Our environment functions in a cyclical and balanced nature where all species have an ability to evolve and adapt to their surroundings. When humans decided to dominate this natural order, things began to take an exponential turn towards destruction. Forests currently cover approximately 30 percent of the earth’s land, but, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about 18 million acres are lost each year due to deforestation.
Deforestation is the destruction of forests on a large scale to utilize the land and trees for other various purposes such as agriculture and logging. It was predicted by NASA that all rain forests will be gone in one hundred years if deforestation continues at the same current high levels. This international act of cutting down trees happens for the sole purpose of benefiting humans with little consideration to its environmental impact and harm to other species. Deforestation has become one of largest contributors to climate change and a large driver of the carbon cycle.
The Drivers of Deforestation
The most common cause of deforestation is to replace these forests with agriculture. The continuously growing population is increasing the demand for food, and therefore the need for more land for crops and livestock. Forest trees are cut down in large areas all at once using a common method called clear cutting. A different method called slash and burn is usually practiced by smaller farmers in need of less space. Slash and burn agriculture is done by cutting down a few trees and burning what is left to ensure that the land is weed free. The ash from the burnt vegetation then settles into the ground and adds nutritional value to the new crops. The farmers then move to a new area and repeat the process as soon as the quality of the soil begins to reduce.
The other large cause of deforestation is logging. Logging is responsible for a countless number of cut down trees in order to manufacture and sell all the wood and paper products. This industry sometimes illegally follows practices such as cutting down unnecessary trees to build roads that provide access to even more trees and further increase the problem of deforestation. Moreover, some deforestation is not intentional such as wildfires and overgrazing. Wildfires happen very frequently and cause large amounts of deforestation while animals grazing on young trees can halt their growth back into forests.On the plus side, the paperless era is currently fighting the practice of logging and attempting to reduce the use of paper in our daily lives.
The Effects of Deforestation
Deforestation has been one of the factors in increasing the dangers of climate change. Greenhouse gases play a major role in the carbon cycle and the decrease of forests is increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Trees produce oxygen and are capable of absorbing up to three hundred billion tons of carbon, which is forty times the yearly fossil fuels emissions. Moreover, deforestation also increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by releasing almost a billion tons of stored carbon from the trees when they die. Water vapor is another greenhouse gas impacted by deforestation. The sun rays increase the evaporation of water from the moist soils, returning it to the atmosphere and drying up the forest lands by up to four percent, according to a study published by the National Academy of Sciences.
Eighty percent of our species live in forests, and deforestation is destroying their homes. The cut off trees that once towered over the forest assisted animals by protecting them from the sun during the day and keeping in some heat during the night. The decreasing number of trees in these forests is leading to sudden and rough changes in temperatures that harm the forest species. Most of these plants and animals are not capable of surviving in a different habitats and therefore end up going extinct at a much higher rate than their natural process.
What Can Be Done to Reduce Deforestation?
The most obvious and possible action to take against deforestation is reforestation. The number of young trees being planted must equal the number of trees being cut down in order to maintain the environmental balance, reduce carbon dioxide, and maintain animal habitats. Another tactic against deforestation is the promotion of a plant based diet that would require much less space for livestock. Moreover, the increase in awareness that can be communicated through any crowd or online community and the global demand for governmental control against deforestation should be the next steps towards reducing its negative impact on the environment.