Imagine a world without rain forests: no centuries-old trees to see and no unique animals to watch. That world could become reality in a hundred years if deforestation continues at the rate it’s happening today. Right now, forests cover about 30 percent of the Earth’s landmass. However, that number is quickly dropping as millions of acres of forests are lost each year. Here’s a look at exactly what deforestation is, why it’s a worldwide problem, and what solutions to deforestation are underway.
What is Deforestation?
Deforestation is the permanent clearing of forests that frequently results in the downgrade of land quality. While some deforestation is natural, the biggest reason for it is agriculture. The Earth loses 18.7 million acres of forests annually. That’s equal to 27 soccer fields every minute.
Which Areas Are Impacted?
A study published in early 2017 found that Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had the most forest loss on the planet between 2000 and 2014. Indonesia is particularly impacted. The country lost about 3.2 million acres every year. A forest moratorium was enacted in 2011 with the goal of protecting an area the size of Japan from development, but the study found the policy hasn’t really been working. In fact, Indonesia showed new areas of deforestation and no diminishing hot spots.
The study found the DRC had about 2 million acres of trees gone every year, and the rate actually increased between 2011 and 2014. Many of the affected areas correlate with civil unrest and migration.
Brazil lost about 6.6 million acres every year, but the rate is actually dropping. The country began implementing solutions to deforestation in the early 2000s to protect its rain forests. While those areas are now seeing less deforestation, the policy had an unintended consequence that shifted tree loss. Now the tropical savanna is dealing with many of the same issues that the Amazon dealt with for so long.
In the United States, 12 percent of tree cover was lost from 2001 to 2016. According to Global Forest Watch, the top five states where the majority of the loss occurred are Alaska, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. Alaska houses the nation’s largest National Forest: the Tongass. It supports healthy populations of hundreds of animals, and it boasts trees as old as the Protestant Reformation. Once, it stretched from the California redwoods to the Gulf of Alaska. However, human civilization, clear-cut logging, and road construction have made a lot of it disappear.
What Causes Deforestation?
There are many causes of deforestation, both due to humans and Mother Nature. Humans, however, are the biggest culprit. The act of deforestation is done by clear-cutting, burning, and logging. Here are some of the main reasons why people want to harvest trees:
Farmers want to create more space for livestock and crops.
Forests are cut to make room for the expansion of human civilization. The wood is also harvested for products like paper, furniture and building materials.
People around the world use wood to heat their homes and cook their food.
Trees have been cut down for resources ever since the first humans walked on Earth. Trees provide shelter, fuel for fire, food, and in some cases, medicine. As people became more advanced, trees were cleared to make way for expanding communities and space for grazing animals. Deforestation increased during the Industrial Revolution as the invention of metal and saws made it easier to chop wood. In the 1950s, people started clearing parts of Brazil’s rain forests at an alarming rate. According to the Rain Forest Preservation society, only 2.7 billion acres remain of the original 4 billion acres of trees.
High wind and dry underbrush can spark flames in a forest, leading to uncontrolled wildfires. This natural occurrence can burn everything in the path, spanning dozens of acres in a matter of minutes. In recent years, wildfires have burned up to 9 million acres of land. Though this can happen anywhere in the world, wildfires are most common in the western United States, where blistering heat, lack of water and electric thunderstorms create perfect conditions for a spark. However, given the right conditions, humans can easily start a campfire that spirals out of control. 4 out 5 wildfires are started by human error.
How Does Deforestation Affect the World?
Deforestation is a major problem for the world. Forests are home to 70 percent of the world’s animal and plant species. Many cannot survive this loss of habitat, leading to species extinction. Forests also serve people who live in rural communities. Without them, these people have nowhere to hunt and no plants to gather for food or medicinal use.
Climate change is also an effect of deforestation. Trees absorb the harmful greenhouse gases that destroy the ozone layer and contribute to global warming. As more forests are cleared, global warming is increased. Deforestation makes up about 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Killing trees actually releases carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas. That means nearly a billion tons of carbon are released into the air every year because of deforestation. The more trees humans cut down, the faster climate change will occur.
What Is the Solution?
It’s tough to simply stop cutting down trees, as they’re a major way of human life. However, scientists are encouraging a few solutions to deforestation right now:
- Eliminate clear-cutting
- Plant new trees in areas where old ones are cut down
- Create protected areas
- Promote sustainable bioenergy
While we’re no experts, there are a few simple things you can do to help. Support environmental organizations committed to creating a better future for the Earth, such as the World Wildlife Fund. Help raise awareness about the problem of deforestation through social media and education. Learn about green technology and how it fights climate change one step at a time.
As more trees are chopped down every day, the problem of deforestation amplifies. Be a part of the solution by raising awareness about this issue and living an environmentally-friendly life.
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