Deforestation: Impacts and Solutions
The Deforestation Crisis
Deforestation, as defined by Grainger (2013) is the “temporary or permanent clearance of forest for agriculture and other purposes”. He further states that the key word in clearance, since deforestation is anchored upon the clearance of land.
Trees, with the favorable conditions necessary, have been growing for tons of years in the earth. However, the forest cover has been disappearing over the years, and forests have changed over the years. Although this can be attributed to some very natural causes, the truth is human activity has played a very important role in the disappearance of forests in the world today, since history has it that human beings started cutting down trees some 8,000 years ago (Spilsbury, 2010). The major natural cause of deforestation globally is drastic changes in the climatic conditions, which are no longer favorable for the growth of trees in some regions. The Antarctica for example is too cold for the germination of trees. This area was once suitable for the growth of trees, because there are so many remains of trees that are buried deep in the ice, a fact that proves the conditions once supported tree life. Human activity has over the years been sees an overly geared towards creating more land for various uses, such as building houses, and farming. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat, other human reasons that contribute to deforestation include cutting down of trees for commercial use and fuel wood, which collectively contributes 19% of deforestation. It is a proven fact that deforestation increases with the increase in human population, since trees cover land and the growing number of people need land to settle on and a farms to cultivate the food they so much need.
Effects of Deforestation
Forests currently still cover around 30% of the total world’s land area, but deforestation is doing an injustice on this figure, and this figure is reducing by the day. This leads to a number of effects that are generally not desirable. One of the effects it has is on land itself. Soil erosion is what happens to the soil in the absence of trees, because tree roots are what anchor the soil. Therefore without trees, the soil will be easily washed away by running water or blown away by wind, which certainly leads to problems in vegetation growth. Scientists estimate the arable land lost to deforestation stands at 1/3 of the total land in a span of 50 years. Landslides are also a part of the problem caused by soil erosion, because cutting down of trees deems the soil that previously anchored the trees loose, and therefore susceptible to flooding and landslides happening, thus causing deaths.
Trees play a crucial part in the carbon cycle, a process where carbon dioxide circulates constantly from the atmosphere into organisms and back into the atmosphere again. Trees take carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere through photosynthesis together with light and water so as to make energy. The carbon dioxide is then converted into oxygen and then released to the air through respiration, or it is stored in the trees up to a point where they decompose into the soil. , The absence of trees in the earth would therefore mean a significantly high concentration amounts of carbon dioxide in the air, and lower amounts of the oxygen we so much need. The air would also contain more particles that are airborne and other pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. This may see the temperature also shoot to around 12 F. The increased global warming seen in this age can be attributed largely to deforestation. Besides taking up carbon, trees also utilizes the greenhouse emissions from industries and elsewhere, therefore the continuous cutting down of trees dooms us to a future of more global warming and imbalanced weather patterns. Cutting down of trees increases the temperature, also when looked at from the angle of the heat radiated from the ground. Forest canopy is so important in that it regulates the amount of heat being absorbed by the soil from the sun during the day, which is later radiated back to the atmosphere at night. Without the canopy provided by the trees, the heat that is absorbed by the ground is a lot, and it will obviously be released into the atmosphere, thus making the atmosphere extremely hot.
When we destroy the forests, water tables and water bodies in general are greatly affected. We will have less water in the planet, because Trees tend to absorb and retain all their water in the roots. Much of the water that is found in the rainforests ecosystem is inside the trees. Some of this moisture is transpired into the atmosphere. The cutting down of trees will now break the process, which means that the atmosphere and the water bodies which formed part of the process will ultimately dry out. This is attributed to the fact that there will be reduced transpiration and the water that was stored in the plants will now be exposed to evaporation by the sun. Also, the canopies formed by the forest covering the valleys and mountains of the Pacific Northwest mainly act as a filter for storm-water runoff. When it rains, the rain will hit the tops of the trees, soaks in the canopy and then trickles down slowly to the ground below. What remains on the leaves evaporates and when the water reaches the ground, it soaks into the soil. The excess water that is not absorbed into the ground then collects itself and forms streams, which then forms rivers and flow do the lakes and oceans. Without trees, the rainfalls won’t be slowed down to give room for the absorption of more moisture, therefore we will have more flooding and soil erosion. Trees play a twofold role, in making sure that we don’t have floods and at the same time preventing drying up of water bodies.
Trees and forests in general are known to provide habitats for so many animals. Joseph, (2006) asserts that the rainforests are the most biologically diverse areas in the world, as it is, mainly because of the unique environment of the rain forests. However, as the forest habitat reduces through deforestation, many animals and plants become more vulnerable to extinction. Biologists believe that the big number of plants and animals that are native to the tropical forests will certainly become extinct, even before we catalogue their existence because most of them are not yet known. An estimate of 50 to 100 species of animals have been reported to being lost daily because of the destruction of the only habitats they have known, which by the face of it is a tragedy. Human beings are ultimately the biggest losers when it comes to deforestation. Firstly, it affects the dynamics of the economy. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting stated in a meeting that if the trends continue as they are, the global GDP may reduce by the year 2050. Deforestation also negatively affects the world’s economy through agriculture because of the lack of rain that has been seen and the porous nature of the soil for planting. Basically, all the effects covered ultimately affects the human society in a very big way, since everything in the earth is all about the human being.
Basically, the long term effects are climatic change, global warming and the loss of biodiversity. This is because these happen in a subtle way without us realizing it, but the effects are being felt, now more than ever before. The climate change seen now are more serious, and this will impact even generations to come, if deforestation is not contained. The species of animals and plants that so greatly do well in the forests are at a high risk, and if they become extinct there is no chance of getting them into existence. That’s how serious deforestation is in the long term.
As the menace it is, deforestation has been fought so hard through many ways. The 2003 healthy forest restoration act that was passed by president bush is a law that is aimed at preventing the destruction of forests needlessly. It was after a series of wildfires that burned hundreds of acres of forests in a span of acres of a few years that the political class led by the then president Bush decided to commit themselves to fighting deforestation. This fight started so many years ago, when in 1989 the world rainforest movement sent a petition to the UN to stop deforestation globally. Brazil has been one of the first countries to use technology to deal with deforestation. Since 1988, the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research has been monitoring the changes in the forest canopy. The country has overseen subsequent reduction deforestation, and they have been recognized for their fruitful efforts reversing the continuous increment of rates of deforestation in their country. However, so all these efforts have been fruitful. Programs like the Tropical Forest Action Plan which was launched in 1985, and commentators say that it didn’t work at all. This program has received its fair share of criticism not only from the local communities in the areas where it was being implemented in, but also from environmentalists and NGOs. Parnwell & Bryant (1996) attribute this criticism from the fact that among many reasons, it utilizes the top bottom approach, it implements resolutions without consulting with the local based communities and the number of foreign professionals working in a particular region is way more than the local experts. They finally conclude that the program was a failure in its entirety. What is happening now is that the governments are enforcing very strict laws against deforestation. With Brazil leading the pack, various governments and international bodies have put in place legislative measures to make sure that we reduce the rate at which we destroy our forests. In the US for example, a law known as the National Forest Road less Area Conservation was introduced and is operational to date. This has been successful to some extent, as there has been documented reduction in deforestation in some countries, because of the strict laws. This might not be the case however in most of the countries. There are instances where the law is not the best tool to convince people against something, especially when they are so culturally attached to the activity. In Africa, Millions of people depend on firewood as it is the cheapest source of fuel, owing to the poverty in that region. People will, tend to be defiant, and might bribe the law enforcers, so that they will have what they are used to. The same applies to the shrewd business men dealing with logging, since the business might be too lucrative to stop.
One of the most pragmatic ways of dealing with deforestation, therefore, is by promoting sustainable consumer alternatives. This means that people should hear of more forest friendly ways of burning fuel at home and in the industries such as the use of electricity am biogas. Zero deforestation policies should equally be accompanied by suggestions of other ways that are friendly to the trees we have. This can be done by everyone doing their part. Scientists should come up with ways that we can use to burn fuel in our houses and industries, fuel that is not necessarily from wood. The government and the political class should also come up with laws that encourage the use of the alternatives, not only thinking and dwelling on the don’ts of deforestation. Technology also has a role to play, since we can all use technology in place of tree byproducts, e.g. papers. Economically, the governments especially in poor regions should empower their citizens financially, so that they can be able to afford wood and charcoal alternatives, which can be quite dangerous. All courses that intend to upgrade the quality of human beings will always be expensive, that’s why everything possible should be done to make sure that deforestation comes to an end.
Grainger, A. (2013). Controlling Tropical Deforestation. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.
Joseph, B. (2006). Environmental Studies. New Delhi: McGraw-Hill.
Parnwell, M., & Bryant, R. (1996). Environmental change in South-East Asia: People, politics
and sustainable development ; global environmental change programme. London [u.a.: Routledge.
Spilsbury, R. (2010). Deforestation crisis. New York: Rosen Central.
UNFCCC, (2007). Investment and financial flows to address climate change. unfccc.int.
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