Article Written by Zane Lerwill
Forests cover around 30 percent of the land in the world, playing an essential role in life on Earth. Forests have a wide variety of benefits, namely that they provide a habitat for the majority of land animals and plants, while diversifying and balancing the ecosystems, and absorbing greenhouse gasses. However, the safety of our forests is under threat, as around 420 million hectares of forests have been lost in the last three decades. Deforestation, the mass destruction of trees, is a practice that greatly damages life on earth.
There are many causes of deforestation, but the main ones are mining, farming, grazing, and drilling. These are not the only causes of deforestation; urbanization, wildfires, and the over-harvesting of trees for their resources (ex. paper, timber, palm oil, etc.) all contribute to the loss of forests. There are a wide variety of causes, but almost all of them result from human activities, whether intentional or unintentional.
Deforestation affects large rainforests the most, notably the Amazon Rainforest and the Congo Basin Rainforest. Around 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed in the last 50 years, with losses only increasing. Additionally, according to a report by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, around 363 square miles of rainforest were cut down between January 2022 and March 2022. This is the highest amount ever recorded for this time period, also a 64 percent increase from last year. The rate of deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest is only expected to increase throughout the year.
Deforestation deeply hurts the environment, as well as those who depend on it to survive. This includes both animals and humans. A loss of diversity harms the ecosystems, causing massive effects on habitats and clean water. As 80 percent of land animals and plants live in forests, deforestation directly affects their livelihoods. This further accentuates with endangered animals, as deforestation directly affects their ability to survive.
In addition to having drastic effects on the environment, deforestation also contributes to climate change. It both adds greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere while simultaneously detracting Earth’s ability to remove them from the atmosphere. This emphasizes the importance of trees as a tool to fight climate change. According to a study by the World Resources Institute, tropical trees are powerful enough to provide 23 percent of the climate mitigation needed to meet the climate goals outlined in the Paris Agreement. However, deforestation accounts for around 10 percent of global emissions, meaning that if it were a country it would be third for carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions, ranking only after the United States and China.
While deforestation is still a large problem, there is hope for the future of forests. With a large increase in climate activism within recent years, a lot of progress is being made to push back on deforestation practices. Conservation efforts are being put in place, initiatives to replant trees are happening, and more laws are being passed to protect the natural environment. For those who want to get involved, conservation efforts in local areas are a great place to start. These efforts are working, as a recent United Nations study found that the rates of deforestation are decreasing: 10 million hectares were deforested from 2015 and 2020, compared to the 12 million that were deforested between 2010 and 2015.
Nunez, Christina. “Deforestation and Its Effect on the Planet.” National Geographic, National Geographic, 7 Feb. 2019, www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/deforestation. Accessed 10 Apr. 2022.
Rocha, Camila, and Stefano Pozzebon. “Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest Has Already Reached a New Deforestation Record This Year.” CNN, 8 Apr. 2022, www.cnn.com/2022/04/08/americas/brazil-amazon-deforestation-latam-intl/index.html. Accessed 10 Apr. 2022.
United Nations. “Deforestation Has Slowed down but Still Remains a Concern, New UN Report Reveals.” UN News, 21 July 2020, www.news.un.org/en/story/2020/07/1068761. Accessed 10 Apr. 2022.