What is deforestation?
Recent years have seen the world lose a significant chunk of its forests due to various human activities, with over a million square kilometers of forest was lost between 1990 and 2016.
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While around 30% of the earth’s land is still covered in forests, this is just a fraction of what it was a century ago. With millions of hectares being lost each year, it is becoming more important to assess the value of deforestation and analyze the severity of its drawbacks.
Agriculture, drilling, and mining together account for around 50% of the world’s loss of forests. Logging is another major cause of deforestation, with illegal logging exacerbating the problem. Urbanization is another major factor, causing forests to be cleared to allow for housing projects to be completed.
Although deforestation is essential for all these industries, it has major drawbacks which may lead to stricter regulations being enforced on this activity.
The negative aspects of deforestation
Contribution to climate change
Contribution to climate change is potentially the most significant drawback of deforestation. Its role in climate change is twofold.
First, trees are vitally important to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, therefore, in removing them less carbon dioxide can be converted into oxygen, leading to increased carbon levels. Forests remove around 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, however, as we lose our forests, this number will decrease.
Secondly, the action of deforestation adds huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Recent figures estimate that around 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions are due to deforestation, which is more that is attributed to the world’s transport sector.
Soil erosion and flooding
Soil is anchored to the ground via the roots of plants. The huge roots of trees provide adequate anchorage to prevent the topsoil from blowing away with the wind or washing away with the rain. When deforestation removes these trees and their roots the topsoil becomes vulnerable to the elements.
The World Wildlife Fund has recently estimated that already the world has lost around half of its topsoil in the last century and a half due to deforestation.
The eroded soil causes more problems. Much of it gets washed away into the nearby water sources, increases levels of sedimentation which has detrimental effects on aquatic life and animals who drink from the water source.
In addition, the erosion of topsoil reduces soil fertility and damages agricultural activity on the site, which may have been cleared for farming.
Loss of habitats and biodiversity
Forests are home to a vast number of plants and animals. Removing the trees disrupts the entire ecosystem, animals cannot survive without the trees for shelter, food, and nesting sites. Deforestation has a particularly detrimental impact on biodiversity, with several species facing a significant loss in numbers, such as the howler monkey.
The rainforest is famous for the richness of its biodiversity. As it stands, just 1% of all the plant species that make their home there have been investigated for their potential medical use.
Already many tropical plant species have been proven to be medically useful, and therefore, it is likely that there are a lot more still to be discovered that could have a significant impact on the treatment and prevention of many diseases.
For example, studies have shown that wild periwinkle found in the forests of Madagascar is effective at treating leukemia. Many more plants could be discovered that have similar uses for other cancers. However, we will not be able to discover these if the world’s forests are destroyed.
Danger to human life
One lesser-known drawback of deforestation is the danger to human life that it brings. For example, Brazil has seen a significant loss of human life in the pursuit of deforestation. Mercenaries were hired to clear local tribes from the areas to be cut down, and trespassers or anyone who was believed to pose a threat to deforestation activities were met with violence.
It is reported that some once-thriving tribes are now left with just a handful of members due to this. Because of the money often involved in deforestation, governments who try to step in to protect these vulnerable people are reported to at times be bribed or involved in other unethical actions that allow the deforestation companies to continue their activities.
Changes in weather patterns
Finally, deforestation has also been linked with changes in weather via its impact on the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Scientists have linked the increased frequency and length of droughts to this elevation in carbon dioxide levels.
This reduced rainfall is drastically impacting agriculture, resulting in failed crops and fewer food products making it to the consumer. As the world’s population grows the demand for food rises, and this is putting more pressure on farms to produce enough food, however, droughts are a major limitation to how much food can be produced each year.
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