Top 5 Causes of Deforestation Around the Globe

Earth’s forests are under severe stress. Unsurprisingly, humans are responsible for most of it. According to the most recent reports, the equivalent of around 36 football fields of forests are chopped down, burned, and generally destroyed every minute. And the more forest clearings we create, the more flora and fauna we lose. About 135 species of animals, plants, and insects suffer because of deforestation every day. Read on to find out more about the causes of deforestation.

Forests are an immense source of benefits for humans, animals, and plants alike. We use them for various goods, including paper and timber. But they’re also giant carbon sinks, mitigating and slowing down climate change. Forests consume huge amounts of the carbon dioxide we put into the air, giving us oxygen in return.

Meanwhile, tropical rainforests – like the Amazonian one – play a crucial role in the water cycle. With no forests, the precipitations in the region decrease drastically. Researchers also estimate rainforests have provided us with over half of anti-cancer plants they have identified so far. More than 80 percent of land-dwelling species depend on forests as their natural habitats. The biodiversity of these ecosystems also ensures global food security.

So, if the planet’s forests give us so many benefits, why are we destroying them? The answer is not simple. In fact, more than one factor is responsible for deforestation. A combination of the following forces are devastating what’s left of our forests.

1. Commercial Agriculture

Converting forests into agricultural land is a disruptive human practice and one of the major causes of deforestation. The global demand for commodities like soybeans and palm oil is pushing industrial-level producers to chop down trees at an accelerating rate. For example, Indonesia, the world’s largest producer of palm oil, set the Guinness World Record for the “Fastest Forest Destroyer” in 2008. Even when organizations work on replenishing arid plantations, the spent soil is incapable of producing the same rich biodiversity.

But soybean and palm oil plantations are just two of the many commercial-scale cash crops. International markets press on for larger productions, which add to the strain of deforestation. Commercial agriculture accounts for 68 percent of forest loss in Latin America and more than 40 percent around the world. As the largest driver of deforestation, industrial agriculture clears forests to make room for pasture, cropland, and tree plantation. Predictions show sugarcane and soya alone will cause the expansion of 20 million hectare for agricultural land in Brazil. This forecast applies for the next 40 years, causing deforestation twice the size of Hungary.

2. Forest Fires

Natural fires have always helped in the regeneration of vegetation and forest soils. Think of them as nature’s way of clearing out old flora to make room for new plants. While forest fires rarely cause permanent deforestation, they become a serious problem when they occur too often. Not only do they release huge amounts of greenhouse gases, but the resulting clouds of soot also fracture the normal rainfall patterns.

Forests become increasingly vulnerable to uncontrolled fires thanks to poor logging practices, the spread of agriculture, and urban expansion. They leave the forest areas degraded and unable to recover. Researchers from the U.S., Japan, the Netherlands, Indonesia and Norway published in 2012 an analysis of the causes of deforestation in 100 countries. Their estimates showed uncontrolled forest fires were responsible for about 9 percent of total forest degradation from 2000 to 2010.

3. Unsustainable Logging

Whether legal or illegal, logging is a major driver of forest degradation. Unsustainable logging is the reason behind 70 percent of deforestation in Asia and Latin America. In Brazil and Indonesia, concerned authorities have deemed illegal some 80 percent to 90 percent of timber extraction. From Indonesia to Brazil, all continents suffer from illegal logging. The disappearing of forests destroys wildlife and natural ecosystems, distorting trade and robbing the community of their livelihoods. Illegally harvested wood often ends up in major consumption markets. The U.S. and countries in the European Union often fuel the cycle of unsustainable logging.

According to the WWF, as many as 28 percent of the EU’s timber imports could come from illegal sources. On the other hand, selective logging that takes place with well-regulated practices does not trigger deforestation. Indonesia is a world-renowned exporter of timber; almost 80 percent of their timber is exported illegally. Estimations state that organized crime gains as much as $10-15 billion dollars from illegal logging annually.

4. Mining

Rising demand of and higher mineral prices have increased the impact of mining on tropical forests. Mining projects often require major infrastructure construction, including railway lines, roads, and power stations. They only add to the pressure on forests and freshwater ecosystems in the region. Many forested areas around the glove are rich in minerals. Therefore, they are increasingly vulnerable to deforestation practices.

For example, the Congo Basin is famously rich in huge reserves of diamonds, gold, coltan (used in smartphones), uranium, and copper. Mining is to blame for about 7 percent of deforestation in developing countries. Asia and Africa are the worst affected, while Latin America follows in third. In addition to forest clearing for the mine itself, mining also uses considerable amounts of charcoal and timber.

5. Infrastructure Building

Roads, highways, and other infrastructure projects are another cause of deforestation. Linked to around 10 percent of total deforestation in developing nations, road construction provides an entryway to otherwise remote areas. For example, the 5,404-km Interoceanic Highway – from Brazil to Peru – is a priority for conservationists. The plan is to cut a pathway through the biodiverse Amazonian rainforest. Other road expansions in the world also contribute to illegal logging, where companies cut down trees without obtaining permission from local authorities.

After forest clearing occurs, an influx of settlers comes in and disturbs the peace of the small villages in the area. Road construction is among the most concerning causes of deforestation, because roads encourage urbanization (the cause of 10 percent of deforestation) and the transformation of forests into commercial agriculture land. This is particularly prevalent in remote areas where property rights are ambiguous or poorly regulated.

Deforestation happens due to other causes as well and we have more deforestation resources. Climate change, fuelwood harvesting, and general conversion of forests are some of the many additional reasons why our planet’s forests are slowly disappearing. So, what is the solution?

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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