Updated: Aug 28, 2020
By J.V. Jayme
Deforestation is one of the main aspects of environmental degradation that is setting off a domino effect of grave consequences that further exacerbates the climate crisis we are living in today. This is because deforestation also affects the climate in more ways than one which should make its mitigation a priority for environmental advocates.
The Domino Effect
Forests are commonly referred to as the planet’s lungs. An apt description. After all, not only are the trees in these forests responsible for releasing water vapor and oxygen into the air, they also absorb carbon dioxide and mitigate the effects of these greenhouse gases. Needless to say, the massive loss of forests all over the world and the large-scale disruption of the natural cycle has led to the major imbalances in the atmospheric temperature and global climate.
Concurrently, deforestation also exacerbates natural phenomena. For instance, it would only make sense then how even an unremarkable thunderstorm can lead to massive flooding. Lest we forget, trees are responsible for absorbing and storing large amounts of water. So, cutting down forests will inevitably make flooding a major problem in low-lying areas – a problem that becomes more pronounced for countries without adequate infrastructure to mitigate these effects. (Rehman, 2015)
Another major problem that comes with deforestation is habitat disruption and, in worse cases, wildlife extinction. Countless species of flora and fauna across the world are put at risk because of the haphazard clearance of forests. As these species are forcibly removed from their habitats, many are forced to find ways to adapt. So, it is wholly unsurprising to find many species, previously aversive to human interaction, being forced to encroach on human settlements. (Einhorn, 2020)
Of course, failure to adapt to such a cataclysmic event like losing one’s natural habitat could also potentially lead to a species’ extinction - a reality that is becoming commonplace these past decades. In fact, a report by the World Wildlife Fund cited deforestation, along with other human activities, as one of the prime factors that directly led to the death of 60% of the world’s animal population. (World Wildlife Fund, 2018)
Persistent and Worsening Problem
The systematic and widespread loss of forest areas remains a pressing concern and a persistent problem for the world today. In the period of 2000 – 2012, for instance, the total global forest loss was 230,000-kilo hectares. (Austin, González-Roglich, Schaffer-Smith, & Schwantes, 2017)
In 2019, the world’s largest tropical rainforest saw its deforestation rate skyrocket to an 11-year high. This is especially alarming considering the fact that the Amazon is crucial to successfully combatting climate change. The data, which was provided by the country’s space research agency, showed the loss of 29.5% or 9,762 square kilometers of forest land in the Brazilian part of the Amazon. (Casado, 2019)
It is also worth noting that the Amazon is by no means an isolated case. For the years 2000-2006, the tropical deforestation rate was approximately 6,900 kha per year. However, the years 2007-2012 saw it jump to around 7,900 kha per year. (Austin, González-Roglich, Schaffer-Smith, & Schwantes, 2017) This trend was most apparent in two regions of the globe: Southeast Asia and South America. In both regions, large-scale industrial commodity production played a major role in the accelerated deforestation. To put things in perspective, the average industrial oil palm plantations average in Indonesia is at least 3000 hectares. Meanwhile, at least 1000 hectares of forest land needs to be razed to give way for ranches to be used for cattle grazing in Brazil. In addition to this, hundreds of thousands of hectares are being sold and cleared to support the production of export-oriented agricultural products. (Austin, González-Roglich, Schaffer-Smith, & Schwantes, 2017)
Needless to say, something needs to be done to address the problem of deforestation. While efforts are being made on a multinational and multilateral level (i.e. the implementation of REDD+ projects), there is also great pressure for national governments to implement policies that can be enforced and implemented.
The effects of forest-loss are already apparent. In fact, some scientists believe that we are already living in the age of mass extinction (World Wildlife Fund, 2018). Failure to address this problem is tantamount to sowing the wind – without the forests, we will be reaping the whirlwind of environmental collapse.
Austin, K., González-Roglich, M., Schaffer-Smith, D., & Schwantes, A. a. (2017). Trends in size of tropical deforestation events signal increasing dominance of industrial-scale drivers. Environmental Research Letters.
Casado, L. (2019, July 28). Under Brazil’s Far-Right Leader, Amazon Protections Slashed and Forests Fall. Retrieved from New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/28/world/americas/brazil-deforestation-amazon-bolsonaro.html
Einhorn, C. (2020, April 9). Animal Viruses Are Jumping to Humans, Forest Loss Makes It Easier. Retrieved from New York Times: www.nytimes.com/2020/04/09/climate/animals-humans-virus-covid.html
Rehman, S. (2015, November 26). What Does Climate Justice Look Like? Retrieved from World Economic Forum: www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/11/what-does-climate-justice-look-like/
World Wildlife Fund. (2018, October 30). Living Planet Report 2018. Retrieved from World Wildlife Fund: https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/living-planet-report-2018