Menu Menu

Why we should talk more about Europe’s rapidly growing forests

With laser-like focus on deforestation in the Amazon, we’ve forgotten to celebrate the growth of forests around us and the job they’re doing to sustain our natural world.

The Amazon rainforest tends to make headlines whenever wildfires begin, as entire ecosystems and species are irreversibly destroyed.

But more frequently, it’s human-led deforestation that captures the attention of international news. As many will already know, 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been cleared in the last fifty years in order to make room for farming.

This vast landscape has been regarded as the lungs of the Earth, a vital carbon sink that contributes to balancing the planet’s temperature, weather patterns, and therefore affecting the livelihoods of all people.

So when it’s destroyed by humans, the global response is naturally an emotional one.

That said, placing this heavy responsibility on the Amazon has turned our attention away from the importance and capabilities of local forests. And in that way, news stories have forgotten about European forest lands which are expanding quite significantly.

Over the last thirty years, European woodlands – which make up 5 percent of the world’s forests – have grown by 9 percent. As a result, the volume of wood in the trees and amount of carbon dioxide stored inside them has increased by 50 percent.

As people abandon rural regions in favour of metropolitan cities, nature has had an even better opportunity to take over. But as we continue to glorify the Amazon rainforest as our only hope for clean air, local forests have been taken for granted for the job they do.

Between 1990 and 2015, forests in the European region have expanded to an area the size of Portugal thanks to strict conservation laws, biodiversity protection, landscape maintenance, and careful resource use.

These measures were only put in place once modern Europeans stopped clearing forests to create croplands, residential areas, and to increase space for the booming industrial sector.

Across the Atlantic, Brazil’s relationship with their forest looks quite different. For this nation still on the economic come up, clearing sections of the Amazon has been the golden ticket to lifting a nation that has long been tied down by poverty.

For many workers vilified for being in the business of clearing the rainforest, their jobs are simply a matter of survival and necessity, with many doing so to feed their families. Unlike the West, with its diversified economy, using the rainforest is the most viable option.

It has frustrated the leader of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, that international scientists, ecologists, and world leaders to have such a strong emotional connection to the forestlands on South American soil.

Bolsonaro has regularly reminded European leaders that the Amazon belongs to Brazil, meaning only local people and leaders have the right to determine what happens to it.

His views are obviously controversial – none of us want to live in a world where the Amazon has been completely wiped out – but when the Amazon is a vital source of income for so many, the rest of the world will need a different approach.

Rather than chastising presidents, farmers, and other workers in the Amazon, sustainable development projects would need to happen on the ground for stronger environmental protection laws to be put in place.

Workers in Brazil could then see how they – and their families – would benefit from this modified practice, rather than having outside forces storm in to halt their operations for the sake of their own safety.

The carbon credit economy should also be opened up so that countries with pristine, untouched carbon sinks (like in the West African country of Gabon) can boost their economy by trading carbon credits rather than chopping their forests for export reasons.

In the meantime, there should be more noise about the health and growth of our own forests, which have basically been ignored. We should place further value on these spaces of nature in Europe – especially when most of us are living in cramped up, polluted cities.

It’s worth noting that many people in Brazil share the view that the destruction of the Amazon is an environmental catastrophe. Perhaps when a member of Gen-Z becomes President they’ll begin the process of fostering the rainforest, just as Europe did.

Until then, pointing fingers at Brazilian people who are just trying to survive isn’t fair. Taking a hard look at the companies we buy from that source products grown in the Amazon might be a better place to start.