The 20th and 21st centuries have seen significant declines in the world’s forests, with an estimated 18 million acres of forest destroyed annually to plant crops, create grazing land for cattle, and build houses. This amounts to nearly 36 football fields’ worth of trees cleared every minute. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), nearly half of all tropical rainforests have been decimated, and this decline in rainforest land accounts for up to 12 percent of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions. Here we discuss deforestation and what it could mean for the health of the planet if we don’t halt the practice.
The two main ways of removing forests are cutting down the trees and burning them. Both of these methods contribute significantly to global warming. Because trees absorb carbon dioxide, cutting them down reduces the amount they are able remove from the air. Additionally, rotting and burning trees release the carbon dioxide that they have stored while alive, leading to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Those who argue that deforestation isn’t that harmful often suggest that there are other plants on the earth that also absorb carbon dioxide. However, smaller plants and those used for agriculture draw only a fraction of the gas that trees can absorb.
Combating deforestation is an important environmental cause for a variety of reasons. Besides contributing to climate change, clearing forests destroys wildlife habitats that numerous species depend upon for survival. For these reasons, we should prevent deforestation by helping educate others about the problem and partnering with organizations that aim to stop it.
Tropical Rainforests Face the Biggest Threat
Although deforestation is a huge problem all over the world, it is of particular concern in tropical areas, such as the countries of Indonesia, Brazil, and Thailand, which have been the most affected by significant deforestation. In fact, NASA reported that if things continue on the path they’re on, the world’s tropical rainforests might disappear in as little as a century.
In the past five decades, the Amazon has lost 17 percent of its rainforest. This deforestation is occurring primarily in densely populated areas, where people often cut down trees to clear land for raising cattle. In the more rural locations, people are getting rid of the rainforests to gain access to the precious natural resources they contain.
Deforestation has become such a dire issue in Brazil that between 2005 and 20122, the country instituted measures to reduce rainforest clearings by upwards of 80 percent. While this increase in prevention was certainly helpful, deforestation in Brazil has been on the rise in recent years, threatening to derail the progress the nation has made thus far.
The recent increase in deforestation in Brazil is directly related to weaker government regulation and aggressive lobbying on behalf of the farming industry, according to a study published by the Council on Foreign Relations. Not only do people clear the land for actual farming, but they also cut down trees to accommodate the related infrastructure, such as roads and bridges. The vehicles used for logging and other activities related to deforestation also emit of greenhouse gasses.
Another problem that plagues Brazil’s rain forests is inadequate enforcement of laws designed to protect natural resources. For example, The Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), which protects the country’s 2 million square miles of rainforests, employs less than 2,000 patrol officers. The lack of staff is exacerbated by the fact that officers are sometimes unable to differentiate between protected and unprotected forests, which makes enforcement that much more complicated. Even when IBAMA fines companies or individuals for illegally clearing land, these fines are rarely paid.
Climate change is very real, therefore people should take a proactive approach and do anything they can to slow its progress. Everyday citizens can make a difference in saving the world’s forests by making eco-conscious choices in their day-to-day lives, including choosing sustainable products that do not rely on the destruction of the world’s forests. Some ways to help are choosing sustainably produced food, purchasing recycled or certified sustainable wood products, and actively participating in zero-waste initiatives. With proper education and engagement, everyone can work together to stop the ongoing problem of deforestation.