Current and Potential Effects of Deforestation
Deforestation is a modern-day, world-wide plague that results in the clearing of over 29,000 square miles of woodland each year. Removal of the Earth’s forests results in widespread damage to the land and the ecosystems of those plants and animals that rely on their protective cover.
It is estimated that the world's rainforests may completely disappear in less than one hundred years at the current pace of deforestation.
Forest land is cleared for some reasons. Mostly, however, trees are cut because of economically-driven factors. Agricultural purposes are the most significant drivers of widespread deforestation. Farmers, striving to provide food and income for their families, often employ a land-clearing method known as “slash and burn.” This is usually just a few acres at a time but when compounded by the number of farmers throughout the world, slash and burn agriculture becomes a significant concern.
The logging industry is another major contributor to deforestation. Logging operations provide the world's supply of wood and paper products. And loggers, some who operate outside of regulatory guidance, are continually reaching further and further into remote forests. Woodlands are also cleared to make way for residential, commercial, and industrial growth.
Deforestation is not always intentional; some is the result of wildfires, overgrazing, and drought conditions. Regardless of intent, the disappearing trees hurt the environment.
Millions of species across the globe lose their natural habitat because of deforestation. Many cannot adapt to a changing world. As 70% of all land animals - mammals, reptiles, and insects alike - rely on the Earth’s forests for food and shelter, the massive loss of trees and forests creates a significant problem for humans and animals alike. Additionally, the vast majority of plant species are dependent upon forests for survival.
Climate change is also driven by deforestation. In a regular cycle, the canopy cover of trees blocks the sun’s harmful rays, keeping the soil moist. In return, the tree leaves regulate water vapor reentry into the atmosphere. As forests populations wane, the terrain becomes dry, leading to desert-like conditions in once thriving forest lands. The natural shelter created by tree limbs and leaves also helps slow the loss of thermal heat at night, resulting in temperature extremes that are harmful to a region’s flora and fauna.
Without trees, greenhouse gases are left to enter the atmosphere freely. Trees absorb these harmful vapors which help to reduce the speed and severity of global warming.
The fastest solution to counter the current effects of deforestation is to eliminate the removal of trees only. Unfortunately, financial realities make this an unlikely option, though deforestation has slowed a bit in recent years.
A more likely resolution is to regulate long-term clearing. If appropriately managed, deforestation may take place at a pace which allows for new growth before damage is irreversible. New tree plantations are popping up every year, but without a global effort to replace the Earth’s greenery, it isn’t enough to mitigate the damage already done. One needs to plant vineyard vines or drought-tolerant plants in these areas the first few years after the devastation.
Consequences of climate change
Although not all climate change is caused by the disappearing forests, it’s essential the earth’s natural resources are cared for responsibly.
Across the globe, the Earth's temperature is rising. This warming effect wreaks havoc on the land including shifting precipitation patterns and melting sea ice and glaciers. These changes in force set animals on the move and create a perpetual habit of wildlife relocation that interferes with human urbanization. Research indicates that climate change leads to potential animal extinction. As an example, the Adelie penguin population has declined from 64,000 adults down to just 22,000 over the last three decades. As temperatures rise, invasive insects swarm more often. In Alaska, 4 million acres of established spruce tree forests have been ruined in the last 20 years, thanks to the bark beetle, which now thrive in the warmer Alaskan temperatures.
Other effects likely late this century are even more devastating. Some experts believe that sea levels may rise to 23 inches - 31 inches if polar ice caps continue to melt at current rates. Hurricanes and other severe storms are likely to become more widespread with more heavy winds and a longer duration. Plants and the insects that rely on them for food may become out of sync. In turn, the populations of beneficial insects could drastically diminish, and reduced pollination could result in the extinction of both the plant and its benefactors.
A warming trend would very likely result in more extreme precipitation conditions on both ends. Floods, as well as droughts, would become increasingly common. Freshwater would soon become a diminishing commodity, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without potable water. Fewer flowing streams would decrease the power generating capabilities of hydroelectric plants across the world, leaving scores of people without power. Diseases, such as mosquito-transported malaria, would become more widespread.
Deforestation is a severe concern for every living human being on the planet today. All creatures rely on trees and, without them, the world faces a bleak future.