The Negative Effects of Deforestation: The Cons and Impact in 2021

Negative effects of deforestation

When Joe Biden was running for President of the United States, he made a bold claim. He said that he would get the world to spend USD $20 billion to protect the Amazon rainforests in South America. Recognising the negative effects of deforestation in the Amazon, he pledged to impose “significant economic consequences” if Brazil continued to allow illegal loggers and ranchers to destroy the rainforests.1

The backlash was immediate. Brazil’s President, populist demagogue Jair Bolsonaro, tweeted in Portuguese, “What some have not yet understood is that Brazil has changed. Today, its President, unlike the left, no longer accepts bribes, criminal demarcations or unfounded threats. OUR SOVEREIGNTY IS NON-NEGOTIABLE.”2

This illustrated how deforestation has become a huge crisis worldwide – a crisis that is extremely controversial. 

Why are forests so important?

Forests prevent climate change

Forests are vital for our planet and people in several ways. For one, they are vital to stop global warming and climate change. They are also important to protect the land and agriculture, and to prevent soil erosion. Furthermore, they provide shelter and livelihoods to over one billion people across the planet,3 as well as billions of species of plants and animals. The effects of deforestation have permanent environmental consequences. The loss of trees in tropical forests has climate consequences around the world. Deforestation in the Amazon at current levels can – and will – trigger global warming as more CO2 and greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere.

Bird in the Amazon
Over 1,300 species of birds are native to the Amazon rainforest

Trees absorb carbon dioxide

Forests store and soak up carbon dioxide every day, turning it into vital oxygen. They are the ‘lungs of the planet’. CO2 is a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the air. With forest loss, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would rise quickly and heat up the planet. To limit global warming to 1.5°C, as the vast majority of climate scientists recommend, greenhouse gas emissions need to be 55 per cent lower than they were in 2017, by the year 2030. For this to happen, it is vital that we protect our forests.4

Forests irrigate the earth

Trees also give off water, forming clouds and attracting rain, and therefore irrigating the land. When they are destroyed, this cycle is reversed. The region starts to dry up and temperatures rise, further destroying habitats and worsening forest fires.5 Deforestation can thus reduce rainfall in a region and turn fertile land into deserts.6

Around the world, over 1.6 billion people also depend directly on forests. They need them for food, fuel and livelihoods. Millions of people need forests for as much as 90 per cent of their family fuel needs.7

Forests and other ecosystems, such as swamps and wetlands, also act as natural shields against flooding. This helps farmers, as well as billions of people who live in rural communities.8 They are also home to countless species of flora and fauna, which are vital to preserve the delicate balance of the world’s ecosystem.9

What are the negative effects of deforestation on rainforests?

Deforestation has a devastating impact on the region and its ecosystem of plants, animals and people. In Brazil, deforestation leaves the soil exposed and reduces the nutrients they receive from vegetation. In turn, that makes the soil less fertile and bare. Since forests naturally attract rain, deforestation brings less rainfall to the region and can transform the entire ecosystem.10

Many scientists are worried that the Amazon rainforests could hit a tipping point in which lower rainfall to the region could result in increased tree loss. This would transform the entire region into grasslands instead, which would be catastrophic. Rainforests support a much wider range of animal and plant species and biodiversity than savannahs. They also play a much larger role in absorbing carbon dioxide and recycling it back into oxygen. If the world lost the Amazon rainforests, it would speed up climate change and make the world’s weather patterns far more unstable.11

How much forest are we losing every year?

In 2018, the world lost 12 million hectares of tropical rainforests, which is equal to losing 30 football pitches of trees every minute, according to a recent report. An area the size of Belgium containing primary rainforests – older trees that absorb more carbon and are harder to replace – was lost that year.12

deforestation
Palm oil harvesting is one driver of deforestation

“The health of the planet is at stake and band-aid responses are not enough. The world’s forests are now in the emergency room”, said Frances Seymour at the World Resources Institute.13

Should we plant new trees or keep old ones?

It also makes far more sense to keep old trees standing than planting new trees. Cutting down trees releases more carbon stored in trees and roots into the atmosphere. It also takes time for new trees to grow, so we lose their ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere.14

If US President Joe Biden can save the Amazon rainforest, he won’t just be doing Brazil a favour, but the whole world.

Sources

  1. Time. (n.d.). Could a Biden Administration Save the Amazon? [online] Available at: https://time.com/5912986/biden-bolsonaro-brazil-amazon/.
  2. Twitter. (n.d.). https://twitter.com/jairbolsonaro/status/1311325732866588678. [online] Available at: https://twitter.com/jairbolsonaro/status/1311325732866588678 [Accessed 26 Feb. 2021].
  3. Panda.org. (2015). importance_forests_test. [online] Available at: https://wwf.panda.org/discover/our_focus/forests_practice/importance_forests/importance_forests_test/ [Accessed 4 Mar. 2021].
  4. IUCN. (2018). Forests and climate change. [online] Available at: https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/forests-and-climate-change.
  5. Sheil, D. and Murdiyarso, D. (2009). How Forests Attract Rain: An Examination of a New Hypothesis. BioScience, [online] 59(4), pp.341–347. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/59/4/341/346941.
  6. Pearce, F. (2018). Rivers in the Sky: How Deforestation Is Affecting Global Water Cycles. [online] Yale E360. Available at: https://e360.yale.edu/features/how-deforestation-affecting-global-water-cycles-climate-change.
  7. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2015). Forests and poverty reduction. [online] Fao.org. Available at: http://www.fao.org/forestry/livelihoods/en/.
  8. Climate, Nature and our 1.5°C Future A synthesis of IPCC and IPBES reports. (2019). [online] . Available at: https://d2ouvy59p0dg6k.cloudfront.net/downloads/wwf_climate__nature_and_our_1_5c_future_report.pdf [Accessed 4 Mar. 2021].
  9. World Wildlife Fund. (2000). Forest Habitat | Habitats | WWF. [online] Available at: https://www.worldwildlife.org/habitats/forest-habitat.
  10. BBC Bitesize. (2020). Threats to the tropical rainforest – Tropical rainforests – AQA – GCSE Geography Revision – AQA – BBC Bitesize. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zx8n39q/revision/3.
  11. correspondent, F.H.E. (2020). Amazon near tipping point of switching from rainforest to savannah – study. The Guardian. [online] 5 Oct. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/05/amazon-near-tipping-point-of-switching-from-rainforest-to-savannah-study.
  12. The Independent. (2019). Enough rainforest to fill 30 football pitches destroyed every minute last year. [online] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/tropical-rainforest-lost-destroyed-football-pitches-every-minute-a8886911.html.
  13. The Independent. (2019). Enough rainforest to fill 30 football pitches destroyed every minute last year. [online] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/tropical-rainforest-lost-destroyed-football-pitches-every-minute-a8886911.html.
  14. Fen Montaigne (2019). Leaving trees alone might be better than planting new ones. [online] Grist. Available at: https://grist.org/article/leaving-trees-standing-might-be-more-important-than-planting-new-ones/.