Discuss the relative importance of deforestation and its impact on the environment
Deforestation is the long-term removal of trees from an area because of changes in land use, it can also happen by natural processes such as fires, disease and storms. The need for wood and land has increased, as a result so has deforestation. It is quite difficult to calculate how much forest is actually destroyed each year but approximations can be drawn. During the 1980’s it was estimated by “The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)” that tens of thousands of tropical forests were destroyed – 53000 to be precise. Form this estimation it is possible to say that an area great enough to cover North Carolina is cut down every year (1). The size of twenty football fields is lost in forest every sixty seconds (2). However deforestation does have advantages as well as disadvantages; these have various impacts on the planet we live on.
One of the main causes and advantages of deforestation is the ability to use the forests as raw material for furniture, paper, construction and fuel in the less developed countries (3). The forests are probably the main sources of our wood supplies and have been for a long time. Land is also cleared for agricultural uses; raising crops and grazing for animals, mainly cattle. This is essential for many people in less developed countries. Medicines have also been found in the forests, and have been a great provider of such for a long time. By clearing the forests we are able to find such products. From the forests 25% of medicines we use are obtained, according to the World Rainforest Movement (4).
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The trees trap particles such as carbon which are created through pollution (4). They are trapped by a process called photosynthesis (5). By doing this the quality of air is vastly improved. Nitrogen and oxygen the two gasses of which the atmosphere is nearly entirely composed of does not retain the sun’s heat that is radiated down to us, but some gasses like carbon dioxide, ozone and methane do without these gasses the temperature of the earth world be a lot colder. However too much of these green house gasses means retaining too much infra – red radiation which causes the earth to warm up. Carbon dioxide is released in vast quantities when fossil fuels are burned, when the trees are disposed of, either by rotting or burning, the trapped particles are released, mainly the carbon in the form of CO . It is a known fact that CO gas plays an important part in increasing the greenhouse effect (2). 10% of the greenhouse gas emissions are a direct result of deforestation.
The increasing amounts of these gases increase the rate of global warming which in turn gradually increases the climate temperature (6). This change in climate can and is causing problems for many species as they are not able to adapt fast enough to the ever changing climate. Deforestation may not be the only factor that increases global warming but it certainly does play a major role in it and we can see the affects of this in a recent report of Greenland’s glaciers. The rate at which these glaciers are travelling into the sea has increased. This acceleration is a direct sign of global warming. This results in the faster melting of sheets of ice which in turn means an increase in sea levels of up to six metres and this will almost certainly cause severe flooding and disruption to the environment (11).
There is also another way the trees help regulate the climate. The shade that the canopies of the trees bring decreases the temperature, it cools the land. If the trees are disappearing at alarmingly high rates than the days get much warmer and the nights much colder (7).
The trees also regulate the atmospheric moisture level. When the trees draw up water via their roots they release this water by the process of transpiration back into the atmosphere (2). This release of water creates clouds and provides an alternative form of protection to the earth from the sun’s constant attack of heat (4). As water is not re-used but is moved to larger bodies of water like the ocean, precipitation levels are also decreased (7). Removing forests creates areas of land that cannot contain as much water as before resulting in a drier climate. Between the 1950’s and 1980’s in the north and north-western parts of China where much deforestation is taking place the average annual volume of rain declined by one third. However not all the water is returned this way; some rain water is stopped by the canopies of trees, of which it is evaporated retuning to the atmosphere (5). The loss of these canopies results in the loss of surface area for evaporation to take place.
In conjunction with the hydrological cycle, soil erosion is another major disadvantage of continual degradation of forest. The removal of vegetation in large volumes means the soil is exposed. Forested areas are supposed to trap the rain water which then infiltrate into the ground into the water systems, but with the bare soil as it is the only process occurring is vast amounts of surface water runoff. This movement of water is a lot quicker than the movement of water if it were travelling underground, this results in flash flooding and land slides (5).
Lack of trees means fewer trunks and stems to intercept and slow the pace of running water. Lack of trees also means lack of tree roots. Without the presence of roots the soil is not bound together as much as it would be if there were roots present so increasing the rate of soil erosion significantly. Roots also make large channels that allow more percolation to occur which will reduce the amount of soil erosion, however with the loss of so many trees this effect is diminishing (5). The lack of sufficient land cover from vegetation exposes the ground to the radiating heat rays from the sun causing it to bake and crack making a once moisture and fertile soil unusable.
The continual loss of forests causes the continual reduction in biodiversity. The definition of biodiversity is the whole assortment of various species on this planet, the ecological unit they populate and the genetic variation they bring (7). The rainforest is one of the most diverse biological regions of this planet and unaccountable numbers of species inhabit those areas, some that have still not been found yet (10). This variety can exist due to the exceptional structure of this environment. It is believed that approximately 70 to 90 % of life is present in the rainforests and 20 to 25 % of all known invertebrates are only found here (10). Many species are facing extinction as a result of the destruction of this unique environment. The reduction in the diversity of both animals and plants causes a lessening gene pool; this could have many unexpected consequences on human kind.
The advancements of medicine is also greatly limited if the plant gene pool is reduced. Certain plants that can only grow in the forest that we have not yet come across may be the cure to many illnesses, if this one of a kind ecosystem is lost the possibility to find such plants will be lost. There are also ethical issues that people have to face. It is widely accepted that humans do not have the right to control or own nature but must try to preserve it for future generations, and that we have responsibility of other life (7). The way humans chose to live now has caused an increase in extinction by 10 times (7). The animals cannot adapt fast enough to the declining volume of natural habitat hence a recent report in the news of an anaconda was found in rural parts of a city in Brazil and had to be returned to the wild by authorities. They believe wild animals are leaving their natural habitats and endeavouring into cities as a direct result of deforestation (8). Giant pandas, tigers, gorillas and rhinos all face extinction if we’re not careful, and these are just a few of the animals that do face extinction (9).
Another cause for concern about the decreasing numbers of trees is that trees are one of the largest producers of oxygen gas. Oxygen is the gas humans breathe and so do numerous other species, if we cut down the producers of oxygen then we are also reducing the amount of oxygen we have to live on.
It is not possible to say if deforestation is completely correct or incorrect. It has valuables advantages and disadvantages; however at this present time the disadvantages seem to be outweighing the good factors of deforestation. We must try and balance the needs of the environment and the needs of the man kind. Right now deforestation is occurring without sufficient reforestation. We need to promote sustainable development; balancing the need for development and growth against the need to protect the natural environment. This is the outlook for the future.