The total global forest cover is just over 31%1. The Amazon, Central Africa, and South Asia are home to some of the world’s greatest forests. But as populations and resource demand rises, so has deforestation2. In general, deforestation is the act of cutting down trees and the effects are a risk to climate change and global warming. There is an urgent need to stop deforestation or at least minimise it. Furthermore, it is also important to use other climate change reversal tools, such as reducing the use of fossil fuels.
Causes of Deforestation
The causes of deforestation are tremendous and are both direct and indirect 3.
Direct examples include natural hazards and landscape modification from human activities. So for instance, palm oil industries are especially dependent on empty lands. Likewise, important resources, such as wood products and paper products, are made from chopped trees4.
Indirect causes take longer because it affects other factors before deforestation occurs. An important example is climate change which can bring pressure to current ecosystems. Where tree growth is reduced because of this pressure, timber industries that rely on trees could suffer3. A poor and lack of governance can also endanger forests.
Impacts of Deforestation
Deforestation has far-reaching effects on the ecosystem in the long run. Trees are unique because they store carbon dioxide from the air. But when trees are cut down, that carbon is released. So, this increases greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.
Land-use change is also linked to surface warming. In particular, cutting down evergreen trees for agricultural land alters the state of the Earth’s energy balance5. This results in a higher surface temperature which further contributes to global warming5.
Moreover, soil erosion is also a critical impact. Almost half of the land’s topsoil is lost to this every year. This equates to around 0.03 tons of soil per year6. An exposed and dry topsoil with loose connectivity is more prone to cause future physical hazards.
Much of the recent focus has been to slow down the negative impacts of deforestation. The most direct and quickest way involves completely stopping the practice.
An alternative is to switch to eco-forestry7. This involves cutting trees down less intensively7. For instance, only select trees are cut down and transported with as little damage to the area as possible.
Green businesses are a rising solution. They encourage recycling and reusing materials to produce products. They have recognised that daily life without the use of tree products is unrealistic8. Therefore, for areas deforested for business purposes, they compensate the loss via replanting.
Afforestation can prevent desertification and reduce land degradation 9. This is because trees tend to maintain water and soil quality by reducing runoff and trapping sediments and nutrients9. Planting native species is important to avoid negative environmental consequences10.
Human action from the grassroots to the government level is also important. We can take small actions such as using less single-use items to donating to worldwide conservation programmes11. By working with organisations, we can look to educate ourselves and protect the Earth.
Of course, in order to drastically slow climate change, these solutions need to be used in line with decreasing fossil fuel usage, increasing renewable energy technologies and even down to an individual level. This could be done by decreasing usage of single-use plastics, walking and cycling more, and buying ecologically, locally sourced products.
See more articles on http://actionaidrecycling.org.uk/
1. Eco-economy Indicators. Earth Policy Institute. Retrieved 23 March 2020. http://www.earth-policy.org/indicators/C56/forests_2012.
2. Roser, M. Forests. Our World in Data. Retrieved 23 March 2020. https://ourworldindata.org/forests.
3. The causes of deforestation. Eniscuoula. Retrieved 14 May, 2020. http://www.eniscuola.net/en/argomento/rain-forest/deforestation/the-causes-of-deforestation/.
4. Palm oil is unavoidable. Can it be sustainable? National Geographic. Retrieved 14 May, 2020. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/12/palm-oil-products-borneo-africa-environment-impact/.
5. Land use change has warmed the Earth’s surface. EU Science Hub. Retrieved 14 May, 2020. https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/news/land-use-change-has-warmed-earths-surface.
6. Soil Erosion And Its Effects. Mongabay. Retrieved 14 May, 2020. https://rainforests.mongabay.com/0903.htm.
7. 7 Fantastic Solutions to Deforestation. Matter of Trust. Retrieved 14 May, 2020. https://matteroftrust.org/7-fantastic-solutions-to-deforestation/.
8. No trees… No Humans. Nature. Retrieved 14 May, 2020. https://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/our-science/no_trees_no_humans/.
9. Borja P, Molina A, Govers G, Vanacker V. Check dams and afforestation reducing sediment mobilization in active gully systems in the Andean mountains. Catena. 2018 Jun 1;165:42-53. Retrieved 14 May, 2020.
10. Armstrong AJ, Van Hensbergen HJ. Impacts of afforestation with pines on assemblages of native biota in South Africa. South African Forestry Journal. 1996 Mar 1;175(1):35-42. Retrieved 14 May, 2020.
11. Sandström G. Recycled Goods: Middle age and increased income decreases environmental commitment. Retrieved 14 May, 2020.