With the world growing at a pace hard to match, the increasing need for space is turning out to be an area of concern. With a desperate need for land for agricultural, industrial and most importantly, urban requirements to contain cities and their growing population, a direct action that we have come to recognize as “Deforestation” occurs.
Deforestation, in simple terms, means the felling and clearing of forest cover or tree plantations to accommodate agricultural, industrial or urban use. It involves the permanent end of forest cover to make that land available for residential, commercial or industrial purposes.
According to Wikipedia:
“Deforestation, clearance, clearcutting or clearing is the removal of a forest or stand of trees from land which is then converted to a non-forest use. Deforestation can involve conversion of forest land to farms, ranches, or urban use. The most concentrated deforestation occurs in tropical rainforests.”
Over the last century, the forest cover around the globe has been significantly compromised, leaving the green cover down to an all-time low of about 30 percent. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), an estimated 18 million acres (7.3 million hectares) of forest are lost each year.
Deforestation can also be seen as removal of forests leading to several imbalances, both ecologically and environmentally. What makes deforestation alarming is the immediate and long term effects it is bound to inflict if continued at the current pace. Some predictions state that the rainforests of the world will be eradicated if deforestation continues at its current pace.
Read here more about 51 facts about deforestation.
Deforestation or clearance occurs due to several reasons. To get a clear overview, we could include the need for money, both in terms of profitability as well as providing for one’s family in most scenarios, along with lack of or no forest laws, need for land space for housing etc. among a long list of other uses.
Although primarily blamed on agricultural or pastoral use, farmers usually cut trees for increasing space for cultivation and as fodder land for grazing and surviving livestock. The whole concept of ‘slash and burn’ agriculture is used to indicate this same process where farmers employ the above chain of actions for their purposes.
Primary Causes of Deforestation
1. Agricultural Activities
As earlier mentioned in the overview, agricultural activities are one of the significant factors affecting deforestation. According to the FAO, agriculture leads to around 80% of deforestation.
Due to the overgrowing demand for food products, a huge amount of trees are felled to grow crops, and 33% of agriculture-caused deforestation is because of subsistence agriculture.
2. Livestock Ranching
Livestock is believed to be responsible for about 14% of global deforestation. Farmers often clear the land by cutting down trees and burning them to raise livestock and grow food. They continue to use the property until the soil is completely degraded and repeat the same process on new woodland.
Eventually, it’ll reforest, but it will take many years to return to its original condition. Surprisingly, over the past 40 years, the forest area has reduced by almost 40 percent, and during the same period, pasture regions and cattle populations have grown significantly and rapidly.
3. Illegal Logging
Apart from this, wood-based industries like paper, match-sticks, furniture, etc. also need a substantial amount of wood supply. Wood is used as fuel, both directly and indirectly.
Therefore trees are chopped for meeting the demand for supplies. Firewood and charcoal are examples of wood being used as fuel. Some of these industries thrive on illegal wood cutting and felling of trees.
Further, to gain access to these forests, the construction of roads is undertaken; here again, trees are chopped to build roads. Overpopulation too directly affects forest covers, as with the expansion of cities, more land is needed to establish housing and settlements. Therefore forest land is reclaimed.
5. Desertification of Land
Some of the other factors that lead to deforestation are also partly natural and partly anthropogenic, like desertification of land. It occurs due to land abuse, making it unfit for the growth of trees. Many industries in petrochemicals release their waste into rivers, which results in soil erosion and make it unfit to grow plants and trees.
Oil and coal mining requires a considerable amount of forest land. Apart from this, roads and highways have to be built to make way for trucks and other equipment. The waste that comes out from mining pollutes the environment and affects the nearby species.
7. Forest Fires
Another valid example would be forest blazes; hundreds of trees are lost each year due to forest fires in various portions of the world. It happens due to extreme warm summers and milder winters. Fires, whether caused by man or nature, results in a massive loss of forest cover.
According to the Environment Paper Network, the paper that’s thrown away each year accounts for approximately 640 million trees. America, China, Canada, Japan, constitute more than that of the world’s paper production, and that is 400 million tons a year.
If we recycled, that could save 27.5 million tons of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere. We allow the forests to continue to remain as a favorable ecosystem and wildlife habitat if we use recycled paper.
The overpopulation requires more land to establish housing and settlements. It generates a significant need for food and farmland to grow food and raise livestock. It automatically requires many more roads and highways for transport and communication—all these results in deforestation. Logging industries cut down trees for furniture, paper, building materials, and many more products.
Moreover, the growing human population is directly linked to deforestation. Therefore, it becomes almost essential to purchase from sustainable companies that actively work against deforestation.
Effects of Deforestation
1. Climate Imbalance and Climate Change
Deforestation also affects the climate in many ways. Forests are the lungs of our planet. Trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen and water vapor in the air, and that is why tropical rainforests are extremely humid.
Trees also provide shade that keeps the soil moist. All these are compromised with the lack of trees. It leads to the imbalance in the atmospheric temperature, drier climate, further making conditions for the ecology difficult that leads to climate change.
Several animals and plant species that form the flora and fauna across the world are vastly accustomed to their natural habitat. Therefore, haphazard clearance of forests would make it very difficult for them to survive or to shift from their native environment or adapt to new habitats.
When a forest is cut down, the humidity levels come down and cause the remaining plants to dry out. The drying out tropical rainforests increases fire damage that destroys forests rapidly and harms wild animals as well as humans.
Forests and climate are linked intrinsically. Forest loss and degradation are both a cause and an effect of our changing climate. At the same time, deforestation is self-perpetuating.
Therefore, these occurrences are dangerous and fuel further deforestation. Also, the loss of trees allows for flooding, soil erosion, desertification, and higher temperatures to occur more rapidly and exponentially.
2. Increase in Global Warming
Trees play a major role in controlling global warming. The trees utilize greenhouse gases, restoring the balance in the atmosphere. With constant deforestation, the ratio of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased, adding to our global warming woes.
3. Increase in Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Forests help to mitigate carbon dioxide and other toxic greenhouse gas emissions. However, once they’re cut, burned, or otherwise removed, they become carbon sources.
It’s estimated that deforestation is responsible for around 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and due to tropical deforestation, 1.5 billion tons of carbon is released every year in the atmosphere.
4. Soil Erosion
Trees are also crucial for our local water cycles as they keep on returning water vapor to the atmosphere. The soil remains moist as the rainwater percolates within the soil.
The fertile soil is held in place by intricate root structures of many layers of trees. With the clearance of tree cover, the land is directly exposed to the sun, making it dry.
Without trees, erosion often occurs and sweeps the land into nearby rivers and streams. Forests serve as nature’s water purification plants. Soil erosion makes soil exposed to contaminants that leach into the water supply, which damages the quality of our drinking water.
When it rains, trees absorb and store a large amount of water with the help of their roots. When they are cut down, the flow of water is disrupted, and the soil loses its ability to retain water. It leads to floods in some areas and droughts in others.
6. Wildlife Extinction & Habitat Loss
Due to the massive felling down of trees, various animal species are lost. They lose their habitat and also forced to move to a new location. Many of them are even pushed to extinction.
Our world has lost innumerable species of plants and animals in the last couple of decades. A study of the Brazilian Amazon forecasts that up to 90% of predicted extinctions will occur until the next 40 years.
7. Acidic Oceans
The increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere due to deforestation and burning fossil fuels make our oceans more acidic. Since the Industrial Revolution, beaches are already 30 percent more acidic, posing ocean species and ecosystems at extreme risk.
8. The Decline in Life Quality of People
People in millions all over the world depend on forests for hunting, small-scale agriculture, gathering, and medicine. Everyday materials we use, such as latex, cork, fruit, nuts, natural oils, and resins are found in the tropical forests.
Deforestation disrupts the lives of millions of people. In Southeast Asia, deforestation has contributed to social conflict and migration. Poor people from Brazil have been lured from their villages to soy plantations where they are abused and forced at gunpoint to work under inhumane conditions.
9. Food Insecurity in the Future
Deforestation for food may result in food insecurity in the future. Currently, 52% of all the land used for food production is moderately or severely impacted by soil erosion. In the long term, the lack of fertile soil can lead to low yields and food insecurity.
10. Loss of Biodiversity
Deforestation leads to a huge loss of biodiversity. About 80% of the global biodiversity is located in tropical rainforests. Forests not only provide habitats for wildlife but also foster medicinal conservation.
The forest acts as a critical medium to preserve the wide variety of species. It also destroys the microbial community that is responsible for the production of clean water, the removal of pollutants and the recycling of nutrients.
Solutions to Deforestation
1. Government Regulations
The best solution to deforestation is to curb the felling of trees by enforcing a series of rules and laws to govern it. Deforestation in the current scenario may have reduced; however, it would be too early to assume.
The money-churner nature of forest resources can be tempting enough for deforestation to continue.
2. Banning Clear-Cutting of Forests
This will curb the total depletion of the forest cover. It is a practical solution and is very feasible.
3. Reforestation and Afforestation
Land skinned of its tree cover for urban settlements should be urged to plant trees in the vicinity and replace the cut trees. Also, the cutting must be replaced by planting young trees to replace the older ones that were cut.
Trees are being planted under several initiatives every year, but they still don’t match the numbers of the ones we’ve already lost.
4. Reduce Consumption of Paper
Your daily consumption of paper includes printing paper, notebooks, napkins, toilet paper, etc. Try to reduce consumption, reduce waste of paper and also opt for recycled paper products.
Make life simple such as printing/writing on both sides of the paper, using less toilet paper, avoiding paper plates, and napkins and wherever possible, go paperless.
5. Educate Others
Still, many are entirely unaware of the global warming problem we’re facing. Educate your friends, family, and community by sharing the deforestation facts, and its causes and effects. You can make an impact!
6. Eat Less Meat
Livestock rearing has become one of the leading causes of deforestation. Try to eat less meat. It may be hard for some people to try. However, eating less meat, even just for one meal a day, will also make an extreme impact on the environment.
7. Purchase from Sustainable, Forest-Friendly Companies
Try to purchase from companies that are committed to reducing deforestation. Asian Pulp and Paper, Disney, L’Oreal, Hershey, Unilever, Willmar International are deforestation-free.
8. Reduce Consumption of Deforestation Prone Products
Palm oil is a common ingredient in absolutely everything we see around us. Make it a simple habit to get a quick peek at the ingredients. Soybeans are another deforestation hotspot.
Try finding ways to reduce consumption or opting for organic, local soy products and, if possible, avoid it completely.