Deforestation: the importance of sustaining our rainforests

Mona Finke

Marketing intern

What is deforestation?

Deforestation refers to the, mostly human-caused, decrease of forests across the world to an extent that it negatively impacts our climate, natural ecosystems and biodiversity. Usually, deforestation occurs to clear land for something else that provides economical value. However, deforestation can also be caused during natural disasters such as wildfires. The majority (95% to be accurate) of global deforestation occurs in tropical rainforests, which is of particular concern considering that these forests are home to most of the world’s biodiversity. Sadly, an estimated 17% of the Amazon rainforest were taken within the last 50 years and according to UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) an estimated average of 10 million hectares of forests are cut down each year (Hamlett, 2022).

Responsible for most of the deforestation is the expanding agriculture, caused by the increase of our population as well as shifts in diet. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that deforestation is the second-largest cause of climate change (The first is the burning of fossil fuels.) Indeed, deforestation is responsible for almost 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions (S. Derouin, 2022).

“In 2021, the world lost tropical forest at a rate of about 10 soccer pitches a minute.” - Eric Roston

Why are forests so important?

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), 30% of the Earth’s surface is covered by forests. They provide us with oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, are home to more than three-quarters of world’s life on land and provide jobs to more than 54 million people across the world. They work as a gigantic carbon store. However, when the trees are being cut down, they release the carbon they’ve stored back into the atmosphere and thereby accelerate global warming.

Simply put – forests make the planet livable for all life on this earth. Needlessly to say, forests play a vital role in the fight against climate change.

The main causes of deforestation

The reason for deforestation at such a dramatic rate is mainly caused by the expanding industrial agriculture, which is in turn caused by the increase of our population as well as shifts in diet. It leads to the commercial production of commodities such as cattle, soy, palm oil and timber (Heimpel, 2021). Large-scale commercial agriculture is accountable for 40% of tropical deforestation (E. Heimpel, 2021). The cleared land is being used for livestock ranching, mainly cattle, and to produce the above-mentioned commodities - soy, palm oil and timber. The list of agriculture products and its rising demand continues to grow.

Soy – Soy production increased over 50% within the past 20 years. Often, we don’t realize how much soy we consume because we don’t consume it directly. Soy oil for example is being used for cooking or other products, such as chocolate, ice cream, margarine or bakery stuff as well as in cosmetics or soaps (WWF, 2022). Furthermore, more than 80% of all the soy that is being grown worldwide serves to feed animals such as beef, chicken and dairy production (WWF, 2022), which we eventually consume.

Palm oil – no other oil in the food industry is being used as much as palm oil, due to the fact that it is cheaper than other vegetable oils. Aside from the food ibdustry, you can also find palm oil in cosmetic products, detergents and biofuel.

Timber – The increasing demand for timber worldwide can’t be met sustainably, which supports a multi-billion-dollar business of illegal logging in forests and therefore plays a significant role in tropical deforestation (WWF, 2022).


Effects of deforestation


Destruction of complex ecosystems and biodiversity

If we continue deforestation, many species in the rainforests will become extinct, some plant species at least endangered.

Humans’ health

When the habitats of animals and insects are being distraught, they have to migrate somewhere else and seek shelter in new areas (animal migration into human territory). This leads to unnatural contact between animals/insects and humans which can lead to so-called zoonotic diseases (= “Disease Transmitted from Animals to Humans”) (THL, 2021).

Climate Change

Forests are carbon sinks and therefore help mitigating the emission of greenhouse gasses produced by human activity. They capture and store huge amounts of carbon dioxide, that otherwise would be emitted into the atmosphere, driving global warming. Hence, trees play an important role in carbon sequestration. If trees are being cut down, not only do they lose their ability to absorb carbon, but they also emit carbon instead. 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by forest degradation (WorldWildLifeFund, 2022).

Destruction of homelands for species and local people

Often forgotten about in developed countries are those who call forests their home, which can be deeply impacted by deforestation. The WWF says that an astonishing “1.25 billion people around the world rely on forests for shelter, livelihoods, water, fuel, and food security.” (WorldWildLifeFund, 2022).

Environmental effects such as soil erosion and floods

In order to sustain a forest, the land has to be rich with nutrients, water and topsoil. Trees help to enable just that. Without trees the land eventually dries out, making it unsuitable for growing crops (C. Hamlett, 2022).

How can we stop deforestation?

Even though everyone can do their part to curb deforestation, it remains a global problem that needs to be tackled at a large scale through efforts by nations and politics. We need regulations that ensure sustainable farming as well as the adoption of new farming technologies and crops. Moreover, we need to stop deforestation to allow the forest ecosystems and give them time to regenerate itself over time. Luckily, a study found that tropical forests are way more resilient than we thought and largely capable of regenerating themselves over just a few decades (L Patriani, 2022).

Nevertheless, by adjusting your consumption habits in a certain way you can take away the financial support from the industrial agriculture operations that clear forested land at large scale for their own interest. Here are some examples:

  • Buy verified wood products (made from wood that has been sustainably harvested)
  • Limit consumption of meat, dairy products and products that contain palm oil
  • Spread awareness about the topic and advocate sustainable solutions
  • Restoration of forests by planting new trees. At Regreener we enable businesses as well as individuals to support exactly that. Find out more on our website: www.regreener.eu

Finally, it should have become clear that forests are critically important to life on this earth, and it is our responsibility to dramatically decrease deforestation and instead focus on planting new ones and adjust our consumption habits.

Sources:

Heimpel, E. (2021). Industries and sectors driving deforestation: what you need to know. Retrieved from https://ecologi.com/articles/blog/industries-and-sectors-driving-deforestation-what-you-need-to-know

WorldWildLifeFund. (2022). Deforestation and Forest Degradation. Retrieved from https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation

WWF. (2022). SOY. Retrieved from https://wwf.panda.org/discover/our_focus/food_practice/sustainable_production/soy/

THL. (2021). EFFECTS OF DEFORESTATION ON HUMANS AND THE ENVIRONMENT. Retrieved from https://thehumaneleague.org/article/effects-of-deforestation

Derouin, S. (2022). Deforestation: Facts, causes & effects. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/27692-deforestation.html

Patriani. (2022). Study suggests tropical forests can regenerate naturally – if we let them. Retrieved from https://news.mongabay.com/2022/02/study-suggests-tropical-forests-can-regenerate-naturally-if-we-let-them/

Roston. (2022). The World Has Been Losing 10 Soccer Fields of Tropical Forest Per Minute. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-28/world-tropical-forest-loss-was-10-soccer-fields-a-minute-in-2021

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