Deforestation is highly regarded as one of the worst ongoing environmental issues and yet each year we continue to lose 18.7 million acres of forests. So, what is it, and what exactly is being done to reduce this number? By general definition, deforestation is the mass-scale clearing of trees by humans for alternative purposes. Examples include; clearing for infrastructure and community development, clearing for grazing and agriculture, using timber for fuel and manufacturing – among other things.
The Importance of Trees
Trees play an essential role to the overall function of our environment. While most people realise this, the full extent of their value is often overlooked. According to the World Wildlife Fund, trees cover 31% of the world’s land areas. Not only does this 31% produce half of the world’s oxygen, it also removes CO2 from our atmosphere in the process. A single tree can absorb up to 22 kilograms of carbon in a year – and yet as Carbon Dioxide levels rise, we continue to clear 27 soccer fields worth of trees every minute.
In addition to this trees also reduce overall air pollution, clean the soil, control noise pollution, slow storm water runoff, provide food and shelter for wildlife, increase rainfall and fight soil erosion.
Simply put – humankind could not exist without trees.
Causes of Deforestation
Deforestation can occur both quickly and gradually. On the fast side, it is caused when a forest is clear-cut for agriculture or urbanization, however it also occurs gradually via forest degradation due to climate change.
Agriculture and livestock grazing are the single biggest cause of deforestation. The world’s population continues to grow daily, and with it the need for food. This places a significant strain on the environment and results in increased land clearing for farming and ranch land all over the world.
In Malaysia and Indonesia where we see some of the world’s highest deforestation rates, forests are cleared to produce palm oil, something which is found in a large range of our supermarket items including: shampoos, detergents, makeup, ice cream and chocolate. If you looked in your pantry it is likely you would find multiple products containing unsustainable palm oil. You are likely adding to the deforestation issue without even knowing it…
Unfortunately, once lost to agriculture, a forest is usually gone forever – taking its rich biodiversity of animal and plant life with it.
The Amazon, which hosts one of the largest tree populations in the world, is also home to some of the largest scale illegal logging practices. According to World Atlas, 80% of the deforestation in Peru is illegal, driven by commercial mining, small-scale agriculture and road construction. Illegally harvested wood from these areas’ find its way to the US and Europe which feeds the cycle. Do you know where all your furniture comes from?
Wildfires also account for a large portion of deforestation. While these are generally a cause of mother nature, degraded forests are particularly more vulnerable to large-scale effects. Small-scale back burning removes accumulated vegetation. When forest fires have been avoided, this unnatural accumulation feeds fires and causes them to spread and grow.
Effects of Deforestation
When forests are cleared and burned, the carbon they store is released into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas with the potential to alter the global climate. As they are burned, it also reduces the Earth’s ability to absorb existing carbon dioxide and so diminishes the carbon cycle.
Another major impact of deforestation is loss of biodiversity. The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest – more species of plants and animals are found here than any other place. 75% of these are unique to this rainforest alone and yet 20% of this community has already been lost to deforestation. The WWF estimates that 27% of the Amazon biome will be without trees by 2030 if the current rate of deforestation does not decrease, resulting in the extinction of numbers of these native species.
In Malaysia and Indonesia which host 90% of the world’s palm oil trees, the orangutan, Borneo elephant and Sumatran tiger are on the brink of extinction as a direct result of deforestation of their habitats. Indigenous people who inhabit and have protected this land for generations are also being driven from their homes to make-way for these plantations.
Deforested land also attributes to landslides, which can destroy infrastructure, environments and take human lives. As the trees are removed, the root system which binds soil is taken away – making way for a not-so-natural disaster.
What is Being Done?
Many conservations and organisations are taking a stand against deforestation. National Geographic Explorer Topher White has found a way to monitor for chainsaws with old recycled mobile phones.
The WWF has many programs in place such as plant-based conversation which involves working with governments and agribusiness to ensure they are meeting commitments to the forests of the world. Additionally, they have a massive focus on influencing policy – to help countries prioritize their natural resources with a green economy approach to create sustainable use of land.
Greenpeace is placing a huge focus on the promotion of sustainable choices as well as aiding Indigenous People. As previously mentioned, forests suffering deforestation also causes the displacement of its Indigenous inhabitants. Greenpeace is standing by these people and their right to support their land and home.
What Can We Do?
Simple choices we make in our everyday life can help mitigate the impact of deforestation. Just by checking the labels on our groceries at the store we can limit our purchase of unsustainable palm oil purchases.
We can also reduce our consumption of single use products and look for sustainably sourced options where possible. Use reusable items such as silicone or metal straws, reusable coffee cups and multi-use drink bottles opposed to items you will throw away after each use.
Consider reducing your meat intake. Adopting a plant-based diet or limiting your meat consumption will significantly reduce your carbon footprint and lower the burden of meat demand. BBC have created an interesting calculator which directly shows the impact your diet has on your carbon footprint – see here: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-46459714.
On a more legislative level you can use your voice to demand that governments only source sustainable forestry products to ensure the protection of nature and human rights.
If you would like to find out more about how you can help the deforestation, please see below links: