The forests comprise 31% of the total land mass of the Earth. They are vital in the absorption of carbon dioxide emissions to filter the air we breathe. They are also responsible for producing vital oxygen essential for the existence of wildlife and humans.
More than 2 billion people around the world rely on forests which provide them food, shelter, clothing, fresh water, fuel security and traditional medicine, among others. 300 million people, including 60 million indigenous people primarily live in forests. Apart from humans, forests are also a home to biodiversity. 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity – plants and animals are found in forests.
But, we are gradually losing our forests.
According to statistics, about half of the world’s tropical forests have been cleared. Annually, 6 to 12% of global forests are lost. Between 1990 and 2015, about 129 million hectares of forest are lost. That is like the size of the whole South Africa. Since the last century, Indonesia lost at least 15.79 million hectares of forests, making it the country with the most deforestation. Some other deforested countries include Thailand, Brazil, and some parts of Africa and Europe.
What really happened?
Major Causes of Deforestation
According to United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), we lose over 7 million hectares of forest every year. They are all attributed to human activities. The rise of industrialization has worsened the problem with deforestation.
Illegal logging is the primary cause of deforestation. According to a study, over 15 billion trees are cut down every year. Myanmar has the highest rate of illegal logging with 85%, while Peru comes second with 80%. Indonesia is the largest exporter of timber in which 80% of it is exported illegally. The United States is the world’s largest importer of these forest products.
Forest fires are a natural occurrence that takes place when the temperature in the forests increase due to long periods of dry seasons. It can also be caused by a lightning strike. But alarmingly, there is an increasing number of cases of forest fires caused by humans. To clear the forest rapidly, people use fire. In the Philippines, this system is called Kaingin. Every year, millions of acres of forests are destroyed by fire.
Wood is still the popular fuel choice for heating and cooking. Based on the data of FAO, more than 2.6 people depend on timber, fuelwood, and charcoal as their sources of energy. Since 1960, the consumption of fuelwood has increased to about 250%.
To meet the increasing global demand for commodities and agricultural products, farms and plantations are being expanded even to the premises of the tropical forests. Indonesia which was the largest producer of palm oil was named the “Fastest Forest Destroyer” by Guinness World Records in 2008. As of 2011, a total agricultural area in the world has reached 4.9 billion hectares.
Buildings, schools, factories, cities, and roads – these are all accounts of infrastructure expansion. Urbanization has occupied the forests. Road expansions lead to cutting down of trees. The erection of buildings requires the destruction of tropical forests. According to a study, an average of 6,500 miles of roads is constructed in the United States every year.
As part of agricultural modernization, forests have been cleared to make way for livestock ranching. Since 1990, Brazil has become the top exporter of beef in the world. Due to the increasing global demand, the government of Brazil deforested an area that is three-fourths the size of Texas to expand their beef ranches.
Lastly, overpopulation. The Earth has a total population of 7.6 billion people. By 2050, it is expected that we will reach almost 10 million in number. With this, more and more people will rely on forests as sources of food and shelter. More forests will also be cleared for the construction of houses and buildings.
Impact of Deforestation
With everything that is happening, the Earth is threatened. Humans have gradually lost the forests that are very essential for our existence. Apart from these, deforestation also affects biodiversity and the natural processes in the ecosystem.
Extinction of Biodiversity
70% of the world’s plants and animals live in the forests. However, due to series of deforestation, the natural habitats of the wildlife are also destroyed. According to National Geographic, loss of habitat is the major cause of species extinction. Every year, at least 10,000 species go extinct.
Trees and all the fauna in the forests enrich the soil. Without the trees, the soil will lose its fertility. Also, the rise of agriculture promoted soil degradation and soil erosion. The absence of trees made the soil sweep into the rivers. Scientists estimated that 70% of the world’s arable land has been lost through soil erosion.
Greenhouse Gas Emission
As mentioned earlier, forests absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. According to a study, tropical forests hold over 210 gigatons of carbon dioxide. Due to deforestation, 15% of these greenhouse gases are freed. This led to increasing temperature, climate change and worst, global warming.
Disruption of Water Cycles
Trees play a vital role in the water cycle. They keep the balance between the water on land and in the atmosphere. Due to deforestation, the water cycle has been disrupted which causes to extreme weather conditions, unexpected patterns of precipitation and river flow.
Loss of Livelihood
Again, millions of people depend on forests for livelihood – hunting, gathering, medicine and small-scale agriculture. When the forests will be gone, there will be a loss of livelihood. In some parts of Southeast Asia, deforestation caused people to migrate to urban areas.
Poor Life Quality
The ending of everything is pool life quality for humans. Without food, we are nothing. Without potable water, we are sick. Without trees, oxygen will lack supply. Carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases will occupy the air, promoting various diseases. Deforestation will also increase the global temperature which leads to climate change and global warming.