Deforestation and the Environment

Deforestation and the Environment

Deforestation is the act of cutting down trees and clearing forests in order to benefit people. It began early in the age of humans, who did it for varying reasons. It started with the simple cutting of trees, but was soon followed with the use of fire to clear the land. This was most often done in order to plant crops. About 30 percent of the world is still covered with forests, but huge areas the sizes of cities are lost each year. At that rate, the rain forests of the world could be completely destroyed in less than 100 years.

Causes of Deforestation

Profits made from the crops, timber, and pastureland outweighs the cost of conservation for most people, especially in poorer countries where families heavily depend on the land. Although urban sprawl is one cause, agriculture is the biggest drive behind deforestation. Farmers clear and burn areas for planting and grazing, which can prevent the growth of new young trees. However, deforestation is not entirely due to human activity. Wildfires, overgrazing, and other natural disasters can also play a part. 

Environmental Problems Caused by Deforestation

The environment can be negatively affected by deforestation in many ways. The worst is the loss of habitat for indigenous species. The Earth’s forests are home to seventy percent of the world’s land animals and the survival of many is completely dependent on a healthy forest. A healthy forest creates a closed canopy that supports animals such as apes and other tree dwelling creatures. It also maintains steady temperatures, not too hot during the day and not too cool at night. The land below is often cool and damp, which many animals and plants need to survive.

The removal of these eco systems also changes the water cycle; the amount of moisture put back into the atmosphere. The land can become so dry that little can survive. Another critical role trees play is in protecting the atmosphere from greenhouse gases. Trees absorb the harmful gases that are thought to be the cause of global warming.

The Economic Impact of Deforestation

When a country is stripped of its forests, the renewable resources disappear. What was once ecologically productive land becomes desert or grassland. In tropical forests not only is habitat lost, but also renewable resources like fruit, nuts and other harvested materials. These profitable products can account for billions in international trade value. Deforestation can cause total devastation to many of these products, which jeopardizes both future resources and the economics of a region.

Another downside to deforestation is that dangerous animals must venture outside the forest in order to forage for food. This means that contact with humans and livestock becomes an issue. Encounters with venomous snakes, elephants, and large hunting animals like big cats have become more common, and these encounters have left both humans and animals dead. Elephants have not only attacked humans, but are also devastating crops.

Without the forests, areas also lose the regular flow of clean water and the flood and drought protection the forest offers. The runoff that was once halted by the forest during the rainy season now can flow unimpeded and rapidly into nearby rivers and streams, whose banks cannot sustain them. During the dry season, areas once fed water naturally by the forests become drier than normal. This disrupts crop harvests and other industrial operations. Local rainfall drops due to the loss of humidity as well. Plants release water through their leaves, which is called transpiration. Without the forests, the water cycle is broken by as much as 80 percent.

Forest Transition Theory

The forest transition theory describes a turnaround in the trends of land used for any given territory where there has been deforestation to a time of forest gain in the same area. It is based on predictions of recovery in regions that are temperate based primarily on macroeconomic factors. In tropical regions, there are additional complex processes in order to recover a full tree-covered environment. The rehabilitation of a forest is subject to many factors including effectiveness, scale and outcome.

The past teaches us that forest transition is possible positive only if they are properly understood. It has been suggested that in the tropics, forest transition needs to be looked at in terms of both economic factors and those that influence the outcomes of forest rehabilitation. This would also include other processes that would affect the increase of cover in the forest.

History of Deforestation

Since more than 32 million acres of forest has been burned in the last decade, it is urgent that tropical deforestation be stopped. We have seen that deforestation over the years has changed carbon levels, ravaged the livelihood of forest peoples, and reduced biodiversity. History shows us the changes made by our decisions.

After the middle of the first millennium, the practice of silting in order to create harbors became common. Later the harbors were abandoned due to the silt. Erosion became the enemy. This also is what happened in Easter Island. In recent centuries great soil erosion has occurred. It was the cause of deforestation and agricultural ventures. It is thought that deforestation and over use of resources led to the collapse of the civilization that lived there sometime between the 17th to 18th centuries.

Cities were typically built in or near forests, which provided wood that could be used for things like construction, and industry. As usefulness of the forest depleted there was no thought to replanting, and the areas became a problem for the economy. There would be flooding, lack of resources and crop failures, so the people merely picked up and moved to another area. Occasionally some green area was left for hunting, collecting firewood, fruits and to graze pigs. However, this was usually protected only for the use of the elite.

Although areas that had been abandoned recovered somewhat, much of the biodiversity that once thrived was lost and could not be recovered by the secondary forest that grew there. Significant deforestation in Western Europe took place from 1100 to 1500 A.D. as populations expanded. Shipbuilding became large scale as explorers, colonists and other trade markets expanded, devastating nearby forests. In Spain piracy contributed to forest decline and the economy weakened. When America was discovered, these areas quickly became dependent on its resources. This began to change the environment of North America as well. Overall, the clearance of woodlands to create agricultural land around the world has forever changed some areas and continues as deforestation continues.

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation

Although deforestation rates have been slowing, it is unlikely to stop entirely. The solution comes in management of forests. This would mean the elimination of clear cutting, making cuttings more balanced, and allowing the forest to use its own resources to heal. This would also be helped along by the planting of saplings to replace the fallen trees.

REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) includes policies that in exchange for forest conversation would give economic incentives. This would drastically reduce deforestation immediately and would provide a cut in pollution and greenhouse gases by around 25 percent over a short period of time. It would also protect ecosystems, and promote new income through the development of forest resources.