The human race depends heavily on forests. Forests make up 31% of the Earth’s land and house half of the planet’s species and approximately 300 million people. The trees provide us with oxygen and timber, and muffle noise pollution. Clearly, these are crucial parts of our planet. So why are they disappearing at a rapid rate?
What is deforestation?
Deforestation refers to the removal of forest lands for other uses such as urbanization, mining, or farmland. The rate of deforestation has been growing since the 1960s due to human activity, and according to The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, the deforestation rate is 10 million hectares per year.
Main causes of deforestation
Deforestation is either caused by natural factors or human activities. Natural factors include forest fires not caused by humans or parasitic diseases. Human activities are the main cause of deforestation, though, including the expansion of agriculture and infrastructure construction.
1) Agriculture (~80%)
Large-scale agriculture (particularly cattle-ranching and the production of soy beans and oil palm) accounts for 40% of deforestation, and local agriculture makes up the other 40%.
2) Construction (15%)
Construction makes up for 15% of deforestation. Infrastructure being built such as roads, airports, and rails often take up large amounts of space and require forests to be bulldozed to make room.
3) Urbanization (5%)
People are moving from rural to urban areas at an increasing rate. The urban growth is leading to an increase in housing, requiring more land and therefore more deforestation happens.
The effects of deforestation
The biggest effect is the threat to biodiversity. Since many species live in the forests, they all have to face the threat of deforestation to their habitat. As species go extinct, natural imbalances occur and the entire ecosystem is at risk.
Animals aren't the only creatures at risk, though. 1.6 billion people have forest-related jobs, especially in developing countries. There is also the consequence of soil erosion, which can result in an increase in natural disasters like landslides and floods.
Another severe consequence of deforestation is increased greenhouse gas emissions. When forests are cut or burned they emit carbon instead of absorbing it. Because of this, deforestation is responsible for 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which can lead to an increase in extreme weather events such as floods and rising temperatures.
Solutions to deforestation
A simple way that you can help stop deforestation is to consume less meat and dairy products. Studies have shown that by lowering your consumption of these foods, global farmland use could be reduced by over 75%. You can also be conscious on other products you use, especially ones that use palm oil, and try to buy as much as possible from eco-friendly brands and smaller, local farmers.
We can educate local communities about the need to protect forests, enact laws and policies to ensure the conservation of these areas, and fight illegal logging. Organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund are also actively working to combat deforestation by promoting sustainable bioenergy and working towards sustainable infrastructure.
Deforestation is a global problem, and is threatening our environment and the livelihoods of many. However, now that you know the causes and effects, you can make the decision to do your part to curb this environmental destruction.