What is Deforestation?
And Why is it Important to Save Our Trees?
What is Deforestation?
Experts believe that forests cover more than 30 percent of the land area on our planet. They support all of the life on our planet.
They help people thrive by purifying the air we breath and the water we drink, and they provide a home for a large percentage of our terrestrial biodiversity, providing habitat for a vast array of plants, animals, and insects.
Forests also play a critical role in preventing climate change because they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Scrubbing the atmosphere of harmful carbon dioxide, forests have been described as the lungs of our planet, and literally provide us with the air we need to breath.
Unfortunately, the forests of the world, and especially the tropical rainforests, are under siege. Deforestation is the term we use to describe what occurs when large strands of forest are burned or cut down.
What are the Leading Causes of Deforestation?
Trees are cut down primarily so that the wood can be used as construction materials. They are also removed to make room for the development of industries, and to make room for crops, and to make room for animals to graze.
The Union of Concerned Scientists informs us that an area approximately the size of Switzerland is lost to deforestation each and every year.
Biodiversity of Tropical Rainforests.
Terrestrial biodiversity is usually greater in the warmer climate near the equator. For this reason, the tropical rainforests are a notable hotspot for biodiversity.
Mongabay, a nonprofit environmental science and conservation news platform, reports to us that although the rainforests cover less than 2 percent of Earth’s surface, they house an estimated 50 percent of all land-based life. The estimates from different scientific organizations on this subject are broad and differ widely,- apparently because there are so many species of plants and animals living in the rainforests that haven’t even been discovered yet, no one really has any idea what the true number of species actually is!
The National Geographic reports that tropical rainforests are the most biologically diverse terrestrial ecosystems in the world, and the Amazon rainforest in particular, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, is home to around 40,000 plant species, nearly 1,300 bird species, 3,000 types of fish, 427 species of mammals, and 2.5 million different insects.
Regardless of which estimate you choose to believe, tropical rainforests are nothing short of an ecological treasure trove! Unfortunately with deforestation occurring at such a high rate all over the planet, it includes losing the biodiversity of the tropical rainforests.
What are the Top Threats to Forests and, in Particular, Tropical Rainforests?
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a majority of tropical deforestation occurring today can be traced to just four globally traded commodities.
These commodities are:
1. Wood Products,
2. Palm Oil,
3. Soybeans, and
4. Cattle Ranching.
Let’s take a quick look:
The Timber Industry
According to the World Wildlife Fund, “the increasing global demand for low-cost timber products supports a multi-billion dollar business of illegal and unsustainable logging in forests worldwide. According to some estimates, logging in violation of national laws accounts for 8-10% of global production and trade in forest products. It also represents 40-50% of all logging in some of the most valuable and threatened forests on earth. Consumption of tropical timber by the U.S. and other industrial countries plays a significant role in tropical deforestation.”
Palm Trees and Palm Oil
Palm oil is a commonly produced vegetable oil and it is found in a staggering amount (approximately half!) of all supermarket products. It is cheap to produce, versatile, and it can be added to a number of both food and personal products like bread, doughs, chips, soaps and detergents, lipsticks, shampoo, and even some vegan cheeses!
There is controversy because the popularity and usefulness of palm oil in a wide array of products has spurred people to clear tropical rainforests just to grow palm trees.
The cultivation of soybeans is another major driver of deforestation,- especially in the Amazon basin. The seeds from the soybean plant are used to provide food for people, but human consumption actually only accounts for a small percentage of total soybean production. For the most part, soybeans are grown and harvested to feed livestock, and in particular,- soybeans are grown primarily to feed cattle.
In addition to the demand that cattle ranching creates for soybeans, the Yale University Global Forest Atlas states that a whopping 80 percent of the deforestation of the Amazon can be attributed to cattle ranching directly. Brazil has become the largest exporter of beef in the world, spurring rampant deforestation in the Amazon region for cattle grazing.
The result of this deforestation is soil erosion, loss of habitat, and a tragic loss of biodiversity. According to the Amazon Conservation Organization, at the current pace more than half of the Amazon is likely to be destroyed by the year 2030.
But most importantly of all, the loss of trees resulting from these commodities makes a growing contribution to the global warming equation.
Let’s take a look at the part that modern-day agriculture plays in this situation…
Agriculture & Climate Change.
In terms of environmental impact, the loss of trees caused by agriculture has a significant impact on global warming and climate change. The process of removing trees to create farmland, whether it is used for growing crops, or for grazing cattle, not only removes the vegetation we need to offset climate change, but also contributes damaging greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. In this section, let’s take a look at what the experts are saying about modern-day agriculture and it’s role in encouraging deforestation, climate change, and how it impacts a loss of biodiversity.
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