The Ugly Truth About Deforestation: What Really Happens When Forests Vanish

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Mother Nature supports life on earth through a delicate balancing act — one that requires forests full of trees to create the oxygen that us living beings need to breathe. Despite the colossally important role of trees, deforestation rates have been steadily increasing over the last 50 years, causing a number of significant problems for humans, animals, and the ecosystem. Read on to discover the truth about deforestation’s harmful effects and what’s being done to fix it.

Half of the World’s Tropical Rainforests Are Already Gone

Already, around half of all the tropical rainforests on earth have been lost to deforestation, and NASA predicts that if nothing changes, 100 years from now there will be none left at all. Brazil, Indonesia, Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Thailand are among the hardest hit countries, with Indonesia losing more than 16 million hectares of forest in just 12 years.

36 Football Fields Worth of Trees are Decimated Each Minute

Approximately 18 million acres of forest are destroyed every year, which is an astonishingly huge amount — that many acres is the same size as the country of Panama. Further, since 1600, over 90 percent of the United States’ forests have been destroyed due to urbanization, agriculture and capitalism.

Deforestation Contributes to Climate Change

Deforestation is a major player in the climate change issue, with forest loss contributing to annual carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 12 percent. Carbon dioxide is the most common greenhouse gas, one which causes many climate change issues.

Trees, as we know, store carbon dioxide and release oxygen, cleaning our air and decreasing harmful greenhouse gas levels. Destroying forests means less carbon dioxide storage, more greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, and less clean oxygen. As if that wasn’t bad enough, cutting down trees also releases extra carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — a whopping billion tons of it, in fact.

Deforestation Causes Species Loss

Plants and animals rely on the forests to survive, using the trees as a source of food and shelter. As much as 70 percent of animals are forest-dwelling, and the rapid destruction of their habitats can cause them to be displaced, starve, interrupt their breeding patterns, and even lead to full extinction.

Clear Cutting Causes Soil Erosion

Polly Peterson via flickr

Clear cutting, or when large swaths of trees are cut down in sections, has been described by the Natural Resources Defense Council as “an ecological trauma that has no precedent in nature.” It causes soil erosion because tree roots anchor down the soil, and without them, soil can blow or wash away. This can lead to flooding and landslides, as well as problems with growing crops successfully.

Deforestation Can Cause Desertification

Forests regulate the water cycle by controlling the amount of water in the atmosphere. Deforestation means there are less trees, and therefore, less water in the atmosphere to return to the earth as rain. This leads to dry soil, droughts, crop failures and desertification, a serious concern for humans and animals alike.

Forests Are Necessary for Temperature Regulation

Rainforests not only provide shelter with their leafy canopies, but these coverings actually regulate the temperature on the ground. Many plants and animals rely on this temperature regulation to thrive. When the forests are decimated, the temperature-regulating canopy is no longer able to stop large fluctuations, leading to hot days and cold nights that kill some plants and animals.

There Are Safer Alternatives

The WWF, The Orangutan Project, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and the Frankfurt Zoological Society have teamed up to create a healthier alternative to deforestation while still harvesting necessary products, such as rubber and honey, from Indonesian forests. 100,000 acres of forest will be protected and restored, and instead of cutting down trees, the companies will work with indigenous forest groups to harvest the products without damaging the ecosystem.

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