What is Deforestation?
Updated: Sep 21st, 2022
The forests of the world are loaded with biodiversity, and also play a critical role in protecting our atmosphere. But they are under threat! Explore this page to learn some of the basics about deforestation and how you can help.
The forests of the world are loaded with biodiversity, and also play a critical role in protecting our atmosphere from carbon dioxide.. Photo Credit: Getty Images
The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that an area approximately the size of Switzerland is lost to deforestation each and every year.. Photo Credit: Getty Images
What is Deforestation?
In addition to the fumes coming out of our automobiles and factories, there is another important human activity that impacts our atmosphere. This activity is deforestation. Deforestation is defined as the removal of large amounts of trees so the land can be repurposed for different kinds of human use. These uses can include mining, urbanization, as well as agricultural uses, just to name a few.
The Lungs of our Planet
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, forests cover more than 30 percent of the land 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.
But very importantly, forests play a critical role in maintaining the health of our atmosphere and stabilizing our climate. This happens because living trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, mitigating and partially offsetting the greenhouse gases created by human activities. Scientists call this feature “carbon sequestration.” It is defined as the capture and storage of excess carbon dioxide.
Of all the forests of the world, the tropical trees alone are known to provide the largest share of the climate mitigation that we need to protect our atmosphere. It’s because of this important characteristic people often refer to them as the ‘lungs of our planet.’
The tropical trees provide the largest share of the climate mitigation we need to protect our atmosphere. This photo is a Cloud Forest in Central Africa. Photo Credit: Getty Images
Forests under threat
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, an area of our planet approximately the size of Switzerland is lost to deforestation each and every year. With much of this deforestation occurring in the important tropical zones, it prompts the scientific community to ask,- what is the primary cause?
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a majority of the tropical deforestation occurring today can be traced primarily to just four globally traded commodities: Wood Products, Palm Oil, Cattle Ranching, and Soybeans.
Consumption of tropical timber by the U.S plays a significant role in tropical deforestation, with much of it being harvested illegally and then sold here in the U.S.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, for example, “the increasing global demand for low-cost timber products supports a multi-billion dollar business of illegal and unsustainable logging in forests worldwide..” The World Wildlife Fund continues on to say, “Consumption of tropical timber by the U.S. and other industrial countries plays a significant role in tropical deforestation.”
Palm oil is a commonly produced vegetable oil and it is found in a staggering amount of supermarket products. It is cheap to produce, it is widely versatile, and it can be added to a number of food and personal products ranging from everything from bread, to dough, chips, soaps, detergents, lipsticks, and even shampoo!
The popularity and usefulness of palm oil in such a wide array of products has spurred people to clear large areas of tropical rainforests simply to grow palm trees. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, we need to transform the palm industry to reduce our risk of climate change.
Palm oil is a commonly produced vegetable oil and it is found in a staggering amount of supermarket products.. Photo Credit: Getty Images
According to the World Wildlife Fund, beef production is the primary driver of deforestation in the Amazon region. This is primarily due to the fact that Brazil has grown to become the largest exporter of beef in the world, spurring rampant deforestation in the Amazon to convert rainforest to pastureland for cattle.
Besides the razing of forests to create pastureland, trees are also cut down to make room to grow soy. Soybeans are grown primarily to be used as animal feed in the tropical zones.
The popularity of soybean oil and other soy derivatives in food for humans has created a world-wide demand for soy, and the demand is expected to grow with each passing decade. Soy is popular because of its use in things like biofuels, as well as in products such as vegetable oil, soy sauce, tofu, and tempeh.
But in spite of all of these different uses, the primary motivation for farmers to grow soy is because of it’s use as animal feed. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the use of soy as animal feed accounts for approximately 80 percent of soybean production world-wide. And it is a major driver of tropical deforestation,- especially in the sensitive amazon basin.
A legume native to East Asia, the cultivation of soybeans is another major driver of deforestation,- especially in the Amazon basin.. Photo Credit: Getty Images
Soybeans are grown primarily to feed cattle, and their usefulness is encouraging people to clear tropical rainforests to grow more soy.. Photo Credit: Getty Images
As a result of this combination of factors, as well as a few others yet to be covered here, the Amazon Conservation Organization estimates that, at the current pace, more than half of the Amazon rainforest is likely to be destroyed by the year 2030.
Brazil has become the largest exporter of beef in the world, spurring rampant deforestation in the Amazon region for cattle grazing.. Photo Credit: Getty Images
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