The term “Deforestation” refers to the clearing away of large areas of forest, including tropical rain forests. The extent of deforestation is so great that it is calculated that we have already lost half of the planet’s tropical rain forest and if we continue at the same rate we will have no forests left within a century.
This article explains what causes deforestation, what its effects are, and how we can all take action right now to prevent it from continuing.
The causes of deforestation.
Deforestation is almost completely caused by human activity. Even taking into account natural disasters such as hurricanes or wild fires, humans are accountable for almost all deforestation on the planet, which amounts to a whopping 1.5 hectares of forest cut away per minute. Here are the main causes of deforestation.
1. The timber industry: developed countries such as the US have a high demand for wooden furniture and other items made from timber. Though some species of trees are (in theory at least) protected from use in furniture making, others are being cut down in huge swathes to make mass produced, and often quickly discarded, items of furniture, house frames, boats, and other wooden items.
2. The paper industry: again, developed countries are the ones fueling demand here. Paper is made from trees, and the more paper we use, the more deforestation we are responsible for.
3. Animal agriculture: precious rain forests are cut away to make space for growing crops to feed to animals, and for making space for animal pens.
4. Human habitats: humans cut into forests to build roads (as happened recently in an ancient forest in Russia) or to make way for building new homes or commercial centers.
5. Palm oil production: often, rain forests are destroyed in order for palm oil to be cultivated. This ingredient is pretty much ubiquitous in cosmetics , fuels, many plastics, and even foodstuffs.
7. Fuel: wood is used throughout the world as fuel, and in many regions of the world this has led to irresponsible deforestation rather than a careful and responsible use of only dead wood for fuel. In Sub Saharan Africa, for example, wood is burned as fuel at double the rate at which forests are growing, which spells very bad news for those forests.
The effects of deforestation.
The effects of deforestation are absolutely devastating, and it is vital to take action right now to stop deforestation from totally ruining our planet. Here are 5 of the key effects of deforestation on our precious world:
1. Species loss: our rain forests are home to around half of the species in the world. When the rain forests are lost, these species will use their necessary habitats and so we will lose these species for ever as well.
2. Climate change acceleration: around 280 gigatonnes of carbon is contained within the bark of the world’s trees. If burned, this would release a huge load of carbon into the atmosphere and result in a vast acceleration of global warming which would likely wipe out most of the humans and animals on this earth. Trees also have the capacity to suck carbon out of the atmosphere more generally: they are our allies against climate change.
3. The loss of medicinal cures: many of the cures that we have for diseases such as cancer come from plants and trees growing in the Amazon rainforest. Once this rainforest is gone, human mortality rates from these diseases are likely to rise dramatically.
4. Soil erosion: tree roots keep the soil beneath them in place. Cut down the trees and the roots die. As a result, the soil will be swept away by rain and wind. This results in desertification, or the process by which a once lush and fertile area of soil becomes a desert where nothing grows.
5. Loss of the homes of indigenous peoples: many of the world’s indigenous populations live in rain forests such as the Amazon. The forest is their home, and it is not for other people to come and take it away from them. In addition around 1.6 billion people on this earth depend on forests for their livelihood in some shape or form, whether because they live in the forest or because they work closely with the forest in their day to day life.
Solutions for deforestation.
It is imperative that we take action to halt and reverse deforestation right now. Here are a few solutions to deforestation that you can try right now.
1. Avoid palm oil: check the ingredients of the food and cosmetics that you buy to ensure that it does not contain palm oil.
2. Use less paper: avoid printing out documents wherever possible and try and use paper sparingly and wisely. Recycle or reuse old paper to make recycled notebooks, or use it as ‘rough paper’ for scribbling down odd ideas instead of buying a whole new note book. Buy second hand books rather than new books wherever possible. If you run or work in a business, encourage the whole business to do the same to make a bigger impact.
3. Donate to reforestation projects: pump money in to the projects on the front line that are working to stop deforestation, and to actually reverse it by growing new forests. Many charities allow you to safeguard a section of forest by purchasing it for yourself.
4. Use less wooden furniture: Where possible repair your old wooden items rather than throwing them out and replacing them with something new.