How Does Deforestation Affect The Environment

What is Deforestation?

Deforestation is what happens when trees are removed to make room for something else. It can include clearing the land for any number of reasons, such as farming, livestock, timber, or construction.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), forests cover more than 30% of the land on Earth. Forests produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. They are home to 80% of the species that live on land.

More than a billion people rely on them as a source of food, medicine, and fuel. Additionally, 50 million people have jobs related to forests.

Humans have destroyed a substantial amount of forested land. About half of the forests in the eastern part of North America were cut down for timber and farming between the 1600s and 1800s.

China and Western Europe have also lost great expanses of forests. Western Europe used to be 80% forests. That is down to 34% today.

Much of today’s farmland used to be forestland. They are an important part of Earth’s natural resources.

The more forests that are cut down, the more difficult it will be to stop global warming and climate change. The majority of deforestation today occurs in tropical climates.

forest burning

Causes of Deforestation

Researchers say four commodities are responsible for the majority of deforestation: beef, soy, palm oil, and wood products. They estimate an area of nearly 15,000 square miles is lost to deforestation every year.

One of the main sources of deforestation is agriculture. The land is harvested for any valuable timber first then the land is usually burned.

Next, crops like soy are planted, or the land is used for cattle grazing. National Geographic estimates fires burned in the Amazon increased by 80% from 2018 to 2019.

Palm oil is another big driver of deforestation. It is a commonly-used ingredient in vegetable oil and is found in about half of the products found in a typical supermarket.

Leveling native forests to replace them with palm trees is destructive to the natural ecosystem. The palm oil industry has experienced exponential growth in recent years.

Every year about 2.5 million acres of land are turned into fast-wood forests. These forests are made to meet global demand and take pressure off of the world’s old-tree forests, but they come at a huge cost to the planet.

Effects on the Environment

Most of the deforestation happening today is going on in the tropics. Areas that used to be inaccessible are now being cut down.

Since 2000, nearly 10% of the tropical tree cover has been lost. It does not stop there. More than 46,000 square miles were destroyed in 2019.

In the past 25 years, forests have decreased by 502,000 square miles. For perspective, that is bigger than the size of South America.

Forests are home to a huge variety of trees, plants, animals, fungi, and microbes. When these habitats are destroyed, many of the inhabitants of the forests are left without a home, and ecosystems are destroyed.

Scientists believe we are in the middle of a mass extinction event. Deforestation is leading even more species to extinction.

Humans depend on forests too. People in countries like Uganda rely on trees for firewood and timber. Uganda has lost more than 3,500 square miles of its forests since 2000. Families send children to collect the firewood.

With the forests moving further and further back, it takes longer to gather wood than it used to. News reports have said gathering the wood takes all day, so the children are missing school.

Deforestation can affect the water quality too. The vast majority of the planet’s freshwater comes from forest watersheds. More than half of the global population relies on those watersheds for drinking water and agriculture uses.

Cutting down trees in tropical regions can change the way water vapor forms over the canopy. This reduces rainfall and contributes to higher temperatures. Deforested areas are hotter and dryer than forested areas.

Forests are carbon sinks meaning they pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Tropical trees, in particular, play a huge role in this, so cutting them down for agriculture will only exacerbate the problem.

Not only are the trees not there to take the carbon out of the atmosphere, but the act of clearing them also produces greenhouse gas emissions. According to the United Nations, deforestation is estimated to account for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions and is the second-leading cause of climate change.

Soil erosion is leaving more of the remaining plants vulnerable to fires, and wildfires are becoming more prevalent due to climate change. Unfortunately, this makes a bad problem worse.

Trees lock carbon into their wood. When the trees are burned, the carbon is released back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. This accelerates global warming.

Take Action

Forests can be restored over time by replanting trees or just leaving nature alone to do its thing. The faster a cleared area is reforested, the sooner an ecosystem can start to repair itself. Wildlife can start to return, water systems will reestablish themselves, and soils will be replenished.

Reforestation can only happen if alternatives are developed. Sustainable farming practices and new farming technologies will hopefully be able to decrease the need to clear more land.

Consumers can do their part to curb deforestation. Going paperless, using less palm oil, planting a tree, and buying certified wood products are all ways to reduce forest destruction.

That being said, deforestation is a global problem that will need a global solution. Voting for representatives that are going to fight for the planet is going to be a key component of fixing this problem.

There is good news, though. More than 100 countries pledged to reverse deforestation by 2030 by signing an agreement at the 26th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow. Billions of dollars are being provided to restore the land and mitigate the damage due to wildfires.

Sources

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