Effects of Deforestation: Why Trees are Important to Life
Take a moment and try to think about why trees are important to life on Earth. Most people know that trees provide oxygen for all living things to use. But trees and many plants for that matter, do a lot more than just providing oxygen. A lot of the things trees do, the Earth would not be able to thrive without. However, the fact that they provide oxygen, alone, should be enough to convince people to protect forests and other areas populated by trees. Yet, deforestation is at an all time high and is continuing to rise. Many probably wonder, what are the effects of deforestation. There are many and they are enough to get anyone out to protect the forests.
Effects of Deforestation
If you do not know already, deforestation is a pretty serious issue. It is the removal of a forest or stand of trees to make use of the land in other ways. It is a problem that is affecting not only the natural forests all over the world, but also the tropical rainforests. That on its own is an incredible troubling situation as cutting down areas in the rainforests destroys habitats, vegetation, and eliminates the possibility of researching the plants there for medicinal properties. This also lowers biodiversity which is very important to the rainforests. In the Amazon Rainforest, around 17% of the forest has been lost in the last 50 years.
Trees are essential to life. Not only do they produce oxygen that humans and animals breathe, they also absorb carbon dioxide. Trees also provide wood for humans to build but is the habitat for many animals and humans. When we chop down the forests to make room for developments, farm land, etc. it yields bad results. Just Some of the effects of deforestation lead to excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, and more land pollution. Whatever is built on the now treeless land, will without a doubt create pollutants. If it’s a new city development, pollution from construction can runoff into the soils and water sources. If it is farmland, odds are that pesticides and other fertilizers will be used which also greatly pollutes the soil.
Between 2000 and 2012, 890,000 square miles of forests around the world were cut down. As a result, only about 2.4 million square miles (6.4 million square kilometres) remain of the original 6 million that used to cover the Earth. The effects of deforestation range from standard environmental like changes in the atmosphere and biodiversity, to economical impacts.
Historical Causes of Deforestation
While we are just now realizing the harmful effects that deforestation is having, the destruction of the forests has been going on since the dawn of man. The first evidence of deforestation appears in the mesolithic period. Since then, evidence has accumulated through periods in history. Mainly due to the expansion of the human population. Humans cut down forests and trees to make space for fields for farming and animals, for resources to build structures, to build weapons and tools. As we exhausted the resources in an area, we would move on to find new and more plentiful resources. One perfect example is Easter Island. Once upon a time, it was completely covered by forests. Now it is treeless and nearly deserted.
1100 to 1500 AD, a lot of deforestation took place in western Europe as a result of the increase expanding human population. In the 15th century, trees were being cut down to be made into sailing ships by European naval owners for exploration, colonisation, slave trade and many other activities. Naval operations, including piracy, became extremely popular and prompted many forests to be decimated in order to build more and more sailing ships.
Then comes the start of most of the pollution we have now, the Industrial Revolution. With the invention of steamboats, the United States was the cause of heavy deforestation along the banks of major rivers, like the Mississippi. Along with the mining of coal, which caused more destruction of trees for transportation and resource purposes. The industrial revolution lead to some of the heaviest deforestation in all of history, ultimately leading to the beginning of the increase of all types of pollution that we are seeing the effects of now.
Effects of Deforestation: Rates
Deforestation began globally accelerating around 1852. It is estimated that about half of the world’s mature tropical forests have now been destroyed. That is between 2.9 and 3 million square miles of the original 6.2 million. When looking at the tropical rainforests, over a 50 year period, the percentage of land cover by them has decreased nearly 50%, from 14% to now only 6%. A lot of that loss can be traced to the happenings between the years 1960 and 1990. During this time, about 20% of all tropical rainforests were cut down. If this rate continues, the extinction of the rainforests could happen by the mid 21st century.
The estimate of total forest loss per year is around 13 million hectares per year. However, a 2005 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization showed that inspite of that number, the global rate of deforestation has recently been slowing. The 2016 FAO report, from 2010 to 2015, showed that there was a global decrease in deforestation to about 3.3 million hectares per year. During this time, the largest amount of deforestation happened in the tropics, specifically in South America and Africa.
Despite everything, tropical rainforests are becoming smaller and smaller. West Africa’s coastal rainforests have lost 90% of their land coverage since 1900. 88% of the rainforests in South Asia have been lost. In Brazil, 90 to 95% of its Mata Atlantica forest has been lost. Madagascar lost 90% of their eastern rainforest. The loss has been global, including areas like Mexico, India, Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Congo, The Ivory Coast, and more. Most of the remaining rainforests are in the Amazon Basin, where the Amazon Rainforest covers about 4 million square kilometres.
Environmental Effects of Deforestation
It should come at no surprise that deforestation has countless negative effects on the global environment, not just the environment surrounding the area. 80% of Earth’s land animals and plants find their habitats in the forests and many can not survive deforestation. Not to mention how it hurts human life. Before 1500 A.D., there were about 6 million indigenous people living in the Amazon Rainforest. In the early 1900s, there were 250,000 less indigenous people living there. This is due to the loss of the environment. Almost 90% of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty worldwide, rely on the forests for survival. We are simply hurting ourselves by cutting down the forests.
Loss of Species
Many land and air animals make the forests their home. Not to mention insects, plants, bacteria, and many other organisms. When humans decimate forests, it is the same as if we were to bulldoze an entire suburban neighborhood. Only thing is, humans tend to be more adaptable than animals. Once they are comfortable somewhere and they begin to thrive, a sudden change could drive the species to extinction.
Tropical rainforests are home to more species of plants and animals than anywhere else on Earth. They support 90,000 of the 250,000 plant species. A typical four square mile, the rainforest can contain as many as 1,500 species of flowering plants, 750 species of trees, 125 mammal species, 400 species of birds, 100 species of reptiles, 60 amphibians, and 150 diverse species of butterflies. The rainforest in Peru, more than 1,300 different species of butterflies were found in a single park. In fact, around 40-75% of all biotic species are indigenous to the rainforests.
These tropical rainforests have been called the “world’s largest pharmacy.” Over ¼ of natural medicines have been discovered in the biomes. In fact, many things you find in a rainforest, we use on a daily basis. Bananas, avocados, cacao, coffee, papaya, among many others. In addition, many plants that have proved to be useful in cancer treatments are only found in the rainforest. Actually, less than 1% of the plant life in the tropical rainforests has been studied for their medicinal value. By destroying the rainforests, we are also hurting ourselves for the future. Some of the plants could have proven to be extremely beneficial to human health.
Increase in Greenhouse Gases
While a certain amount of greenhouse gases are vital to the atmosphere maintaining a temperature that allows all life on Earth to thrive, too much of it causes problems. Trees naturally absorb amounts of greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide and convert it to oxygen for animals and humans. However, when we cut down trees and forests, we are destroying Earth’s natural systems that keep the Earth running smoothly. Not to mention, the trees are already working overtime to keep up with the rise in greenhouse gases that we are adding to our atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. People often refer to the Amazon as the “Lungs of the Earth.” This is because this ecosystem stores about 17% of the world’s carbon. It also produces substantial amounts of oxygen that supports countless lifeforms besides our own.
Trees are extremely important to the water cycle. They absorb rainfall and produce water vapor that is released into the atmosphere. In addition, they also lessen water pollution by catching and basically filtering polluted runoff. In the Amazon Rainforest, more than half of the water in the entire ecosystem is held within plants. Not to mention, tropical rainforests can get up to 400 inches of rain a year. Where does all that water go? Into the Earth for use by plants, trees and organisms. In addition, rainforests act as the world’s thermostat, by regulating the temperatures and weather patterns. Without the rainforests, or forests in general, all of the Earth’s systems would be out of whack.
Less water would be returned to the air, which means less water would return to the land. In turn, this causes drier soil and the inability to grow crops. Funny enough, 80% of current deforestation comes from small scale agriculture and cattle ranching.
Do you have any idea what holds the soil in place? I’ll tell you one thing, it isn’t buildings. The roots of trees are huge and wide spreading. They anchor the soil and prevent it from being washed away with the rain. Due to deforestation, we have already seen an increase in erosion. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, scientists estimate that a third of the world’s arable land has been lost to deforestation since 1960.
Some farmers think that by replacing large rainforest trees with cash crops like coffee, soy, and palm oil, they can avoid erosion. However, if you look at the rooting structure and size of those trees compared to trees in forests and rainforests, their roots are far too small and do not reach deep enough to anchor the soil properly. Those crops can actually further erosion because the soil has to be dug up to plant those trees in the first place. Meaning you just made a bad situation worse by trying to make it better. Haiti has been hit with heavy soil erosion, flooding and landslide issues due to deforestation.
Increase in Pollution
Taking all of these effects of deforestation into account, it is easy to see that an increase in pollution is inevitable. By destroying the trees, forests and rainforests can not absorb the greenhouse gases they otherwise would be working very hard to do. This results in even more carbon dioxide and many others lingering in our atmosphere, burning a hole in our ozone, and causing countless other types of pollution.
By cutting down trees, we are also contributing to more water pollution through erosion and runoff. The trees would normally hold the soil in place, but without trees the soil washes away with the rain. Where does it end up? In the water where it affects the natural balance of that ecosystem. In addition, any polluted soil that the trees would have held in place also ends up in the water system.
What Can You Do?
The things regular people like us can do to help preserve the tropical rainforests is simple. Do not support companies who continue to support deforestation practices. Buy local and organic to support local farmers which will lessen our dependence on foreign sources. Spread the word about the rainforests all over the world and raise awareness for the threats that these tropical rainforests face. There is a lot of work to be done to save our Earth. We are the cause of the problems, but we can also be the solution.