Five Causes of Deforestation
Updated: 4 days ago
As I am sure you all know, deforestation is a major cause of concern and is happening at an alarming rate. To put it in perspective, there are only around half the number of trees left on the planet compared to when humans first evolved. Also, between 1990 and 2016 an area of forests larger than South Africa was lost according to the World Bank.
So, we know deforestation is happening, but why is it happening? Five main causes of deforestation are listed below.
1. Animal Agriculture
As the global demand for meat continues to rise, so does the area of land needed to farm cattle. According to one study, livestock covers 45% of the Earth’s total land with beef production alone accounting for almost 60% of all arable land. Industrial-scale cattle ranching is one of the main culprits of deforestation in one of the world’s most precious ecosystems – the Amazon rainforest. Accounting for up to 91% of the destruction of the Amazon, the global demand for meat cannot continue at its current rate without something giving. With one cow alone requiring 2 to 5 acres of land, you can imagine the amount of land required to meet the astonishing 70 million tons of beef produced every year.
2. Crop Production
When the demand for meat rises, the global supply of animal feed has to keep up. In the past 20 years, soy production has doubled, largely in response to the booming animal agriculture industry. As well as soy, palm oil production is also a leading cause of deforestation. Found in a range of products from chocolate to shampoo to biodiesel, the scale of palm oil production is immense, with forests being cut down every day to make way for large-scale palm oil production in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia.
3. Timber Logging
Although logging has the potential to be conducted sustainably, most logging which takes place in rainforests is incredibly destructive. Fuelled by rising global demand for low-cost timber products, illegal and unsustainable logging is now a multi-billion-dollar industry. Indonesia is home to around 3% of the world’s forests, but partly due to high demand for plywood, hardwoods, and wood products, nearly half of Indonesia’s forests have been devastated. This issue is made worse when we consider that areas degraded by logging become fire-prone, leading to further loss of trees and forests.
With links to the point above, roads built for timber transportation and areas that have been cleared as a result of logging become a hotspot for settlers. These areas are often cleared further to make way for cropland, cattle pasture, and accommodation. Infrastructure is an essential part of developing societies, but it is often accompanied by devastating environmental impacts. Dams, oil extraction, and mining facilities are just some of the developments which can have destructive consequences for their surrounding environments. Exacerbating the problem further, all of these developments require transportation links such as roads and rail lines which likely cut through diverse habitats and forests causing noise and air pollution.
5. Global Influences
Binding all of the above points together, global influences are perhaps the main cause of deforestation. Global growing trends such as western diets, which are meat-heavy, a rise in demand for timber products, and urbanisation all have links to deforestation. Furthermore, state policies that encourage growth and economic development have unintentionally resulted in deforestation. This can be seen in developing areas in Central and South America.
The influence global events have on deforestation can be highlighted further when we look at Indonesia. As the world prepares to make the transition from fossil fuels to ‘green’ energy, Indonesia’s government has increased the production of palm oil which is used to make biodiesel. This could clear up to 23 million acres of land to make way for palm oil plantations. This loss of natural habitats would be catastrophic to Indonesia’s diverse and unique wildlife.
The rate of deforestation is troubling, to say the least. As the global population continues to grow, deforestation rates are not going to improve without global action. As well as important for wildlife, forests are also crucial if we are to meet the goals set by the 2015 Paris Agreement. According to a study, tropical tree cover has the potential to provide 23% of the climate mitigation needed to keep warming below 1.5 °C.
So, what can you do to protect the world’s forests?
Nature is surprisingly resilient. Given the opportunity and space to thrive, it will. So, don’t feel disheartened, all is not lost. We still have time to correct our past mistakes and prevent any further from occurring. Proper protection and reforestation are essential to save our forests.
Simple lifestyle changes such as minimising meat and dairy consumption can have a significant impact too. Ensuring the products you buy are palm-oil free can also have a positive effect. That said, the most effective ways to halt deforestation rates are protecting the forests we have left through legislation and reforestation of areas that have already been destroyed.
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