The world’s forest cover has shrunk by nearly 100 million hectares since the beginning of the 21st century. The issue of deforestation and its consequences is timely. But, before delving deeper into the subject, it’s important to understand what forests are and what deforestation is.
Forests cover roughly1⁄3 of our planet’s land surface. Deforestation is the process of reducing the amount of space occupied by forests. These regenerate both naturally and artificially. This is forest expansion; the area gained by forests worldwide each year. The evolution of forest cover is caused by the balance between forest expansion and deforestation. Forests expanded by 5 million hectares per year between 2015 and 2020, while deforestation increased by 10 million hectares per year. As a result, the total area occupied by forests decreased between 2015 and 2020. However, the United Nations has set a goal of restoring this ratio with a +3% increase in forest cover by 2030.
It should be noted, however, that not all woods are equally vulnerable to deforestation. The tropical forests of Central Africa, the Amazon, and Indonesia are the most deforested.
Statement: How should this massive deforestation be explained?
The causes of deforestation are numerous, making the fight all the more difficult. Various factors have contributed to mass deforestation as we know it today. Natural causes include fire, disease, and pests, but they can also be caused by humans. According to a 2016 FAO report, agriculture accounts for up to 80% of human deforestation, followed by mining and urbanization, which account for 20% of human deforestation.
Agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation.
The primary causes of deforestation are large-scale commercial agriculture and local food agriculture. Cereal crops, market gardening, tree farming, and livestock are among them. With a growing global population, needs are increasing and cultivable land is becoming scarce, making it increasingly important to find new spaces to meet those needs. Many acres of land are being cleared to make way for livestock, soybean, or palm oil cultivation. In Amazon, this is the case. Deforestation in other areas makes place for the cultivation of cocoa, sugar cane, or food crops. This type of agriculture enables local residents to meet their basic needs. This is especially true in Africa and Indonesia.
Mining activity destroys forests daily
Another source of deforestation is mining. Our demand for rare metals and other underground resources is increasing all the time (gold, iron, diamonds, uranium …). Lithium, for example, is a metal found in all telephone, computer, and electric vehicle batteries. To meet the industry’s demands, the search for deposits of this alkaline metal is accelerating, at the expense of the establishment of new mines and forests. As with agriculture, not all fronts of deforestation respond equally to mining activity. Mining accounts for 2% of deforestation in the Amazon, compared to 6% in Asia and 10% in Africa.
Is urbanization causing new deforestation?
Another minor but significant driver of deforestation is urbanization and infrastructure development. This deforestation serves a purpose
- urban development
- construction of road or telephone communication networks
- the construction of energy infrastructures such as dams and wind farms.
Forests are destroyed by accidents
Finally, one of the causes of human deforestation is fire. Every summer when the soils are dry, we hear about fires, whether intentional or unintentional, caused by humans and their activities.
Human activity significantly reduces forest cover, whether it is to create new spaces to meet our food, technological, or energy needs. Each cause has consequences, and the consequences are devastating.
What are the environmental consequences of this deforestation?
Deforestation has numerous consequences, as do its causes. Climate change, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, and the presence of nitrous oxide… all have global consequences, but they also have local consequences. Before digging deeper into them, it is important to note that we are all dependent on forests, though some are more so than others. People who live directly in or near forests suffer far more from deforestation than we do in France.
Deforestation threatens biodiversity
The forest serves as both a habitat and a food reserve for many species. Da Deforestation threatens 80% of terrestrial biodiversity, with many species already extinct. Whether it is about fauna or flora, the world’s diversity and beauty are under threat. Each existing species is part of a food chain and has an impact on the balance of natural environments and ecosystems.
The loss of biodiversity has direct consequences for humans. According to the WWF, 38% of terrestrial species’ populations have vanished in the last 40 years. The current rate of biodiversity loss is the fastest know since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. In comparison, it is 1,000 times greater than the average rate. These are frightening figures. Furthermore, 1 million of the 8 million species known today are on the verge of extinction. As a result, if nothing is done, the sixth mass extinction will occur.
A deteriorating climate with no forest to aid it
Deforestation corresponds to the disappearance of CO2 stocks, also known as carbon dioxide or CO2. Trees are, indeed, the planet’s lungs. They are responsible for absorbing carbon dioxide and converting it to oxygen. ter Deforestation is thus equivalent to destroying these lungs, and the greater the importance, the more difficult it will be for the Earth to breathe before finally giving up.
De plus, cette déforestation est parfois réalisée en brûlant les forêts, notamment en Amazonie, une action qui a pour conséquence de libérer également du CO2. Nous réduisons alors à la fois notre capacité à absorber ce gaz carbonique tout en en rejetant davantage. 40% du gaz carbonique est stocké dans nos forêts et leurs sols. La présence de CO2 est assimilable à la présence d’effet de serre et donc au réchauffement climatique. Lui-même responsable de la fonte des glaces, donc la montée du niveau des mers, de la disparition de nombreuses espèces.
Furthermore, deforestation is sometimes accomplished by burning forests, particularly in the Amazon which emits CO2. We then reduce our ability to absorb carbon dioxide while emitting more of it. Our forests and soils store 40% of the carbon dioxide we emit. The presence of CO2 is associated with the presence of the greenhouse effect, and thus with global warming. This is to blame for ice melting, rising sea levels, and the extinction of many species.
Deforestation-caused acidification endangers the marine environment.
As a result, deforestation causes the release of carbon dioxide, CO2, which is absorbed by ocean waters, acidifying the water. The pH of water, or the hydrogen potential of water, is used to measure acidification. The pH scale runs from 1 to 14, with 1 being the most acidic and 14 being the most basic. Acidification has the unintended consequence of reducing marine biodiversity.
This acidification is caused by more than just CO2 absorption. It is also due to nitrogen and sulfur compound absorption (fertilizers, anti-insects). A low pH prevents plankton (marine animals and plants) from forming their calcareous skeleton, despite the fact that they are the foundation of the marine food chain and the source of oxygen in our oceans. Corals, on the other hand, are made of limestone. They can no longer grow, bleach, or die, resulting in the extinction of many other marine species. Some fish and crustaceans become more vulnerable, affecting marine ecosystems. According to some scientific models, ocean acidification will increase by 150%. An increase like this has never been seen before on Earth. We don’t know what will happen.
The production and presence of hazardous gases, a global warming gas pedal
Nitrous oxide, sometimes known as a laughing gas, adds to the greenhouse effect, warming the atmosphere up to 300 times more than carbon dioxide during a 100-year period. Nitrogen is not directly derived through deforestation, but rather from the conversion of soils into cultivable land. It is, nevertheless, a result of deforestation. The usage of nitrogen fertilizers to improve crop yields is damaging to the environment. Although important for plant development, too much nitrogen is not absorbed by the ground and consequently spills out to rivers where it is eventually released into the atmosphere. As a result, all areas are polluted.
Locally more serious repercussions
There are more local repercussions of deforestation than global consequences. The WWF identified 24 deforestation fronts at the start of 2021, with more than 43 million hectares of forest destroyed between 2004 and 2017. Deforestation has a significant influence on the ethnic communities who live in these forests. Many peoples have lived for generations in the forests that are today being destroyed, particularly on the Amazon and African fronts. This activity for the advantage of intensive agriculture forces these people to alter their habits, making them more vulnerable and possibly contributing to their extinction. Many indigenous languages have vanished or will vanish in the future. Deforestation is a moral and cultural concern as well as an environmental one.
As previously said, the repercussions of deforestation are numerous and terrible. As a result, it is critical to put an end to it under this approach. We deforest without bounds or regard for the repercussions. Furthermore, trees need between 20 and 50 years to mature. In other words, even if we plant as many trees as we take down today, we’ll not have the same forest or CO2 storage capacity in 50 years! It is now time to shift our strategy and incorporate forest management into our operations.
How can we take action to combat excessive deforestation?
To understand how to combat deforestation and thereby prevent, if not increase, forest cover, we must return to the source of the problem: the causes of deforestation. It would be too simplistic to claim that because we are deforesting to grow soybeans or breed cattle, we must cease eating beef and soybeans. There are other elements at play, one of which is demographics. A growing population causes a rise in the people’s needs, particularly for food. As a result, new areas must be created to accommodate these demands.
Consider a new production and consumption model
Deforestation can occur, but it must be controlled, planned, and addressed in order for the forest cover to regenerate. Reducing meat intake and purchasing products free of palm oil are established alternatives to help our forests as well as our world. Combating deforestation is both necessary and beneficial
- On a profound thought on our evolving consumption model, but also
- take ecological action to save our planet from the impending disaster.
Taking a step back and contemplating before acting are possibly the keys to an environmental awakening. One of the most effective strategies to combat deforestation is to educate people about environmental and ecological issues at a young age, instilling in their minds the significance of changing our way of life.
Projects and associations as solution carriers?
Many organizations have taken a step back, thought, and reflected, for example, by developing agroforestry. This is a novel farming method that combines tree and shrub cultivation and planting. As an example, consider the following:
- The organization Biomimicry Europa, which reforests Haiti, explains that reforesting does not simply imply planting trees. To restore a forest similar to the natural forests already there, it is necessary to research the ecosystems present on the site as well as the local tree species. Some trees in Haiti are known as oxalogens, which means they can recover and store CO2 in the soil by creating limestone plates. These trees have two advantages: they can both store CO2 and nourish the soil. As a result, improved reforestation and growth of local biodiversity are possible.
- Biomimicry Europa association’s “Life-Saving Trees” which intends to reforest Haiti: this effort focuses on the Mayan walnut, a tree found primarily in Central America. This tree is unique in that it produces little nuts that can feed the local people. This “Life-Saving Trees” project provides for the reforestation of Haiti, the feeding of the local population, the reduction of CO2 levels in the atmosphere, and the development of local biodiversity.
- PUR projet: launches several initiatives worldwide in collaboration with small local producers, with the goal of improving agroforestry and protecting land and local agricultural crops. Agroforestry promotes biodiversity and boosts agricultural production without the need for new land.
- without the need to relocate.
- The objective of the French organization Resforest’action is to protect, restore and establish forests all over the world in order to enhance the social, environmental and economic benefits associated with them. The organization has planted nearly 12 million trees over 985 projects since its inception!
- Ecosia : is a tree-planting search engine. It takes 45 searches on average to plant a tree. Ecosia has established itself throughout the southern hemisphere, planting over 129 million trees in 12 years and thereby contributing to the future reforestation of our planet.
Technology is an essential instrument for reducing deforestation
Other methods, such as the usage of telephones, are progressively being implemented. The use of the telephone enables the monitoring of forests, the detection of illicit loggers, and the alerting of local authorities. An idea was developed not just by the non-profit organization Rainforest Connection, but also by a group of Ivorian students in the form of an application. This idea was submitted as part of a competition to re-green the Ivory Coast conducted by the Ivorian Ministry of Water and Forests.
Is a tax the answer to reducing deforestation?
The economy and deforestation are inextricably interwoven. In addition to the environmental cost, deforestation has an economic cost. One possible approach would be to internalize the cost of deforestation imposed on the population to the costs spent by the industries responsible. The aim is to tax firms to cover the cost of deforestation, similar to how the carbon tax works now. This added expense, if significant enough, will have a positive impact on businesses, forcing them to think differently and reconsider their business strategy.
In Europe, a similar model for CO2 emissions already exists. Every year, quotas are assigned to each company based on a variety of criteria. If a corporation violates these quotas, it is fined heavily, so it is incentivized to reduce its emissions. Furthermore, if they do not use all of their quotas, they can sell them to other enterprises on a specific market and so profit.
The circular economy is essential in preventing deforestation?
We will have realized that deforestation as we currently know it is not sustainable. Its consequences are disastrous for both the environment and for us. Before the tipping point is reached, we must think, change our consumption habits, and act. Cutting down a forest and replanting another next to it while telling ourselves we’ve saved the planet is a delusion.
It takes about 50 years for trees to reach adulthood. The time between tree cutting and regrowth is so long that we could almost call it a non-renewable resource today. The forest cover does not have time to regenerate because we do not act quickly or well enough to allow it to develop and thus limit the consequences that we have previously presented to you.
Instead of cutting, using, and throwing away, it would be more interesting to shift to a circular economy in which we cut, use, and recycle. The strain on our planet’s forests could be reduced in this manner.
Many projects are already underway to develop an intelligent and thoughtful reforestation strategy that takes into account the numerous criteria that comprise our natural forests. It is not too late to act and make a difference. It is up to us to intervene collectively to build these new models by taking a step back, reflecting, and thinking.