World Wildlife Day: How Clean Power Plays a Role in Protecting Forests
Alex "Solar Girl" Steele
March 3rd is World Wildlife Day! Today is an international day of awareness for the plants and animals that make our planet so vibrant and ecologically diverse. This day is inspired by the date that the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1973. It is considered the most important global event dedicated to wildlife!
This year, the theme of World Wildlife Day is “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet”. The focus of this theme is around how Earth’s forests and the organisms living in them provide valuable ecosystem services for the health and wellness of the entire planet! We wanted to take some time to identify how the ecosystem services of the world’s forests are integral to the survival of humans, and how clean energy plays a part in protecting our forests so they can continue providing us with crucial resources.
Ecosystem services can be defined as the benefits humans get from an ecosystem. Plants, animals, microbes, fungi, and even water and minerals all interact to carry out natural cycles that sustain the health of the ecosystem, but also have positive effects on the human population. These can be broken down into four main categories: provisioning services, regulating services, supporting services and cultural services.
Provisioning services are physical goods that we obtain from forests, such as food, lumber, water, and fuel. Regulating services are processes that an ecosystem naturally does that make our planet habitable, such as climate regulation, water purification, and crop pollination. Supporting services are processes such as soil formation and nutrient cycling, which are naturally occurring mechanisms that prepare the ecosystem to complete provisioning and regulating services. Finally, cultural services are ways we can interact with the environment that better us spiritually, recreationally, or personally. For example, the positive experiences we glean from spending time in nature, the things we can learn from it, and the reverence peoples have for the nature they live among can all be considered cultural services that the environment affords us. Without these benefits, there would be less joy and health in our world!
So, we know that our forests and the organisms that live there provide us with priceless resources just by carrying out their natural activities. But how do humans return the favor? Although many of us probably feel quite separated from nature, we are all part of the same biosphere, and our actions can be felt by the plants and animals in the world’s forests. Sometimes, human activity can harm ecology - for example, burning fossil fuels creates more greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, which can upset the natural balance of nitrogen, phosphorus and CO2 trees need to grow and produce oxygen. However, our actions can also protect and foster longevity for Earth’s forests!
We recently wrote about how a diverse energy mix is important for protecting our communities. Believe it or not, a diverse energy mix can also protect our forests! One of the most obvious examples of this is the development of renewables like solar and wind - these carbon-free energy generation processes offset greenhouse gas emissions, making it easier for trees to produce oxygen. However, we can protect forests from other harms by interacting directly with them! Biomass is fuel sourced from natural materials such as lumber byproducts after forestry. It is a sustainable resource which does release CO2, but it can be carbon neutral if reforestation is completed at the same rate that biomass is burned. Harvesting biomass can prevent large scale forest fires from occurring, which keep people and animals safe. Forest fires are a natural phenomenon that play a key role in the recycling of nutrients in wooded areas, but a buildup of biomass in forested areas can result in massive fires that get out of control fast, putting everyone in serious danger. The goal of sustainable forestry is to harness the provisioning services of forests while mitigating human impacts on the ecosystem through reforestation, reducing the risk of uncontrollable forest fires by harvesting excess flammable biomass for energy production.
Like everything in life, our relationship with nature must be balanced. What we take from the planet, we have to be sure to give back, so we can maintain reciprocity with the systems that provide us with valuable resources. We can protect our forests and meet our planet’s energy needs by combining carbon-free power production resources with properly managed sustainable forestry. By continuing to develop sustainable and renewable energy, we can protect the forests that keep our planet healthy and green. We hope you take some time to thank the forests for all they do for us today!