According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, around 18 million acres of forest are lost each year. This is due to deforestation: the conversion of forested land to non-forested land for alternate, usually agricultural, purposes. Although deforestation does clear space for agricultural land, rainforests and woodland are vital parts of our ecosystem, and losing them would have catastrophic consequences. This essay goes over the importance of forests, and how we can prevent them from being completely lost.
Forests cover 30% of the Earth’s surface, and have many amazing qualities that have made them important to mankind. Rainforests in particular have several unique attributes. For example, there are 121 natural remedies found in rainforests which can be used as medicine. In addition, forests can help to slow down the rate of global warming. Trees are capable of absorbing carbon, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The world’s forests store 283 billion tons of carbon- without them, climate change would occur at an even faster rate. As well as reducing greenhouse gases, 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon rainforest alone, making forests a crucial part of mankind’s survival.
The main cause of deforestation is agriculture, with subsistence farming, commercial agriculture, logging and fuel wood removals all involving it. The constant demand for free space due to urbanisation and overpopulation have also led to deforestation, and it is likely that these problems won’t end soon. As 1.6 billion people depend on forest products for all or part of their lives, more and more trees are destroyed each year. Scientists have predicted that if this continues, in under 100 years there will be no rainforests left.
As well as destroying the natural beauty of forests, deforestation has many physical and economic effects that could be devastating in the long term. Tropical deforestation causes 20% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, as decaying and burning wood allows carbon that trees have absorbed to return to the atmosphere. In addition, the hydrological cycle is affected by deforestation. Trees extract groundwater through their roots and release it into the atmosphere. When they are removed, transpiration cannot occur, making flash floods more likely and causing the climate to become drier. The soil also becomes drier, meaning that it doesn’t hold together as well. This increases the risks of flooding, soil erosion and landslides. As tropical rainforests produce 30% of the world’s freshwater through transpiration, the disruption of weather patterns due to deforestation can cause drought, desertification, crop failure and lack of vegetation. Around 50,000 species a year are potentially lost through this. Economically, the mass production of paper in developed countries such as the USA is preventing developing countries from getting the wood that they need to build homes or to sell. This means that those countries aren’t getting as much income, and from this the global GDP could be reduced by 7% by 2050, according to the 2008 Convention on Biological Diversity meeting.
However, there are some benefits to deforestation. It clears space for new structures to be built, so that urbanisation can continue and more income can be gained. In addition, the infrastructure of these areas can be expanded, allowing for more economic opportunity. Nevertheless, the negative effects of deforestation are very serious, and therefore it must be reduced (if not stopped entirely) before any more damage can be done.
So, how can deforestation be prevented? Several international organisations, such as the United Nations and the World Bank, have developed programs that could help to preserve of the world’s forests, often by offering financial contributions to encourage developing countries to cut back on deforestation. In Bolivia, upstream landowners are also paid to conserve their forests, preventing flooding further downstream. Agriculture is also being developed to create new ways of farming that don’t require the removal of trees. Food forests (farms that are designed to closely mimic natural forests whilst being environmentally friendly and cost effective) are one such method. Many corporations, such as Amazon, are also trying to reduce the amount of paper used in their packaging, and some companies replant trees to replace the ones that were cut down in order to make their products.
Although corporations and other organisations can make a big impact on deforestation, there are many small things that you can do to prevent it. Simple changes to your lifestyle, such as recycling your rubbish or trying to purchase products with less packaging can conserve forests. If you have more time on your hands and want to get involved, planting trees in your local area or joining an organisation trying to combat deforestation can really make a difference. Even if you are unable to do that, signing petitions to fight deforestation or showing your support to such organisations can help a lot. If everyone in the world made these small changes to their lifestyle, then deforestation would occur on a much smaller scale. Combat deforestation; save the world: one step at a time.