More than 4 billion hectares of our planet are covered by forests - that’s around 30% of its land surface. As you can imagine, forests are kind of an important global resource. When we clear lands, another expression to say “cut trees down”, we’re boosting climate change and global warming, and causing critical damage to plant and animal species. This includes us, humans.
If we continue to deforest at the pace we’re doing right now, we won’t be able to recover from the effects of deforestation. Don’t forget that, as we talked about in other articles, forests are also necessary to balance the levels of carbon dioxide that are released into the atmosphere.
Here we’ll explore: the causes of deforestation, the effects of deforestation, and what we can do to reduce it. So without further ado, let’s go, let’s take care of our forests 🌳
What are the main causes of deforestation?
A known cause of deforestation is illegal logging. Logging is the base of a whole multi-billion-dollar industry. What is it about? Mainly about illegally harvested timber and related products like paper and packaging. Plus, illegal logging can also be connected to the “need” of some people to replace natural forests with monoculture plantations.
But deforestation causes are not always illegal. There are some known causes that are allowed to happen despite the damage that is generated in our environment and our own lives. Let’s explore some of them.
Agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation
80% of deforestation is done for agricultural purposes. Plus, 33% of agriculture-caused deforestation is a result of subsistence farming like local peasant agriculture found in developing countries. Commercial or industrial agriculture also ends up with the need to search for areas in which to grow food, fibers, or biofuels—like soybeans, palm oil, rice, cotton, and sugar cane.
Note that also almost 500,000 hectares of forest are deforested to grow soy, and around 77% is mainly for feeding livestock—it’s believed that livestock is accountable for more than 14% of deforestation in the world. Therefore, animal agriculture is also an issue: 41% of tropical deforestation, which means 2.1 million hectares a year, is related directly to the broadening of pasture for feeding beef cattle.
Palm oil: the second biggest cause of deforestation along with soy
In 1980 4 million hectares were used to grow palm oil. That number increased to 19 million by 2018. Plus, it’s threatening almost 200 species that are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, like tigers and orangutans. Want to know how many tons of palm oil are produced each year? Almost 66 million tons and they’re used in household products, animal feed, food, and also as fuel for power and vehicles.
Note that although it’s the second greatest cause of deforestation, it's responsible for less than half the amount of deforestation generated by cattle ranching.
More frequent and intense forest fires:
Fires are something that can naturally happen. Actually, they occur in some forest ecosystems naturally or as controlled fires. Controlled fires have been used mostly by Indigenous communities for centuries to clear small areas for agriculture. But some fires are started intentionally and people lose control of them. What’s the reason? Clearing land for non-forest uses.
Plus, it’s important to take into account the fact that as Earth’s temperature rises, lands get drier. This paves the way for more intense and ferocious forest fires.
Want some numbers? Here they are:
- In 2019 the Amazon rainforest suffered over 9,000 fires.
- In 2021, Russia had its worst fire season since 2001: 18.13 million hectares of forest were destroyed.
- In France, in one month alone, 17,000 hectares of pine forest burned to the ground.
Another well-known cause of deforestation is mining: around 44% of large-scale mining operations take place in forests. That’s why experts have already highlighted the fact that, for example, if governments like the Brazilian one keep on giving mining licenses to develop that activity in areas like the Amazon, which actually is protected, it will end up in thousands of square kilometers of brand new deforestation.
And if that’s not already enough, we also have to deal with illegal mining. It’s done mainly to extract gold, and it’s accountable for the destruction of more than 40,000 hectares of forest between 2001 and 2014 in the Tambopata National Reserve located in Peru.
Do you know how many people live on Earth? The human population is almost on the cusp of 8 billion and will exceed 10 billion at the turn of the next century. This will translate into the need to increase food production. This will also mean an increase in deforestation: more lands will be cleared in the name of agriculture.
But that’s not the end of the story. Overpopulation also means that more people will need places to live. Therefore, forests will be cleared in the name of urbanization too. People will need more roads and highways for transportation. Plus, they will also need furniture, paper, building materials, and many more products that come from logging industries that cut down trees to manufacture those things.
400 million tons a year - that’s the world’s entire paper production and also between 13 to 15% of total wood consumption. Sadly, the demand for those products is increasing. For instance, a lot of forest regions are being cleared for making toilet paper among other tissue products.
Note that just the amount of paper that we throw away each year is equivalent to approximately 640 million trees. Just by recycling, we have the power to save 27.5 million tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide - plus, we also save many trees from being cut.
We kind of spoke about this when we discussed overpopulation as a cause of deforestation. But let’s go a little bit deeper. It’s believed that 68% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050— contributing to deforestation. More people means more roads, airports, and houses.
The last sentence drives us to another key point: urbanization. New constructions are responsible for 10% of deforestation. New constructions include transportation, transformation, and energy generation.
What are the effects of the deforestation?
Problems from deforestation are already part of our planet’s daily routine. Sadly, there are effects of deforestation on animals, the environment, and on us. Let’s check out the most important negative effects of deforestation.
How is deforestation affecting humans?
What are the impacts of deforestation on humans? The effects of deforestation on people’s health are also a concern. Clearing forests has a great impact on human health in different ways. Picture this: the fragmentation of wildlife habitat as a result of deforestation, promoting the animals and insects movement to agricultural and human-inhabited areas, increasing the spread of novel pathogens from wildlife to domestic animals and humans.
But that’s not the only effect. The World Wildlife Fund says that deforestation also puts potential medicinal resources at risk because there’s a point of view that says that they won’t be enough to cover all the damage caused by deforestation.
Deforestation contributes to and boosts the impact of climate crisis like floods, therefore, it increases the chances of death, especially in areas of the world that are more vulnerable to extreme weather. This also means that clearing lands can be translated into the loss of direct health benefits like enhanced mental and physical well-being and cleaner air.
Increased food insecurity is another effect. There are 2.4 billion people who use fuelwood for cooking, mostly in developing countries. Apart from that, it’s known that forests also help provide food for millions of people. They do so by lending a hand in maintaining soil quality, regulating the climate, and giving habitats and food to animals and plants. Deforestation puts all of these at risk and increases problems for food supplies worldwide thanks to its contribution to the climate crisis.
Among the effects of deforestation on humans, local people and their livelihoods are at risk being at risk is an important one. The World Bank proved that rural households living near forests depend on them. 22% of their income is from forest resources. This includes timber, food, fodder, construction materials, fuel, and even medicine. So as you can imagine, when deforestation takes place, those resources decrease, making communities from Cameroon to India have trouble making ends meet.
Another common effect connected to local people and their livelihoods is the fact that many of them have to migrate because of that and even because of extreme weather events. This makes people suffer social disruption and face important conflicts.
You can help fight deforestation by supporting conservation projects that focus on restoring natural environments. How? Easy. Download the Lemu app and start funding them.
How does deforestation affect animals?
80% of the world's known animal and plant species live in forests. So apart from the effects of deforestation on humans, deforestation affecting animals is also a reality. Picture this: trees, plants, animals, insects, carbon-sequestering fungi, and microorganisms live in forests, so clearing their lands leaves them without a home. Note that we discussed what happens when this situation takes place in terms of human health.
Plus, when we remove trees we are causing fatal effects on plant and animal species. That’s mainly because we are not only destroying their habitats but we are also helping temperature variations, increased sunlight, and vulnerability take place.
Effects of deforestation on wildlife
Another consequence that deforestation causes to wildlife includes extinction. More than 4,000 species are at immediate risk when deforestation and unsustainable logging take place. We’ve already discussed what happens with their habitats, and as expected, many forest-dwelling species have issues surviving in the small pieces of land that are left. As the available land gets smaller, it can support fewer populations and species.
That’s not the only reason why deforestation causes wildlife extinction. When animals live in smaller pockets of forests, they’re more vulnerable to hunting, poaching, and predators. Plus, some species can only live in forests so they can easily be extinct when their habitat is destroyed. Some forest-dependent animals that are extinct include the Mount Glorious torrent frog of Australia, the Formosan clouded leopard of Taiwan, and the cryptic tree hunter bird of Brazil.
Impact of deforestation on the environment
We’ll divide the impact of deforestation on the environment by discussing how it contributes to climate change and global warming while highlighting its effects.
How does deforestation lead to climate change?
When analyzing deforestation's causes and impacts, we have to discuss climate change. Why? Because deforestation paves the way for releasing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it causes Earth’s climate to change. Which leads to other effects.
Psst, before we continue, if you’re wondering how you can help stop deforestation, check out our restoration page and discover conservation projects you can support on the Lemu app.
According to a study published in Global Change Biology, there’s evidence that proves that deforestation increases the frequency of flooding events and intensifies its impacts by, for example, increasing its duration, the number of people affected, and the physical damage.
Other studies have also shown that deforestation contributes to the increase in floods in many ways. One of them is what the Water Resources Research proved in 2012. They revealed that in Canada clearing areas of forests in snowy regions can double or even quadruple the number of floods around streams and rivers.
Soil erosion and deforestation
Deforestation effects on the environment include soil erosion and desertification. But why does deforestation cause that? Trees and natural vegetation help soils to stay in place and balanced. When lands are cleared, the nutrient-rich topsoil erodes. Therefore, heavy rains and winds easily wash it.
On the other hand, forests also play a role in regulating the water cycle. In consequence, clearing them paves the way for making local climates drier and for desertification.
Soils are not the only environment that’s affected by deforestation. As there are fewer trees to work as natural sinks, more carbon dioxide is absorbed by the oceans, which makes their pH decrease and causes acidification. This also contributes to important changes in their environment.
How does deforestation contribute to global warming?
First things first: more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as it’s a greenhouse gas, leads to an increase in Earth’s temperature. With that being said, it’s a very well-known story that trees work both as natural sinks and as a source of carbon dioxide.
Why do we say that? Because forests are a huge storage of carbon when we cut them they release it into the atmosphere. Actually, nowadays tropical forests are emitting more than they can store: between 10 and 15% of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions come from deforestation. Note that agriculture is accountable for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions generated by humans.
Is there anything we can do to stop deforestation?
We know that maybe it’s pretty hard to stop all the deforestation around the globe by ourselves. But we can certainly do something about it by taking small actions that can be turned into significant changes for our planet.
We’ve explored some solutions for the climate crisis recently, and now it’s time to see what we can do about deforestation. Some solutions are:
- Plant a tree. In your backyard, in a square. Find a place where you can help restore a natural sink. Of course, you have to look for the right species for that place and select the perfect planting location so the tree can grow smoothly. Don’t worry, it might sound a little bit complicated but it’s information that’s easy to find on the Internet and you can even ask your local government for some help if you wanna do it in a public space.
- Reduce meat consumption.
- Join an organization. You can become a subscriber, donor, or even member of a local or global organization that’s helping reduce deforestation.
- Learn. Research is a key part of taking action to fight deforestation. You’ll find insights that will help you find the right way to reduce deforestation. Plus, you’ll also be more fueled to spark a conversation about deforestation and incentivize others to join you in the journey of taking care of our planet.
Here at Lemu, we’re developing great content to help you pass smoothly through this learning path. We have a blog with a lot of information about the climate crisis, global warming, and more. Plus, our website is waiting for you to jump in, and learn about what we’re doing and how you can join a project that’s focused on supporting new ways to protect Earth.
Ready to learn and be part of the change? Discover what we’re doing at Lemu 🌱