Amazon, that provides a really important regulating ecosystem service. And what I mean by that is that the Amazon is incredibly good at absorbing carbon from the Earth’s atmosphere and then storing it. And what would happen is you’ll see the carbon is actually stored within those trees until they’re essentially felled or the trees actually die. So they actually have a very important way of actually regulating the Earth’s climate system. It’s incredibly important in that aspect. So what’s the impact of climate change upon forests? Well, if we actually look back at the past, we start to get an idea on what might happen in the future.
Now in 2005 and 2010, there were two major droughts to affect the Amazon. And what they were associated with, they were associated with the large amounts of tree loss. You know, a lot of trees died as a result of this drought, simply because there was less water around. But also, there were knock-on effects. So secondary impacts on the biodiversity in the region. Now, what people have done is they’ve said, well, OK, we’ve looked back at 2005 and 2010, and we’ve seen that there’s some quite negative effects there. What we can do as is run climate models forwards and try and assess and simulate what might actually happen as the Earth’s climate changes over the next 50 to 80 years.
And what a number of these studies have found is that there’s a suggestion that you might end up with something called a positive feedback mechanism occurring. Now what that means is essentially, you have this initial period of warming, so due to human-based emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Then as the climate warms, that actually cause a reduction in the amount of rainfall and a lot of drying, particularly in the Amazon. And that drying is associated with tree loss. As those trees die, that carbon then ends up in the atmosphere, thus actually increasing the rate at which the warming is occurring.
And you end up with that very vicious circle, a positive feedback mechanism, where the global warming actually continues to increase as a result of that dieback. And that’s actually something we have a look at in quite a lot of detail in this session. That doesn’t sound like a very positive picture for the world’s rainforests. Is there anything that’s being done at the moment to sort of try and alleviate the effects of climate change within the world’s rainforests? Well, there is some good news. I mean, we’ve realised, we’ve seen these past events in 2005 and 2010, and we acknowledge it’s a major problem. So there’s been numerous efforts now going into actually trying to make forestry more sustainable.
Now, those range from things right from global scale projects down to individual things that you and I can actually do. Now, I’ll give you a couple of examples, and we’ll have a look at it in quite a lot of detail in this session, actually. But one of them is something called Plant-for-the-Planet Foundation, and that was a scheme set up by the United Nations Environment Programme in 2006. And what they set out to do was to get people to essentially pledge to plant trees. Their overall aim was to try and get one billion pledges. So have one billion extra trees planted. Interestingly, by 2012, it actually hit 12 billion. So it’s actually been a really successful project.
And as I said, this was a global scale thing. It was set up by United Nations Environment Programme. But it was something that individuals could take part in. A lot of businesses, for instance, a major hotel group, for instance, signed up to this. And if you went into one of the hotel rooms, there’d be little plaques in the bathroom, for instance, saying that they’d signed up to this. And that by making sure that you weren’t putting your towels in the bath everyday to get them washed, as a result, they would plant trees under this scheme. Something else is the Forest Stewardship Council, the FSC, more commonly known as.
And what the FSC is, it’s an accreditation scheme whereby, say, you’re a business involved in forestry, so you might be making paper-based products, for instance. What you can do is you can approach the FSC and say, well, we’d like to become accredited to demonstrate that we’re actually engaged in sustainable forestry. And what the FSC will do, they’ll take a look and see how you actually use wood-based products, for instance, how you conduct your business practises with regards to forestry. And then if they’re satisfied that you meet their criteria, you’d be FSC accredited. So, for example, I brought my lunch along here, actually. And this is a decision I’ve made to try and be more sustainable.
And its an example of how just people like you and I, individually, can actually do something that contributes towards overall sustainability of global forests. And it’s got the FSC logo on it. And this is just in some sandwich packaging. But if you look around, if you look around your office, or at home, for instance, you can find on your printer paper, for instance. That might be something that’s been FSC accredited. Back at home, for instance, we’re having some work done in our kitchen at the moment. The wood that we’ve used in that has been FSC accredited.
And there’s all these little things that you can do that when you combine them together across what you’re doing as an individual, and other individuals as well, can actually start to make quite a big difference. And it comes back to this term, to think globally but act locally. And it’s a really nice example, I think, of how individuals like you and I can actually do something about that. Thank you ever so much for that, Simon. OK, that’s it for forestry. But watch out later on in this session for some more information about sustainable chemistry.

In this session our geographer, Dr Simon Gosling, discusses the significance of the world’s forests for sustainability.

First in the video, and then in more detail in the reading that follows, Simon discusses why there is a growing need to manage the Earth’s forests sustainably. He discusses this in two contexts: first, within the context of global climate change because forests provide an important ecosystem service. Our forests absorb and store CO2 from the atmosphere, which helps to limit global warming. Destruction of the Earth’s forests therefore has a very real potential to negatively affect the global climate system, if they are not managed sustainably.

Secondly, Simon explores how we can manage our forests sustainably. He shows us the evidence of sustainable forest management in our everyday lives; eg, through the products we use and purchase regularly. He helps us grow our awareness of how the principles of sustainability – specifically sustainable forest management – are something that we can support through our everyday choices as a consumer.

Those of you in China can also view this video on our Tudou channel.

Think about: forests and woodlands are regular features of our childhoods – either as places to play, or as the settings for fairy tales and stories. Why do you think this is? Feel free to share a photo via Flickr.

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