Deforestation affects mental health

Our toxic habit of overharvesting what nature has provided has both environmental and personal implications if resources fail to be proportionally replenished.

The most commonly examined effects of deforestation are loss of habitat, climate change and global warming. However, the presence (or absence) vegetation can also have an impact on the mental health of society.

A recent study showed clear evidence that cities with abundant vegetation and rich bird life readily encountered by people, have a positive effect on residents’ happiness by lowering levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

The study, published in BioScience, suggests that, “even low levels of key components of neighbourhood nature can be associated with better mental health, providing promise for preventative health approaches”.

It showed that nature only has to be present and visible for people to reap its benefits. The study demonstrates that “of five neighbourhood nature characteristics tested, vegetation cover and afternoon bird abundances were positively associated with a lower prevalence of depression, anxiety, and stress”.

In light of this and in the wake of the rollover of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement late last year and the extension of three Victorian regional forest agreements in March, the Greens have called for a full and transparent inquiry into the future of our forests and woodlands, to examine what needs to be done to ensure the environmental, social and economic sustainability of our resources and the communities and workers that rely on them.

Greens forests spokesperson Senator Janet Rice said: “Destructive logging continues in high conservation value native forests, wrecking our water catchments, carbon stores, and wildlife habitat. The combination of native forest logging and landclearing is sending too much of our precious wildlife hurtling towards extinction.

“With timber resources running out and species on the brink without robust national environmental laws in place, the [federal] government’s policy of blindly rolling over the logging laws is short-sighted and untenable.”

As well as the obvious impact on native animals’ habitat, the bulk removal of trees can also indirectly affect animals that do not necessarily live in the trees themselves. Removing part of a forest’s canopy alters the amount of sunlight and moisture absorbed by the soil and smaller plants, subsequently altering the habitat of the entire ecosystem in that area.

This change in heat and moisture absorption is a major contributor to climate change. The disruption to the water cycle, particularly evaporation levels and an increase in direct sunlight, changes conditions for all nearby plants and animals. Through deprivation of moisture, which is vital for the transpiration of nutrients and the process of photosynthesis, the lower level vegetation will cease to exist.

The decrease in tree population and vegetation also means a decrease in greenhouse gas absorption, leading to the acceleration of global warming.

We cannot continue to destroy the natural world faster than it can be replenished. If we cannot live harmoniously with nature and embrace the concept of happiness in a simple life, we will continue to face the ever-increasing levels of environmental as well as personal impacts of deforestation.

[Thomas J Tierney is a high school student in Toowoomba.]

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