Deforestation – Its Impact and How We Can Change It
Forests cover about 31% of our planet. We destroy 46-58 thousand square miles of forest each year, and that is equal to 48 football fields each minute. 1.6 billion people rely on the forests for food, shelter, fresh water, clothing, and medicine. Sadly, forests around the world are suffering from deforestation putting the needs of those 1.6 billion people and the animals that live there in jeopardy. Deforestation happens quickly, and the effects have quick impacts as well.
Numerous factors add to deforestation, including illegal logging, fires, mining, agricultural expansion, livestock ranching, and overpopulation. Each impacts the forests differently. If you want a quick list of deforestation facts, we have you covered as well.
National laws regulate timber production at all stages, but people easily avoid the law by taking wood from protected areas, harvesting more than is permitted, and harvesting protected species. Illegal logging occurs in all types of forests across all continents, destroying nature, wildlife, and taking away livelihoods within communities. Unfortunately, illegal harvesting is more prominent than legal harvesting. Deforestation through illegal logging is threatening some of the most famous forests, such as the Amazon Rain Forest, Congo Basin, and forests in Far East Russia. Illegal logging depresses the value of timber, depriving law-abiding companies of the fair price. Deforestation through illegal logging is impacting biodiversity and fueling climate change. With resources being in danger, many of the indigenous that live within the forests begin fighting over what foliage remains. Of the 1.6 billion people who rely on forests for survival, 60 million of them are indigenous peoples.
Most forest fires are man-made. Fire is extremely beneficial to forests and ecosystems, but they create problems when they begin in the wrong place. Every year fire degrades millions of acres of forest around the globe. Fire is a way for the forest to regenerate itself because old fallen trees are burned away to create open space for new growth to develop and thrive. In the rainforests, for example, the charred remnants left behind after a fire are extremely nutritional. The nutritional char gives the fresh growth some extra vitamins to start off strong. Forest fires are not all good though, man-made fires are usually set to open more farming space. These fires not only alter the structure of the forests, but they lead to the introduction of invasive species. In the Amazon Rain Forest, forest fire deforestation is responsible for 30% of the greenhouse emissions in Brazil.
Thanks to high demand and rising mineral prices, mining is a leading cause of deforestation. As an example, the Amazon Rain Forest is filled with numerous precious metals, including copper, iron, and gold. Mining, in general, is unhealthy for the environment, contaminating water and air, but the mining process is terrible for the forests. Trees are cut down to make way for mining and mining camps. After locating a gold deposit, for example, miners begin to cut down forests in that area to access soil. This destroys habitat for plants and animals.
Once miners cut the trees, they will set fire to the remaining foliage, releasing significant amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Deforestation and the burning of trees result in 20% of the carbon dioxide found in the atmosphere worldwide. Since a vast majority of miners cannot survive on their salaries, they turn to illegal logging to supplement. National laws are getting harder on miners and their mining ways, so miners are going deeper into the forests to hide their chemicals and illegal acts.
Hunger is a leading cause of deforestation, and the increases in global demand for food and oils are a driving force for more farmland. To supplement this high demand, more land is being clear cut to allow more room for sewing more yields. About 80% of the farmland created between 1980 and 2000 was due to clear cutting forests. This means that in 20 years over a half a million square miles of forest was cut down. Indonesia, for example, is the world’s largest producer of palm oil. Because of the amount of forest that Indonesia destroyed for farming, Guinness Book of World Records named them “Fastest Forest Destroyer” in 2008.
Cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in every Amazon country, and ranching accounts for 80% of current deforestation rates. In Brazil, the top exporter of beef is home to about 200 million head of cattle. This means that farmers use approximately 450,000 square kilometers of deforested Amazon as cattle pasture. Since 1990, Brazil has lost enough forest to equal three-quarters the size of Texas. Due to the high demand for beef, the number of deforestation is only going to increase as time goes along.
With world populations that are growing at alarming rates, people require more and more space to live. Population growth means more space for housing, businesses, and farming. Deforestation due to overpopulation has lowered green coverage to an all-time low of 30%. More homes and businesses are required to support human development and growth, so we will need to build more roads and homes. As a result, more and more forests are being cleared out to make room for people. This is pushing deforestation numbers to new peaks and destroying habitats for plants and animals.
Effects of Deforestation
The cause and effect balance between deforestation and the impact it has on the planet is beginning to become very one-sided. There are numerous effects of deforestation, including increased greenhouse emissions, increased soil erosion, climate imbalance, and wildlife extinction.
Increased Greenhouse Emissions
Carbon dioxide levels increase as more trees are cut down. On average, tropical forests hold more than 210 gigatons of carbon. Deforestation represents about 15% of the greenhouse gasses that we release into the environment. Carbon dioxide contributes to rising temperatures, changes in weather patterns, and increases in extreme weather events. Since carbon dioxide is having such an impact on the climates, animals have difficult times finding food and water for their survival. To decrease the amount of carbon dioxide that is in the air forests must be left alone and replenished. Forests are the filter systems of our air. The more that they are destroyed and cut down, the dirtier our air and atmosphere are going to be.
Increased Soil Erosion
Plants and tree root systems are responsible for holding soil into place. When it rains, the foliage will keep the soil over their roots and in place for other vegetation and life. The more clear cutting and forest destruction there is, the more soil displacement is going to occur. Heavy rains sweep land into rivers, often causing land and mudslides. Although most of the land that is clear cut becomes farmland, the plants that replace the trees are not robust enough to hold soil in place. Farmers often plant coffee, cotton, palm oil, soybean, and wheat in replacement of trees, but these plants often aggravate soil erosion. Since the rain is washing away the soil, most of it that remains is infertile, making farming harder. As this soil washes away and farmers move on, clear cutting more forests, and the cycle continues.
Climate change is both a cause and effect of deforestation. Climate change is due to a build-up of carbon dioxide, and forests are responsible for absorbing and converting carbon dioxide into safe oxygen. When forests are cut down, carbon dioxide absorption ceases, and the carbon dioxide the tree had stored is released as it is burned or left to rot. We estimated that deforestation releases 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Climate change can damage forests by aiding in global warming. For example, tropical rainforests are drying out due to forest fires that are started by humans and from the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Change in climate decreases biodiversity and harms the delicate balance of ecosystems.
With increases in deforestation, animals are losing their homes and habitats. Animals rely on the forest for shelter, water, reproduction, communication, and food. The more trees that are cut down, the smaller their world becomes. This pushes species to new locations for survival. Sadly, some animals are not able to adapt to the new locations, and an imbalance of ecosystems occurs. While there will be some animals that can live in new places, others will not be as flexible. As a result, there will be different species that die out. This change causes a spike in some species and decreases in others. Extinction can destroy ecosystems, as the loss of one single organism can destroy food sources for many others. Moving to new habitats can be dangerous as well. At times migration could cause animals to have to cross roads, hunting grounds, and already full habitats. There are many
While there will be some animals that can live in new places, others will not be as flexible. As a result, there will be different species that die out. This change causes a spike in some species and decreases in others. Extinction can destroy ecosystems, as the loss of one single organism can destroy food sources for many others. Moving to new habitats can be dangerous as well. At times migration could cause animals to have to cross roads, hunting grounds, and already full habitats. There are many conservation efforts you can get involved in if you want to help.
What Can Be Done?
Since humans have continued to destroy the planet, humans need to do something to fix it. You can prevent this a few different ways, including reforestation, aiding a foundation, recycling and going paperless, and rotating crops.
China has implemented a law, requiring every able-bodied citizen between 11 and 60 to plant three to five trees each year. With all of the trees being cut down, someone must replace them. Reforestation includes planting, growing, nourishing, harvesting, and revegetating areas that people or companies have destroyed. Organizations are trying to do this with as little use of resources as possible. To successfully reforest an area involves careful planning, research of regeneration harvest methods, control of competing vegetation, and control of damaging agents. Replanting trees will conserve our air, soil, water, and habitat harmony. Planting more trees will reduce out carbon footprint and give animals their homes back.
Donate to a Foundation
If you are unable to physically assist with reforestation, there are a lot of organizations that promote it. Some examples of these foundations are Greenpeace, World Wide Fund for Nature, Community Forestry International, and Conservation International. The World Wildlife Foundation is another great foundation to get involved in. Although they do not focus all funding on reforestation, they do assist with habitat preservation, helping animals that are in danger, and are starting different soil and forest programs. Send some funds to their foundations and know that you are helping make the world a better and cleaner place. If you are feeling passionate about the issue, become an advocate. Educate yourself, those around you, and spread the word. The more awareness there is, the more people will get involved.
Recycle and Go Paperless
The less we use, the less we need to destroy. Using products that are recycled and can be recycled will reduce the amount that we need to produce. The more recycled products consumers use, the less demand there will be for new raw materials to replace them. If you are living in an apartment, be sure to read through the leaflets that communities provide upon moving in. There is usually one or two recycling areas within the community. Do not be lazy. It might require you to separate your trash and walk a little further, but the effort is well worth it.
Recycling does not have to be closed to just your home. Research the different cafes and restaurants that you frequent. Many smaller businesses and cafes are implementing their own recycling habits. Some have trash, recycle, and even compost options. There are new options for magazines, newspapers, and bills to be online and paperless. Simply call the company or visit the websites to see if there is a paperless option.
Farmers who have a decent amount of land are encouraged to rotate their crops. Instead of planting the same crop in the same field each year, it is encouraged that farmers use the same plot for different plants year round. Planting the same seed in the same area each year depletes the soil fertility. Rotating crops will help keep the soil fertile, manage soil-borne diseases, and soil-dwelling insects. Using crop rotation as a farming practice will contribute to keeping the soil from eroding as well. As a result, farmers will not need to clear more trees to find fresh soil. Crop rotation helps the soil and keeps the trees standing.
The Root of it All
Deforestation is a growing epidemic worldwide. Humans are destroying forests for resources and farmland. In turn, animals are losing their habitats, soil is eroding away, and this fills our atmosphere up with carbon dioxide. It is our responsibility to do what we can to help keep the forests green and thriving.